Ravage (MA, U.S.) - Spectral rider 3/5
1. Turn the screw
2. Spectral rider
3. The wicked way
4. The masque of black death
5. Incantation of the necromancer
6. Wake the dead
7. Ravage part 1: Damage
9. The wasteland
10. Bring down the hellhammer
11. The king forgotten
12. Curse of heaven (bonus track)
The great state of Massachusetts, which was my adopted home during my college and vocational school days, was once a hotbed of first-rate heavy metal. Among my fondest late 80s/early 90s memories are regular visits to the Rat and the Channel to catch the mighty Wargasm, as well as hometown heroes Meliah Rage's triumphant gig at the Paradise opening for Metal Church. Even Seka/Stripmind were a formidable live act before drummer Sully Erna flew the coop to become a nu-metal posterboy fronting Godsmack. Ultimately, Erna's experience is emblematic of the tragic flaw in the Boston music scene in the mid-to-late 90s, as the excellent metal acts hung up their studded wristbands and were supplanted by shaved-head, 3-chord hardcore bands offering brutality for brutality's sake. Soon after, some of these Massachusetts hardcore bands (Killswitch Engage, Shadows Fall) decided to mix elements of Swedish melodic death metal into their hardcore (shades of those old Reese's peanut butter cup commercials). Bam, metalcore was born. The Bay State has been inundated (some might say infested) with it ever since, a veritable wasteland for things truly and traditionally metallic in persuasion.
Against this backdrop, along come Ravage, a quintet of early 20-somethings from the land of clam chowder and John Kerry who proudly fly the flag of traditional heavy metal in the metalcore capitol. From the outset, it is easy to understand why Germany's Karthago Records took a keen interest in these lads. 'Spectral rider' could easily pass for a cult, mid-80s underground traditional metal CD. The production is rough'n'tumble, unpolished and raw, a bare sliver above demo level. That's part of the CD's charm. Musically, the band stick to tried'n'true traditional themes, with simple, catchy riffs, repetitive choruses, the occasional Maiden inflection and none of the updated conventions of today's power metal scene. The songwriting is anthemic and easy on the ears, only rarely (see "Damage") turning on the afterburners. The vocals are like the bastard child of Blaze Bayley, the guy on the MD.45 CD, and a run-of-the-mine NWOBHM singer. The playing is exuberant and enthusiastic, but not particularly tight or proficient, almost like the whole enterprise is bound together by duct tape and chewing gum. This CD screams "kult", and for what it is, 'Spectral rider' is quite a fun and enjoyable outing. The songs routinely induce toe-tapping and headbanging, and the leadwork compensates in cool Maiden style harmonies for its lack of technical acumen.
The problem is that it's not the mid-80s anymore. Playing, recording and writing standards have risen considerably in the traditional metal realm. There's more and tougher competition than ever out there. While I applaud Ravage's enthusiasm and feel that they have tremendous potential, they're just not ready for primetime yet. Not in 2006. For every metalhead that delights in the old-school kultness of this stuff, another will dismiss it as too dated and cobwebbed, too musty and clumsy to justify its existence. Me, I revel in Ravage's unbridled homage to the golden days of the music we all love. But I cannot shield my eyes to the weaknesses of 'Spectral rider'. A CD like Overlorde's 'Return of the snow giant' hammer is proof that American metal bands today can satisfy quality standards without compromising their old-school cred. Here's hoping Ravage make that quantum leap forward next time out, because their debut CD really is a hell of a lot of fun.
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