Ravage – Beware of the Spider

Thursday, 18th April 2024

In the early 2000’s, this scribe caught Ravage at a live show opening for Lizzy Borden at a venue called Jarrod’s Place in Attleboro, Massachusetts – striking a friendship with the band that continues to this day. They would push their music to overseas journalists, which led to their first record deal and eventually develop a career that still exists today. Their latest studio album is Spider on the World – ideal for those who love the classic heavy / power metal sound with elements of thrash thrown in for good measure. We reached out to vocalist Al Ravage to bring us up to date on the long process behind the record, the difficult choices of what songs to put on the release versus bonus offerings, the delicate balance of political/social meets common man/underdog themes for the lyrical content, plus lots of discussion of the rebirth of traditional metal and its appeal globally thanks to the internet and album reissues, future goals, and other plans for Ravage down the line.

Dead Rhetoric: Spider on the World is the latest Ravage album – can you discuss the songwriting and recording process behind this set of material, as well as some of the challenges or specific details that had to be worked out to reach the final product that you’ve arrived at?

Al Ravage: As far as the songs go, a couple of the songs go back to our earliest days. As is always the case with us, we are always carrying around some ancient material that has been around but never recorded into a form that was acceptable to everybody. For instance, the title track which was originally not supposed to be the title track, “Spider on the World”, was a song that goes back to the early 2000’s, 2001-02, I think. It was written by my brother Eli – as are most of our songs, written by one member of the band, usually the guitarists – and then I will add the lyrics, the vocal melodies on top of an almost finished demo. The drummer and bass player add their own little flavoring to that as far as the rhythm section goes. That’s generally the way – the guitarists write the bulk of the music, they check with each other on the solos and lead parts, then I’ll finish off the lyrics and vocals. One song Tommy our bass player wrote “Amazon Burning” which we released on a previous EP. We remixed it and brought that back on this full-length album.

The recording process – as it always seems to be with us, it’s a protracted, elongated process filled with many difficulties. We had recorded the previous LP Return of the Spectral Rider as an experiment on our own to see what our capabilities were from our home studio setup. In the intervening years, Eli had produced a couple of albums for bands like Seax, and other bands, he got burnt out on recording. So, when it came time for us to record our own stuff, he wasn’t 100% on board with doing all the engineering, all the mixing and all the mastering. We decided that we would record everything and then give it to someone else to mix and deal with that headache.

In the middle of this, the pandemic happened. We recorded some things individually, and this is the first recording where I personally engineered and recorded all my own vocals, which I don’t like to do. I like having someone else there to bounce stuff off of, especially with harmonies – but it led to a lot of experimentation on the vocal end. I tried some King Diamond-esque stuff, some pushing of my limits. The guitarists did their own thing, Tommy did his bass stuff himself, but the drums were another matter. Toni had recorded a little bit with us, but it was a tough process to capture what he does in that remote setting. He really destroys the drums, and it got literally destroyed in the time that we recorded this album. We went through a number of different sound configurations on the drums, it took a long time for us to figure out what we wanted to do with it. It came out pretty good.

I think it’s an adequate album for what we were trying to achieve. We have lofty goals. In my mind, we were trying to produce the best album ever (laughs). I don’t know if we will ever achieve that, or if this achieves that. I’m happy with the songs and the way the songwriting came out. I think it’s a strong collection, adequately produced for the sound that we wanted. I’m happy with that overall.

Dead Rhetoric: You reached out to Andreas Marschall for the cover art – well-known through the metal scene for his work with bands like Blind Guardian, Grave Digger, Hammerfall, In Flames, Obituary, Running Wild, and Sodom to name but a few. What was the process like working with Andreas – and do you believe that cool cover art and imagery are as important in today’s scene as when you grew up making decisions about bands/albums in your youth?

