Ravage - Return of the Spectral Rider - (7.5/10)
Published on August 21, 2017
Genre:Power / Speed Metal
There’s something of the WWE franchise about Ravage that might in part be their name, their album covers with muscular motorbikes, or the fact that their singer is called Al Ravage. The music is sturdy too, although probably wouldn’t be chosen as a wrestler’s entrance music like Soil and the like were 15 years ago, since it doesn’t quite have the same swagger, aiming for more classic thrills. On the other hand, if you were to think of classic heavy and power metal, Ravage certainly have the potential to beat them both up, especially if the heavyweight formula of songs like “The Nightmare’s Hold” from The End of Tomorrow is anything to go by. Sadly, Return of the Spectral Rider doesn’t offer anything quite as bombastically heavy as that, though it fits in again with the WWE theme, since it is a reprise of the band’s 2005 debut album, like a franchise making a comeback with more aged actors.
While admittedly there is not much new to entice fans of the original Spectral Rider to shell out for this, the album is good in its own right and breaks a five year silence on the part of the band. What made the debut interesting was its decidedly hooky and aggressive take on power metal, using very little pomp and more of the classic heaviness from older U.S. bands such as Brocas Helm and Omen, plus a healthy dose of speed metal’s stripped-down riffing, which puts the listening experience on the same shelf as the harder-hitting Germans Grave Digger and Primal Fear. However, Spectral Rider’s mediocre production has been fixed up beautifully for the remake, all bandmembers getting plenty of joy from the lively and warm-sounding album. A few additional twists and turns have also found their way into the songs over the course of 12 years, slightly extending “The King Forgotten” and “Whyvern” (now with an extra letter in its name!), plus the gift of “Father of the Atom” as a bonus track.
But instead of talking about what’s different one should be practical and realize that very few metalheads will have listened to the narrowly-distributed original, so this may be their best chance to experience Ravage. As noted earlier, there is power metal in the musical mixture, exhibited mainly in the ebullient melodies turned out by the guitarists, while Al Ravage’s voice happily does not fit his wrestling moniker. Nevertheless, his pipes are not typical for power metal, staying in a soulful mid- to low-range and using the “monkish” style to add drama at key moments, as if he were channelling the spirit of a flu-ridden Messiah Marcolin. His voice is comparable to the singer of Witchsmeller Pursuivant, who one might also wish to sing out rather more at times, though this feeling is tempered by the fact the rest of the band are capable of holding the listener’s attention throughout.
One way that Ravage turn a longish album to their account is by diverging into several areas and allowing the songwriting to breathe, several sections in “Wicked Way”, “Wasteland”, and “Curse of Heaven” dropping to clean guitars and lithe bass, while there are more exhilarating instrumental sections at other points. The solos are one key area where the guitar duo make deliberate reference to the old guard, opting for Iron Maiden and Judas Priest harmonies, an influence which also creeps into choruses like that of “Masque of Black Death”. The mixture of more epic numbers and raw thunderbolts is another good move, the scope and subtlety of “Wasteland” playing off the heads-down riffery shown in “Wake the Dead”, both songs profiting by comparison. However, it’s the songs that strike a balance between the two elements of the band that fare best, “Turn the Screw” and “Whyvern” particularly using their infectious riffing to bring excitement to parts of the song and more measured playing to add drama in others.
Ultimately though, Return of the Spectral Rider is held back from being a great album by neglecting to include any truly killer cuts or anything more than merely good ideas. The release is consistent and fun but rarely reaches levels of excellence, barring the superb second half of “Whyvern”, which proves that the band could do a little more with their formula. Another slight issue is that by extending some of the songs and adding clean introductions to several pieces, the pace of the album alters quite significantly, preventing the intoxicating rush of speed metal energy to build up as it does on briefer albums in the genre. All the same, there’s little reason why fans of classic, speed, or power metal should dislike Return of the Spectral Rider. Here’s to Ravage making a proper comeback and writing some fresh material soon.