Return of the Spectral Rider
The perfect example of superb metal traditionalism
Boston traditionalists Ravage have been pushing that heavy load for over 20 years now. In many ways, they are symbolic of 2017's American worker – laboring their way through a decimated blue-collar environment while watching industries thrive overseas. It's unfair, yet a by-product of years of neglect from an audience that simply either didn't know or was too alienated from the traditional sound. Thus 2005's 'Spectral Rider' record came and went faster than the torch-bearing motorist adorning the album's cover. It's a damn shame...time, money and effort spent on a full-length debut that was plagued with poor production, mastering and label promotion. Thus 'Spectral Rider' was gone with the wind.
Ravage revisits the failures of 'Spectral Rider' with 'Return of the Spectral Rider', released independently by the band in May of 2017. The band have re-recorded the album, troubleshooting and resolving the prior problems with a successful facelift. The band built a new studio, invited all hands-on deck and recreated 'Spectral Rider' for the 2017 audience, one that is now firmly embracing this New Wave of Traditional Heavy Metal. It's a great marriage after a not so great date.
Guitarist Eli Firicano dabbled in some recording and production with his other band Seax, but this is his first effort at a full-length recording. Together with his brother Al (vocalist), Tommy Grimaldi (bass), Nick Izzo (guitar) and five drummers (including permanent member Derek Jay), the band gel together to make this the best Ravage album to date. It's polished to perfection with a beefy rhythm section, charismatic vocals, pristine fretwork and a sense of diversity due to the different drummers. It's the culmination of experience, a tried and true test of metal freedom and expression that sparks what I have to think is a new chapter and era for Ravage.
Comparisons to NWOBHM are valid. The band combine a hearty admiration for 1980's British steel era (Maiden, Priest, Saxon) with a European power metal diet that focuses on a melodic twin guitar attack topped by rhythmic bass and timing changes. Al's vocals are unique, as if an orgy of Biff Byford (Saxon), Blaze Bayley (ex-Iron Maiden) and Michael Kiske (Helloween) produced an American baby. It's that convocation of styles that enhances the sound and makes it powerful through different channels.
There's no doubt that "Turn the Screw" is the best track, a go-to song that reminds me of the 'X-Factor' era of Iron Maiden. It's a slow build with Al's atmospheric vocals introducing the song before the faster rhythm pushes him into a higher range at the 1:10 mark. It's aces high at that point with a faster charge that envelopes an infectious chorus and arrangement. That type of template works well for "The Masque of the Red Death", another literary classic metalized. A slower intro moves into blinding speed at the minute mark that marches into German territory with a "keep it true" formula reminiscent of bands like Wizard and Paragon. "Ravage, Pt. 1: Damage" and "Wake the Dead" are a bit more thrashy and comparable to the band's Metal Blade album 'The End of Tomorrow'. Album highlight for me is the epic eight-minutes of "The King Forgotten", complete with some spoken words, quick galloping riffs and sweeping waves of slower, melodic guitar. It's a showcase of everything I love about this band. It's the proverbial "introduction of heavy metal to cosmic life".
"Return of the Spectral Rider" is synonymous with the band's return. While they have been active and performing live for years--supporting EPs, singles and the Metal Blade release--the band are simply rejuvenated and firing on all cylinders now. These songs are older, written as far back as the 90s, but I can't help but think that revisiting this record has to conjure visions of grandeur. This is a superb band representing a superb sound. Follow the band. Message the band. Buy this band. It's the independent, no label, no gimmick, DIY, underdog, underground band that you have been talking about needing, wanting, and supporting for years. Saddle up...or they just might ride away from us again.
Note--See how many song titles you can locate in Tim Jacobus' ("Goosebumps") nostalgic album cover.