Ravage: Cool cover art is important to me. I don’t know how important it is in the scene commercially anymore, but artistically as far as what we are trying to do, it’s like a heavy metal fantasy camp. This is not a day job for any of us, but it’s an important part of our lives, the artistic angle, producing a good, memorable piece of heavy metal that people will enjoy and be proud of for years to come. From that angle, it’s important and worth spending the ridiculous sums of money that we end up spending. People are looking now at the size of artwork that’s a playing card if you are lucky. We also wanted to put this out on vinyl – in that sense for the collectors, it’s nice to have a good cover piece.

Dead Rhetoric: And how did you make the decision of what to put on the vinyl and what to leave off – as you have bonus tracks available digitally as well?

Ravage: This was a very difficult decision. In fact, it was a running argument for a couple of months on what songs to include. Everyone had an opinion – I don’t think anybody thought there were any weak songs. We listened to an outside voice like Pete Rutcho who was the de facto producer, mixer and master. For the most part, we juggled things between ourselves. We went back and forth based on the production quality – we decided to wait until the very end when the songs were done to get a real sense of things. Some songs jumped out to us after the recording. “From the Mouth of Pain”, which was originally “Mouth of Pain”, that was not a song most of the band was on board with. I convinced everybody to record that song, and then everyone thought it was one of the best songs. Pete said it was a great song, he thought it was our number one song. Then there were other songs like “World War 4”, which in the end made it a vinyl exclusive track. That song went back about ten years, when we finished recording the previous full-length album The End of Tomorrow. We had a demo of that song that we brought to our drummer at the time, Pete Webber who went onto to join Havok and is now drumming for Fear Factory. We were proud of that demo, it was the cool new material, and I remember distinctly bringing that demo to his house- he said that’s great guys, but I just joined this band and I’m taking off for Colorado. I thought that song was going to open the album, and it ended up being the extra song.

Dead Rhetoric: What types of themes and topics did you want to tackle for Spider on the World? Have you always tried to balance out the typical themes within heavy metal while also injecting some real world / society issues that people face currently?

Ravage: Yeah, I think I always have. We got some criticism on our previous EP The Worldwide Resistance for making it too political, politically bent in some way. I have tried topically to keep things general, but with an air toward the themes of having a voice for the people who are downtrodden in society. The underdog, people who are being oppressed, problems that I see in society that are growing, frightening me. Anything I tackle in a political sense I see as a problem that’s kind of growing and not getting a lot of notice from the powers that be. For instance, we have a song called “Amazon Burning” which is obviously about the deforestation of the Amazon, and the problems it’s causing in the greater world than global warming. A main undercurrent theme of the album is people not getting along in society, the political divisions that are causing decay of civility between all of us. There are a number of different song mini themes. “From the Mouth Of Pain” are my thoughts on what happened with 9/11, and the victims of 9/11 who got forgotten in the hoopla. A range of topics, “World War 4”is about World War 3, the dangers of nuclear proliferation.

Dead Rhetoric: Do you believe that the traditional, classic, power, and thrash movements seem to be on a decent upswing as far as popularity not only in mainland spots like Europe, South America, and the Far East, but here in the United States as well? Especially given the interest in the latest records from artists like Saxon, Bruce Dickinson, and Judas Priest…

Ravage: It’s hard to say. Traditional metal, classic metal, melodic metal, has reached… I don’t know if it’s a new level of popularity, but a decent level of popularity within the underground. This is mostly due to the internet – people who have any interest in it now have a lot of interest in this. It’s never going to fall off again like it did in the 90s where you had gatekeeping labels and MTV anymore who could say this isn’t cool anymore and shove it in the closet. Wherever it is, be it the United States, Europe, Canada, etc. With the internet everything is out there and there is an audience for everything. The natural audience that may like mostly death metal, they like some melodic metal too – now they can gravitate towards it because it’s there, they have access to it. You can watch all the old music videos on YouTube, you can access the reissues in record stores.

It’s the best time to be in the music scene – we have the old, classic material and some great new bands like Traveler, Striker, Night Demon, all these bands producing new material at a great clip. We have a great selection of whatever you want.

