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After hearing RAM’s devastating heavy Lightbringer nearly three years ago I was floored at just how prevalent the traditional metal sound was becoming once again. It was one of the more impeccable pieces of that ancient puzzle afforded to we minions of old. Now RAM returns with Death, an album all-too long in the making, but was it worth the wait?
While nothing will top Lightbringer as the band’s piece de résistance Death shifts gears ever slightly and offers a more tempestuous and moody side to the music. I’m not sure if it’s this small, seemingly inconsequential element that seemed a bit ‘off’ to me at first, but for whatever reason I had a little harder time grasping this record with one listen like I did Lightbringer or Forced Entry (the band’s first full-length). Don’t get me wrong, it’s still a good record, but something came off a bit subdued throughout. That aside, let me assess the positives of the record and there are many.
As usual with RAM the band is a tight, flowing machine of Mercyful Fate design, especially evident in “Defiant”, which also spills out Iron Maiden riffs like copious amounts of ale. When entertaining a band like RAM it’s usually the thickness of the guitars and structure of the riffs that makes for an overwhelming song or album experience. The vocals by Oscar Carlquist are controlled power within the confines of a range worthy of mention alongside James Rivera or even a slightly less growling Matt Barlow; the high ranges certainly call upon the latter vocalist nicely. His voice showcases nicely in “Frozen”, which is a testament to the sound made famous by a band like Judas Priest. While the static electrical magic of Lightbringer is usually lightning in a bottle for any band, the effort here is still quite illuminating and worthy of praise. The band finds the niche and carves it like polished engraved steel, rounding the edges just enough to find a loose free form but tight enough to set themselves ahead of the typicality flooding the medium these days.
The songs overall are great and also worthy of repeated re-visitation, but if you’re seeking the same sort of free-flowing vision on the previous ventures it seems to fall just a bit short in that area. These guys know their music and have the chops to pull it off nicely, but aside from some varying spots of would-be genius (“Hypnos” and “Release Me” come to mind) there are spots that lack variance or tangibility to separate the visions or ideas evenly. I won’t go as far as to say that all songs are formulaic or completely similar because that’s simply not the case, but there is a string of familiarity throughout that straddles a very thin line between the cases. Happily RAM doesn’t completely give in to this and finds a differential that works and is competent enough.
What makes RAM a true contender for gushing accolades and fanboy reverence is the fact that these guys can create and play with the best of them, past and present. There is little in the way of erroneous or stultified lethargy; the band manages to keep the music lively and truly interesting with such a full sound and attention to integral relevance. While Death took a couple of listens to grab me, it is a fine record that took a few unexpected turns in the overall package, but it’s nothing I could ever deem bad or annoying. It’s all a canopy effect of good music under the umbrella of solid musicians with real artistic vision.
(Originally written for www.metalpsalter.com)