With the worldwide influence of Sweden on two fronts in the metal world and their universally hostile furniture-based takeover through Ikea (complete with Pictionary instructions and oddly tasty meatballs), it’s almost funny to see Sweden cheekily stealing from the initially British-led style of old-school heavy metal and RAM it down all of our throats with a record called Svbversvm. Besides the letter U, I’m not sure what RAM‘s attempting to subvert here, but they’re clearly intent on delivering the goods and defending the faith. But this is the retro game we’re talking about: you have to stand out from the current pack and the old guard, or else what’s the point? Their last record Death was hit pretty hard with the AMG Law of Diminishing Recordings, being mediocre overall. Now that they’re back, let’s get hot rockin’ and see if RAM will be breakin’ the Law.
In case it wasn’t obvious by now, RAM really like Judas Priest and scream it with a vengeance via guitars, drums, bass, and vocals that act like the 80s never left. The Judas Priest they love is the hard rock-ish period of British Steel and the like, so a lot of Svbversvm is based around mid-paced tracks that rely on hooks to make their mark. This puts much of the burden on vocalist Oscar Carlquist, and luckily he’s got a good set of pipes that he’s not afraid to use. You’ll also hear some Savatage circa Hall of the Mountain King in here, but Carlquist doesn’t have the captivating vocal persona of Jon Oliva, so this influence pops up instrumentally instead. That RAM chose a few massive pairs of shoes to fill on Svbversvm is the big takeaway here.
RAM play their particular style of heavy metal with competence and confidence. Svbversvm is the sound of a band comfortable with what they’re doing and possessing the chops and knowledge to do it, and “Eyes of the Night” sees a quality synthesis of British Steel‘s anthemic choruses with Painkiller‘s intensity and busy lead guitars; it’s easily the biggest success on the record. “The Omega Device (MI III)” is a campy sci-fi epic with classic heavy metal riffing throughout and 70s style keyboards in the introduction, and Carlquist’s delivery of the chorus is pitch-perfect, being cheesy but not curdled. Svbversvm‘s title track closes the record in a big way, riding the straight ahead triplet chugs that characterized much of Painkiller and containing the best leads and most interesting guitar work the record has to offer. It doesn’t balance power and hooks as efficiently as “Eyes of the Night” and is admittedly a bit long in the tooth, but it nonetheless shows RAM in their most interesting form.
Not as interesting are the majority of the other tracks on offer. Continuing their mediocrity spree from Death, RAM make a number of poor choices on their fourth full-length. The pre-chorus of “Enslaver” sees Carlquist reaching well outside of his vocal comfort zone and sounding like a bad King Diamond impersonator, which torpedoes the song immediately. The two and a half minutes of synthesizer gratuitousness of “Terminus” leads into “The Omega Device (MI III)” unnecessarily, wasting time and space on a record that really doesn’t need that sort of bane. Svbversvm tends to chug along at a largely uninspiring mid-tempo pace and comes across as overlong because of it. It also doesn’t help that songs like “Return of the Iron Tyrant” and “The Usurper” have some good ideas but not enough to justify over five minutes of run-time, and they’re not alone in this regard. For the most part the songs on Svbversvm are too long and similarly paced to be effective, and this made further listens seem daunting. Not knowing when to pull the plug on a song in this style of metal is a pretty damning error, and what sounds like a lack of energy exacerbates it.
RAM had their work cut out for them on Svbversvm, and I’d be remiss to call the result a total failure. There’s something good in most of the songs, but by and large they end up dragging on past the point of being enjoyable, content to move inoffensively along at a pace that can come off as lethargic. Adapting the style of the greats is always a risky proposition, and Svbversvm is like microwaving yesterday’s delicious meal: some of it is almost as good, other parts are nearly cold, but the vast majority is lukewarm. Those new to RAM would be better off listening to their first two records, and fans will surely find something to like but will probably end up feeling the same way they did upon hearing Death: disappointed and wondering where the spark went.