Ravage – Awaken the Spectral Rider

Thursday, 22nd June 2017

Evolving as a traditional-oriented metal act with power/thrash nuances during the mid-1990’s in New England, Ravage developed their craft at a time when the genre certainly went from the height of popularity back into the shadows of the underground. Setting their sights overseas when releasing demos and EP’s, German label Karthago Records put out their first full-length Spectral Rider in 2005, as the band gained the opportunity to play overseas at the Swordbrothers Festival the following year. Plugging along with local shows while working out more material, Metal Blade would elevate the group’s profile significantly with the follow-up The End of Tomorrow.

Outside of New England though, many felt like the band has been quite dormant – only playing select shows in and around the Boston/Worcester/Providence areas, while gaining opening slots for Onslaught, Vicious Rumors, and Anvil among others. Perseverance pays off, as the band reignite the fires of old with a fresh re-recording of that debut album called Return of the Spectral Rider. Featuring loads of power riffing, galloping chords, and enticing lead breaks from guitarists Eli Firicano and Nick Izzo, those followers of NWOBHM meets American power and late 80’s/early 90’s speed/thrash bursts will assuredly clamor to this set of material – featuring stronger production values and seasoned performances.

Fortunate to watch the band literally grow up in the scene, the time is ripe to catch up on all things Ravage related. Answering the call one early Friday afternoon is vocalist Al Firicano, aka Al Ravage to most. Find out what took place in the prolonged break between albums, the special cover artist secured for this new re-recording, and how it is working with a brother in a band – plus some insight into the changing landscape where traditional metal seems to be getting more respect now than ever.

Dead Rhetoric: It’s been eight years since your second album The End of Tomorrow came out on Metal Blade. Many people have been curious as to what happened to Ravage during that time- and if there were times you questioned even continuing with the band?

Al Ravage: Well, believe it or not, we never went away! (laughs). We’ve been together in some form for the last 21 years at this point. There have been periods of extreme inactivity or slowness in getting stuff done. That has caused some people to forget about us, but we’ve always stuck around. At some point, we were only playing a few shows a year locally. We’ve always been working on stuff. Shortly after the tour we conducted to support The End of Tomorrow we lost our rhythm section.

After that we have had a revolving door rhythm section, where we would have a different drummer and a different bassist every couple of years, which made recording and playing out sometimes difficult. We actually did record 7 or 8 songs, and we were going to put out an EP, so that was the first couple of years – but we ended up shelving that for production reasons. What often happens when there’s some down time, Eli as a guitarist will often start branching out and he ended up joining Seax, which ate up more of the time. Nick got married, and we kept things together but things just slowed down to the point where it seemed like we weren’t doing anything- but the seeds of recording new things were germinating. We were still playing live shows locally opening for whoever we could. At that point we were without a label pushing us, so we were kind of forgotten.

Dead Rhetoric: You’ve been working on two Ravage recordings – a new album of original material plus re-recording your debut album Spectral Rider, out now called Return of the Spectral Rider. Why was it important to you to re-visit this record, and how do you feel about giving this material a proper second chance to be heard properly in the world the way you envisioned it?

Ravage: I think it was extremely important from the standpoint that some of these songs were some of our favorite songs, going back to when we started the band. We felt that they never had a proper presentation production-wise, and they are very strong songs. For us it’s a real thrill to get them out there and have them in the form that we always wanted them to be available in. Better performance and better production- and the other side of that is we used this to test out our new studio. A couple of years ago we started putting together recording equipment and since we didn’t have a record label anymore plus some time on our hands, let’s start doing these recordings and getting them done right, finally. We had this new material ready, but let’s test it out by doing something we’ve already done and we know. We took the old songs from Spectral Rider and we used it as a test of our new studio. We brought in a bunch of drummers, we used five different guests and that was an experiment in and of itself, that poses its own set of challenges. It was a test of the equipment, seeing what we could do between having rehearsals with new people, and seeing if there was any interest in the band as well.

Dead Rhetoric: You have a vinyl version as well as a CD version of the album- was it a difficult process to decide what to keep on the vinyl because of time constraints, because you have more material on the CD format?

Ravage: It was difficult. At some point, I did consider doing a double vinyl record- but reality hit when I looked at the costs of doing it, and some trepidation about would we even sell a copy or two. In terms of every song on the album, we wanted to put every one of them on there, but ultimately the vinyl is packaged with a download card that gives you access to even more than what is on the CD, as there is another bonus track. We will be able to get all the music to the people whether they purchase the vinyl or the CD with the download option. As far as actually selecting the songs for the vinyl, we did use time constraint as our guide. We put some of the shorter songs on there as a result. I like all the versions with how they came out.

Dead Rhetoric: How did the process take shape for the new cover art with Tim Jacobus (most known for his work on the Goosebumps book series) – and where do you see the importance in the visual medium to heavy metal?

