originally written by Chris McDonald
While the retro trend has been most visible in the thrash and death metal genres, it hasn’t ignored traditional heavy and speed metal by any means. Swedish collective RAM aims to combine all of the most memorable traits of classic heavy metal bands like Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, and Running Wild into one convenient modern package. Their third album and first on Metal Blade Records, Death sees them succeed in their goals — perhaps a little too well.
The question of “innovation vs. quality” has been a hot topic in the metal community in recent years. Is innovation and creativity a requisite for good, enjoyable music? Can art be truly elite if it’s obviously crafted as little more than a living tribute to stuff that’s come before? It’s not a question with a clear answer, and your views on this matter will factor in heavily as to how you appraise albums like Death.
In terms of craftsmanship, RAM‘s newest effort is top-dollar stuff. The production has a rumbling clarity ideal to the band’s primarily mid-paced attack, and instrumentally everything gels together extremely well. The drums aren’t overbearing or too flashy, and the vocals strike that middle ground between melodic sensibility and balls-out showmanship that defined many of the great vocalists of 80’s metal. The riffs run the gamut from mid-paced trad-metal affairs to proto-thrash chugging and galloping Maiden-isms, with some evocative segments of atmospheric ambience to occasionally break up the pace. While the riffs are certainly flavorful, the guitar solos are where things really pick up speed — the epic and skillful leads never fail to capture your attention when they surface.
So yes, these are mostly “good” songs. But I can’t escape the fact that some of this material is almost maddeningly derivative. The twin-guitar harmony and subsequent sequence of galloping riffs in “Defiant,” solid though they are, is such a blatant rip-off of Iron Maiden that it becomes hard for me to really enjoy it, let alone take it seriously. The proto-power kick of “Under the Scythe” is similarly annoying, and the chugging intro to “I Am the End” could easily be a Mercyful Fate B-side. It’s one thing to proudly display your musical influences and inspirations, but there are numerous instances on this record that literally sound like the band took an existing riff, changed one or two notes around, and then called it a day. What’s more frustrating is that tracks that see the band flex a little more of their own muscle, such as the epic “Frozen” and the complex and atmospheric “…Comes From the Mouth Beyond,” hint at some serious creative potential from this outfit.
I can’t condemn RAM‘s efforts though. These are obviously guys that are extremely passionate about the music they grew up with, and I’m sure there are plenty of you out there who couldn’t care less about the lack of originality that permeates most of Death — as I said in my into, it’s really a matter of personal preference in terms of what one looks for in the music they choose to listen to. This is a well-concieved and executed album that delivers on its intentions and provides plenty of headbanging good times to boot. Those expecting anything more than a tribute to metal’s past will likely be unfulfilled, but those who embrace this album for the same reason should have a good time with it.