RAM – Sharpening the Steel

Thursday, 29th August 2019

Heavy metal in its purest sense needs to be heard, seen, and felt to truly understand its forceful impact. Since the late 1990’s Swedish band RAM have been executing their brand of metal to the masses – even if at first it may have been met with disdain, laughter, or dismissed as too old-fashioned. Coming up to their 20th anniversary as a group, their sixth studio album The Throne Within conjures an energy, a spirit, an attitude that cannot be denied. Apt pupils willing to challenge their creative might, songs such as “The Shadowwork” and “The Trap” cut hard, anthems that the new generation hopefully will champion and also satisfy the original guard who discovered the classics back in the 70’s and 80’s.

We reached out to vocalist Oscar Carlquist, who was willing to handle the variety of topics during this half-hour conversation. You’ll learn about the chances taken on this new record, their collaboration with Alan from Primordial, vinyl talk, and discussion about imagery and heavy metal – plus favorite memories over the course of the band’s twenty-year history.

Dead Rhetoric: The Throne Within is the sixth RAM studio record. Where do you see the progression of the band on this album in comparison to your last record Rod from 2017?

Oscar Carlquist: Well I think we progressed a bit in the songwriting department. We have progressed a lot with our performance. But the biggest progress would probably be in the production side of things. I’m very pleased with the production on this album. It feels a lot bigger than Rod, a lot more epic, more of a rock star kind of album if you would like. We wanted to do this this time around. We are very pleased with it, it’s a nice progression. Maybe a little bit out of the metal underground and becoming a bit more accessible so this thing can continue to grow. I think that’s what we wanted to do and we achieved.

Dead Rhetoric: Do you think it’s a challenge to be accessible on your own terms?

Carlquist: Yes, definitely. It’s a fine line, especially when you are playing traditional metal. People are very, very picky, and it’s a good thing that I am too with the bands that I like. It’s a good thing we are fans, so we know when we don’t like (something) – we know where those boundaries are, and we are very cautious not to overstep them. Dancing on the edge, you have to do something, and you have to progress in some manner. You have to push the envelope somehow, but you have to have a good feeling about it. You have to know what you are doing, and I think we are pretty good at maintaining our hard, noncompromising image but still pushing the envelope so to speak.

Dead Rhetoric: Would you say on the new album a song like “You All Leave” is the one that pushes more boundaries, because of its ballad-style format?

Carlquist: Yes, it does. In its format it’s a classic power ballad, but still it’s not a very feel good song. It’s very cold, not your classic love power ballad thing. That’s what makes it work- it’s not easy in any manner, looking at it musically it’s more or less like The Scorpions-style power ballad. That’s how we do things- we keep them hard and cold, but we still like to challenge ourselves and try new stuff.

Dead Rhetoric: When it comes to the development of ideas into songs for RAM – how do you know when you’ve struck iron so to speak and know that what you are creating is worthwhile to develop into a full blown composition to make a record?

Carlquist: Normally we’ll have a riff or something. We are always writing with our emotions. If we don’t feel something when we play something, you can write a guitar riff that’s technically a really cool riff, but it won’t engage you emotionally, so we won’t use it. We try to make a riff or two riffs that come together, then we will explore what emotion it awakes in us. We will normally set the title based on that emotion – and then we will continue writing the song, fitting the title and the emotions that show up from the beginning. It helps us develop the concept, and then we write within that concept.

Dead Rhetoric: Do you feel like you have to be in the right mood to write the best material – or does it come at you from all angles?

Carlquist: Well, for this album and for most of our albums, we just do the ABBA thing – like Björn and Benny did, just sit down and write music for a set time aside. During this period, we write music – 80% is not really good, but the other 20% will be. No matter how uninspired I am, or tired, I will do those hours I’ve set aside to write music. Björn and Benny did eight hours a day- I don’t have that luxury since I have to provide for my family from other means outside of music, but I will set aside as much time as possible, and it’s scheduled. That’s mainly how we will do it.

Dead Rhetoric: How did the collaboration come about with Alan Averill of Primordial on the closer “Ravnfell” – and what do you admire most about Alan as a vocalist and a person?

Carlquist: Well, Alan invited us to play his Redemption festivals in Dublin. We went down there and had a blast- it was a really good show. Afterwards we had long, long talks. We really hit it off. We had similar views on things, he’s a very intelligent guy. When we wrote “Ravnfell”, I just heard his voice on it. It felt very natural that he should be a part of that. The song also speaks about, the lyrics… much of the concept of the lyrics is about no matter how civilized and how much mankind strays away from nature and his past, you can’t outrun it. You can see mankind as an onion so to speak, there are these old pagan, cold-blooded ways and you can’t outrun them. That’s more or less what Alan is talking about within Primordial at times as well. I viewed him as almost an ambassador of that kind of thought. It felt very natural to ask Alan to be a part of this – and he was playing at this festival in Gothenburg, so we picked him up at his hotel, and decided to record the stuff. It was a very easy experience, he’s an easy guy to work with and he’s extremely talented. He’s like the old blues man of the current metal scene. His voice, the dirt under the fingernails, adds an earthy feel to the music. It’s just perfect for that song.

