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Tries too hard - 60%

Etiam, January 3rd, 2006

Ram-Zet has been kicking around the ‘avant garde/industrial’ scene once dominated by the likes of The Kovenant for some years, and they now return with their third release, ‘Intra’. It actually does feature former member of The Kovenant Küth on skins, but if you’re looking for a Kovenant clone, you will be disappointed. Ram-Zet is far less industrial, and far more modern than their fellow Norwegians.

Before receiving this album to review, I’d heard and liked a couple samples from it—the melodious break from the first track, The Final Thrill, in particular. The dynamic and layering of textures was appealing, Sfinx’s voice rather pleasant; I hoped this same restraint and scope would be employed throughout the album’s duration.

It wasn’t. Those segments do appear in this album, but they seem disjointed, scattered. Though ‘Intra’ seems quite appealing to many, I just can’t hang with it. It is not that it’s too wild for my tastes; quite the contrary, actually. I had heard that Ram-Zet was experimental and ‘out there’—would that it were so. As it is, I’m hesitating to call this even somewhat diverse. I’m on my sixth way through this album and I am still having a difficult time finding any sort of identity from one song to the next, with maybe three exceptions. More than once, I have seriously thought that I’ve listened to a song on repeat, having heard the same template and chord structure multiple times. It could just be the ‘nu metal’-ish style of riffing that is scattered around much of this record. It could also be the almost Cradle of Filth-like vocals from Zet, minus the higher register Dani sometimes employs, which, arguably, makes these even worse due to the absence of range.

This is not to say that the album doesn’t have its good points. Sfinx handles the rest of the vocal work, and her voice is quite a good one. She does at times lean towards the Evanescence-like rock sound, but that is difficult to avoid. The violin playing by Asmegin member Sareeta is lovely, and I wish it played more of a factor in this album, perhaps replacing some of the tired vocal lines or ‘heavy’ breaks. She demonstrates a great classical sense, but has also adapted her playing to fit the more riff-driven style of this band.

And, on that note, I can’t understand why these guys don’t employ their guitar skills more. Songs like Left Behind as Pieces and The Final Thrill incorporate some, if not original, at least well played riffs, very Swedish in style. But then, as if they did not know where next to go, a lot of those good riffs disappear, or are completely subdued, while a simple verse chord is played instead. Also subdued is the best vocal line on the album, found in the lengthy final track, Closing a Memory. It is a very muffled, distant clean voice that comes in to play countermelody to Zet’s vocal line, and is really the best part of the album. Layers, mixed effects, intelligent progression.

But then it goes away. Zet is decent as a back-up vocalist, I suppose, but I question his skills as a co-lead vocalist. Sfinx is definitely talented, but can be too melodramatic, particularly when she’s whispering about falling or notes in blood. As for the instrumentation: listen to the last two minutes of Enchanted, where the same riff is repeated countless times, absent of any vocals or lead melody apart from a slightly discordant violin, and tell me this isn’t missing something.

I am reminded of an Adema album I once heard, where a riff would play twice, then stop, and give way to verses with simplistic drumbeats and an angsty vocal line. Ram-Zet strikes me somewhat as the metal equivalent, just with snazzier costumes, the backing of a quality label, and a couple redeeming twists.

Maybe it’s just not my thing. For those of you who are on the cusp of enjoying this, as I am, check out Unexpect. Sort of the same deal, just better, with gusto and mad chops.
(Originally written for