Back into the depths of traditional, olde-school, cheesy metal we delve, my friends, and what do we encounter but more Swedish goodness in the form of Ram, and their latest album, Rod. The band haven’t let the fact that their logo is perennially in the running for Worst in All of Metal slow them down: Rod is their fifth album over the last fifteen years, making these guys almost as old as the music they love to play: Ram are pure NWOBHM, fervently worshiping at the altar of Judas Priest and staying trve to their values throughout the years. Rod brings a new twist to their shtick, but will it be enough to blow the roof off your basement suite?
The twist I speak of is this: part of Rod is a concept album — well, concept songs because it isn’t the whole album. The final six songs on this ten-track slab are the story of “Ramrod the Destroyer.” I’ll look at that in a moment, but what about the first four songs? For the most part, straight-up 80s metal, some fast, some mid-tempo, some galloping, some shredding. “Declaration of Independence” launches from the start line with furious riffing that would fit on a lesser version of Painkiller. Oscar Carlquist belts out the lyrics like singers of yore: while he doesn’t exactly sound like Rob Halford, it’s clear that is his idol, especially when singing in high-pitched screams. Solid and professional, if unspectacular.
“On Wings of No Return” flies along in similar fashion, as does “A Throne at Midnight,” both songs above average bangers carried by double kick drums, dual axework, and Carlquist snarling throughout. Those songs are good, but the best song on Rod, and in fact one of my favorites of the year now, is the galloper “Gulag.” For the most part, Ram display their Judas Priest fascination, but on “Gulag” Iron Maiden comes to the fore, with the chugging gallop and guitar harmonies. It’s got everything: catchy verses, even catchier choruses, dual lead breaks, triple guitar harmonies, even a key change. I keep coming back to that song, and will for quite a while.
This brings us to the six-part epic “Ramrod the Destroyer.” There’s still some great stuff in here: “Ignitor” and “Incinerating Storms” haul ass, and the climactic instrumental finale “Ashes” is epic yet short. Weaknesses show themselves in the goofy narratives, which feature layers of vocal effects and harmonizers to create some sort of evil dude (maybe Death) who I think winds up giving Ramrod his scythe, to bring death to life and life to death. Is it too cheesy? Damn close, but it’s not as bad as, oh, say Judas Priest’s “Loch Ness,” and it’s not enough to take away from just how much fun the record as a whole is. The production helps as well, aggressive and bereft of effects (aside from the narrative), letting the strong musicianship shine through. This is one tight group of musicians.
While previous releases have been average and/or inconsistent, with Rod, Ram accomplish what they set out to do: create a metal album free of the pretensions we often see today. This is just pure, fun metal played with authentic fervor. The guitar solos (not to mention tones) are excellent, vocals kick ass, and the rhythm section is tighter than a tight thing — Ram have no weaknesses in that regard. There are appropriately cheesy moments throughout, but nothing that made me groan and move on to next week’s album. If you’re into the old NWOBHM, dig into Rod. And if you’re not, well, give “Gulag” a spin via the stream and I dare you to not enjoy it!