I long for the day when new heavy metal can exist with a voice of its own. A voice strong enough to shed the nauseating “vintage” labels, rooting itself so deep in innovation that the world stops questioning the genre’s ability to exist in this decade. I have followed Swedish heavy metallers RAM for years in faith that the band will help eliminate this stagnation from my most beloved area of metal, and their newest release Rod is a commendable attempt. Referencing the 1980’s out of pure accessibility can be understandable, but it feels like an injustice to prioritize a mention of the state of metal thirty years ago when RAM have proven they have much to contribute in 2017.
2015’s Svbversvm was one of the more memorable albums of the year for me. While not bringing anything completely new to the table, the towering choruses, attentive songwriting, and massive riffs were RAM at their best and more than enough to keep me interested. Still, I wondered if the band’s latest would confront the faults that had lead to declines in consistency over their history. As much as I acknowledge heavy metal’s normality today, I acknowledge the importance of bringing an individuality and flair even more and I was hoping to see RAM come into their own. Rod is undoubtedly a step in the right direction and brings the band to their most ambitious composition yet with the inclusion of a conceptual story on the entire B-side of the album.
RAM has always delivered lively anthems combined with infectious riffs, and tracks like “Declaration of Independence,” “Wings of No Return,” and “A Throne at Midnight” are no deviation to the fun. However, the first half of the album really delivered the depth I was holding out for in the mid-paced “Gulag,” a track including a melancholic lead that plays over a galloping riff to do a convincing job of detailing the lyrical content. This song was an absolute highlight for me, as the borderline dystopic guitar harmonies really retold a tragedy better than any words could have. I honestly can’t think of any song in RAM’s catalog that is comparable and I feel it’s a track that best displays their growth.
Too often, new heavy metal bands seem to think that poor songwriting and execution has merit as long as it hides behind a worship of the 1980’s. Lack of ability to write a hook is okay as long as we let everyone know how much we’re inspired by Glenn Tipton! Wrong. So wrong. RAM’s refusal to let quality take a backseat is one of my favorite traits of theirs, and the extent of each member’s talent is on display more than ever in the six part epic “Ramrod: The Destroyer.” Each song unravels articulately enough to not feel forced or clumsy, culminating in the album’s most aggressive song in “Part 5: Incinerating Storms.” With a spoken intro dissolving into screaming guitars and a rhythm section that never lets up on intensity, the title describes how it sounds quite literally. The siren-like wails of Oscar Carlquist add to the urgency in one of his greatest performances yet, his distinctive and passionate delivery a key factor in what makes RAM recognizable.
Consistent from previous releases, drummer Morgan Petterson keeps it minimal and straight to the point. He lays down a foundation that provides the perfect backbone of groove and heaviness to each individual song, and the lack of flashiness really works. Allowing other aspects to shine adds to what primarily separates Rod from the band’s first four albums: a stronger separation of vision. There isn’t a single song that doesn’t serve a purpose or introduce a new idea or structure from the tracks before and after it. This gives the band a fresher, more personal sound rather than falling into the black hole of generic repetitiveness that I felt they had grown susceptible to in the past.
I will always dismiss any notion that heavy metal can’t continue to be crafted, and crafted well, just because the 80’s have left us. RAM’s newest album is a continued trajectory upwards that will further solidify their importance in the scene today. I have faith it will contribute to more of us beginning to view true heavy metal as less of a nostalgia act and as ageless as it really is.