Ravage: I think it will always be important, the visual aspects of heavy metal because in heavy metal, unlike many other genres, the songs tell a story and a very visually inclined story. There is a lot of strong imagery, fantasy or horror imagery. It’s extremely important to present something that gets people attention and allows you to have the experience, especially with vinyl that you are able to be drawn into the music by the artwork.

As far as us working with Tim, that was an extremely easy process. Originally, I was going to contact Ed Repka again, because he had done The End of Tomorrow album and he did a great job on that. When I talked to Eli my brother about it, he didn’t want us to be known as an Ed Repka band- or have him do every cover, let’s do something different. I wanted to use a name artist to try to get some attention for the album, and Eli suggested checking out the guy who did these Goosebumps covers. He was a big Goosebumps fan growing up. So I contacted Tim, and he was gracious enough to work with us.

Dead Rhetoric: Has he ever done anything in the metal realm for artwork?

Ravage: I think he’s done a couple of rock albums, but I don’t think he’s done a metal album before. Having worked in the horror genre, the two go hand in hand- so he may be doing more of this in the future.

Dead Rhetoric: And was it a process where he listened to the music first before coming up with the ideas, or did you give him some guidance to work together?

Ravage: It was pretty straightforward. I sent him a picture of the original album cover, and told him what changes we wanted to make and what we wanted to include on there. We tried to give a nod to almost all the songs in the artwork- so if you look at the little details, I tried to have him cram as much as possible in there. There’s a nod to “Wake the Dead” if you look in the lower, right hand corner, there’s a skeletal arm with an alarm clock, and we’ve got the “Spectral Rider” who is wielding the Hellhammer, and a dragon in the sky for “Wyvern”, and “King Forgotten” is in there somewhere. He did a great job of incorporating all of these crazy elements and making a pretty elaborate artwork.

Dead Rhetoric: Do you have specific albums or bands that you gravitated towards because of the cover art?

Ravage: Cover art was instrumental in getting me into metal. I have a vivid memory of walking to my teenage cousin’s room when I was 8 years old. He had all these drawings on the wall, and one of them was this skinless guy- a cyborg guy and it scared the shit out of me. I had no idea what it was. About 4 years later when I listened to Metallica for the first time, I went to my older brother and I said, ‘what was that band that our cousin used to listen to, and he used to draw all those skinless guys on the wall?’. And he said, ‘oh- that’s Iron Maiden’. I went out that day and I bought The Number of the Beast and that’s how I got into metal.

Dead Rhetoric: What are your thoughts about the New England metal scene? There seems to be a wide array of styles and killer musicians, plus a strong support network to increase the profile of these groups between clubs, promoters, and the bands themselves…

Ravage: It’s awesome. We are blessed to have a very diverse scene, as you’ve said. With the Metal Thursdays shows at Ralph’s Diner, you get a cross section of every genre of real metal. And it’s close to Boston, easy to get to, and you are able to witness anything that’s at the underground level that’s coming through on a tour, we get it- which is rare in other parts of the country. We are spoiled, we get the small bands that tour that will come to Boston proper or Worcester and play at Ralph’s. We get the mid-range and professional touring bands, and play club and theater shows to do very well. And then there are the arena and stadium shows with Iron Maiden and Metallica. We have been getting more European bands play here which is great- I got to see Grave Digger recently, and I never thought I would ever get to see Grave Digger in North America. You can’t complain about that.

Dead Rhetoric: How do you feel about the evolution of the traditional forms of heavy metal and its offshoots since you started Ravage as early teenagers in the mid 1990’s? Do you feel that the digital/internet technology improved the status and support when it was going through lower support, especially stateside?

Ravage: It’s hard to say. I think the scene overall is definitely better today than it was even 5 or 10 years ago. When we started out, we were so young so long ago, there was no metal on the radio. Bands like Iron Maiden were looked down upon at that time, in the age of alternative music and hard rock/metal was a pariah in the music scene. And then it went into nu-metal, some of the classic bands were still seen as passé. Then metalcore came around, and a lot of the classic bands started to get some more respect. In the underground, it was still more about extreme music. And now – with the thrash revival kind of running its course, you have a little bit of everything in metal. Traditional metal – there are more, young traditional metal bands now and female-fronted metal bands than I have ever seen before. Which is really good for us, because we never really made it beyond the underground. It’s great to see these bands getting some great recognition, bands like Night Demon touring all the time which is awesome. The internet plays a part in it, but it’s all just the cycles of music and it’s finally come back around.

In 2009 when we tried to do our own tour to support The End of Tomorrow, I can tell you there were not a lot of bands out there to play with- and there wasn’t a lot of support for the tour nationally even within the underground. That aspect has changed- there are more speed metal bands out there now, and traditional metal bands to play with.

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