Dead Rhetoric: The record will be released in multiple limited-edition colored vinyl versions, a 2CD special edition, and a double vinyl version as well. How do you feel about the different avenues these days to capture the audience and collectors these days – do you still believe metalheads love the physical medium for their music listening pleasure?

Carlquist: Absolutely. I don’t feel like our albums are properly released until they show up on vinyl. It’s the backbone of the real heavy metal community. You need those vinyl albums – the big covers, we always think like that when we put an album together. An A side and a B side. That’s just how we will always compose our albums. It’s a perfect format- it won’t make your album too long, keep it intense and it’s a very nice structure, the old vinyl way of thinking. We won’t ever stray from that.

I’m not a super big fan of all these different vinyl (editions) and all that stuff. If I was a super diehard fan, I wouldn’t like being put on the spot to buy ten different vinyl editions – that’s insane. I can’t complain if it keeps sales up. I’ll just have to trust Metal Blade, trust that they know what they are doing.

Dead Rhetoric: Do you remember some of the first metal vinyl you bought as a kid?

Carlquist: My first metal vinyl I bought was Creatures of the Night – Kiss. That was my favorite album for a lot of years. I still have that in multiple editions and I could listen to that album five times a day for a year. I got Twisted Sister- Stay Hungry, and then when I was a little bit older I was a very big Metallica fan. My mother was on vacation in the states and she got me all the Elektra pressings of all the Metallica albums that were released, up to then – the first three albums. I still have them in mint condition, I hardly dare to touch them because they were so special to me. I’m still the same- I buy vinyl and play vinyl, now I have two kids so I’m starting to introduce them to my vinyl collection. Seems like Kiss and AC/DC is working the best for them – it’s a really cool thing to have around the house.

Dead Rhetoric: You’ve now been on Metal Blade since 2012’s Death record – what are your thoughts on your record label and the importance of having a solid team behind you to push your music through the proper media channels?

Carlquist: We are very happy with Metal Blade. We have a very good relationship with our A + R man, we have a lot of freedom – nobody is telling us what to do. That wouldn’t work out, we would not be happy and I think they realize that. They still trust us because we always deliver a master, a complete master without any interference from the label whatsoever. There’s never an issue, it’s very important for us that we have total control over our product. It’s a good thing they understand that, we are very particular about that.

Rod went up the German album charts, sold better than the Deep Purple album that came out at the same time, we can’t complain about that side of things.

Dead Rhetoric: Where would you rate your hatred for certain aspects of the metal scene today compared to the alliance your forged with guitarist Harry Granroth when the band started twenty years ago?

Carlquist: There’s a still a lot of these misinterpretations. It’s gotten a lot better now since there is a real scene for real metal bands that play the real old style. When we started, nobody recognized what we were doing. The whole sound was kind of dead, and we would take whatever shows that we could. We would play opening shows for Dark Tranquillity, and different kinds of bands because there were no other traditional bands around. And people didn’t understand what we were doing- they would laugh at us because we would have on leather, the studs, and stuff. They didn’t understand that the old sound was forgotten in the late 90’s, early 2000’s. And then, it was Halford with his solo album Resurrection and Bruce Dickinson coming back to Iron Maiden, they resurrected the old sound again. Gradually a scene arose, mainly based in Germany. All the bands would come to Germany to play – a lot of that has to do with the Keep it True festival, stuff like that to awaken the old sound again. We are very grateful for that so that people understand, we have a working fanbase that understands what we are about, what we are doing, and appreciate us.

But still there’s a lot of crap in the metal scene. A lot of stupid, blended styles. A lot of backing tracks, bands just pressing play on tape machines. A lot of stupid images, a lot of makeup. This modern kind of keyboard-based style of the old sound, it’s missing the point completely. It’s too soft. It sold out before it’s even selling out. We’ve been playing for twenty years now, and we’ve learned to just focus on what we do. Let others focus on what they do. I don’t want to change the focus from what I’m doing – I don’t even follow the scene that closely anymore. I’ve learned how to harness that energy and keep it within my own art instead of being bitter over how metal is being misused. Better for me to do something creative to show how it’s supposed to be done instead of wasting energy on the other bands who are doing it the wrong way.

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