RAM’s vintage heavy metal assault makes third album ‘Death’ a pretty fun listen

Saying a band does things in retro fashion doesn’t mean a whole lot these days. Taking trips back into time to grab sounds from other eras seemingly is done by everyone now, so it’s become less special and more of an annoyance. I wonder if one day we can all move forward and try something new. Then again, bands did try to do that in the ’90s, and we ended up with the scourge that is nu-metal. Eck.

That’s not to suggest each band that reaches backward isn’t worth it. Many are. There are a lot of bands traveling trad doom paths, vintage thrash roads and classic death swamps to try to reinvigorate a sound or simply pay homage to a style the group admires. One such band that sounds as if they’d have been more at home in the middle of the 1980s is Sweden’s RAM, whose new record “Death” is out on Metal Blade. In fact, that’s the very label where they likely could have landed had they originated three decades ago. This stuff is made for a “Metal Massacre” compilation. Their music reminds of when I’d see new bands on Headbangers Ball (um, the first incarnation) and wonder who they were, where they came from, who they sound like. I peg RAM as a bit of Mercyful Fate with a handful of Judas Priest and a helping of Metal Church. All of those are favorable elements, as far as I’m concerned. Most of what they accomplish on this third record works, though it’s not without some drawbacks.

RAM, who hail from melodic death metal stronghold Gothenburg, have bounced around to different labels for all three platters — debut “Forced Entry” was put out by Black Path, sophomore effort “Lightbringer” was released by AMF, and now they’ve landed at the Blade. They’re now in the best place to make a major impact on the metal world and get better support, and I could see “Death” doing that for them. It rocks out pretty steadily, and while it sometimes has some more serious lyrical content, such as on “Hypnos,” it’s something you can put on while in the car, set the volume high and let the guitar magic take you there.

The band gets impressive guitar work from Harry Granroth and Daniel Johansson, as both shine on leads and do a nice job switching off seamlessly during solos. They’re the reason to listen to this band, and while I’m no expert musician, I could see this duo ending up heroes in your everyday guitar magazines. Vocalist Oscar Carlquist is both a benefit and, at times, a hindrance. He’s got a fine voice for power metal and thrash, and for the most part he carries this journey capably. But when he tries to go to all King Diamond territory vocally, it just doesn’t work. It sounds forced and unnatural coming from him, but luckily that doesn’t happen a whole lot on “Death.” For the most part, listening to his vocals gives me a bit of a nostalgia trip back to my youth when thrash and power made up my entire record collection.

“Death” is book-ended by instrumental tracks, the opener being the weird, whirry, B-movie sci-fi title cut; the closer the ominous, doomy, somber “1771.” In between is where these guys clip you with their horns.  “…Comes From the Mouth Beyond” launches the band into the meat of the record, with a galloping rhythm line, searing leads and some of those higher-register vocals I cited. “Release Me” sounds like a tribute to classic heavy metal; “Defiant” is pushed forward by the twin-guitar assault and an unshakable melody; “Frozen” takes me back in time the most, reminding a bit of “Headless Cross” era Black Sabbath, with its mid-tempo hulking, spooky lyrics and confident singing; “Under the Scythe” is a bit of cheeseball metal, especially during the chorus, but that’s fine in small doses; and “Flame of the Tyrants” is a ripper that could excite Priest, Iron Maiden and Dio fans, who may not identify with a lot of today’s sounds. and On it, Carlquist howls their battle cry, “This heavy metal tyranny!”

“Death” won’t go down as the metal album of the year or anything, and as noted, it certainly has its flaws. But as a shot of throwback, vintage metal goes, this one will get you going. The guitar work is a lot of fun, the songs are a blast and the record goes down easily. Metal gets taken a little too seriously sometimes and dissected too carefully, and I’m as guilty as anyone with that action. This takes me back to a time when metal was fun and I could put on headphones, close out the world, and battle on the side of a mountain for a little while. Hmm, I think it’s time for some “Zelda.”

For more on the band, go here: http://www.facebook.com/pages/RAM/128575340510564?sk=info

To buy “Death,” go here: http://www.indiemerchstore.com/item/13160/

For more on the label, go here: http://www.metalblade.com/english/content.php

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