Dead Rhetoric: You’ll be attending the latest edition of Hell’s Heroes soon – a festival that in its fifth edition continues to attract a wide array of artists with a healthy attendance from all over the globe. What are your hopes for this extravaganza, who are you most looking forward to seeing?

Ravage: I missed last year’s festival, but I went to the year before. That was in a smaller, inside venue. The most fun I had, it was an endless lineup of bands over a couple of days, where you were seeing these great underground bands and bigger bands like Riot, Candlemass. I’ve seen them before, but it was great to see burgeoning, underground bands and the level that they’ve gotten to where they are professional level bands – some have only been around for a couple of years, but they have fantastic levels of musicianship and great songwriting. If you go back even ten years, there weren’t those kinds of bands producing good songs. Just learning their craft, or heavy metal wasn’t cool enough – but it seems to be accelerating at least in the underground, there is a really good selection of bands making really good material.

What am I looking forward to? This is the biggest version of it, last year they brought it to a bigger, outside venue, and this year they are continuing that. Bigger bands, bands that have never played in America or haven’t in over twenty years. It will be interesting to see this on the big stage. I am looking forward to seeing Omen most for the first time, Helstar again, Traveler again. Bloodstar, one of my favorite new bands – and checking out all the bands I don’t know.

Dead Rhetoric: Do you believe the festival market stateside has improved the health and status of the metal genre here – as I remember 25-30 years ago, it would be tough to get 100-200 attendees to decent festival lineups like Powermad or the Classic Metal Festival?

Ravage: Again, it’s hard to say. A festival like this – I was talking to Christian who runs the festival when I went last year to the Stormbringer Festival. He was saying that over 70% of the people who go to Hell’s Heroes are from out of state. It is a gathering of that underground, traditional metal scene, and it’s about 4,000-5,000 people. I went to the Stormbringer festival and the Frozen in Time festival, only a couple of hundred people at each but it’s all people who love this music, love to travel to see these bands and spread the word about it as much as they can.

I was thinking about too as his festival has gotten from a few hundred attendees to 1,200 to now in the 4,000-5,000 range – why would I want it to get any bigger? It’s a level where you have enough of a crowd that everyone is chanting along, the power of the huge crowd is there, and the bands can enjoy and feed off of that. At the same time, you can walk around and see everybody that you know and have that community. For me, it doesn’t matter if metal ever gets back to 20,000 seat arenas or bands get to the Judas Priest, Iron Maiden level because at this point, they are producing great music, and I can enjoy it. I don’t need 10,000 people to enjoy it, just the usual 2,000 friends who travel to the shows.

Dead Rhetoric: What goals do you set for Ravage at this point in your career? Are there specific bucket list items that you would like to check off down the line?

Ravage: Yeah. For us, it’s a heavy metal fantasy camp. We’ve had a lot of great opportunities that bands start out and don’t get to experience. We’ve got to play overseas, and the high points in the band have been playing overseas, playing different festivals. The goals for the band, the bucket list is to play different places, play exotic places. Maybe get to South America and Japan at some point. One of our bucket list things was to get our records to Japan and that has happened, it was a big thrill for the band. To play Hell’s Heroes, we’ve got to play Legions of Metal and that was fantastic. To continue to play in different parts of the US we haven’t been able to play before. To get back to Europe and play there. The show experience over there is at a different level than it is here. Not produce a volume of music, but to strive to make the best albums we possibly can.

Dead Rhetoric: What do you see as some of the toughest things the average follower of Ravage has difficulty understanding when it comes to some of the decisions that you have to make as a musician to keep this going – especially this deep into the career of the band?

Ravage: People will ask us if we are touring or coming to their town. I wish it were the case that we could play a lot more shows and get to those small pockets of the world where this music doesn’t get to very often. I’ve tried to visit those places in my travels, unfortunately we are not a working band that does this for a living. We are stuck with an offer to play a festival that will get us to a certain area, then we will try to get there. Maybe waiting for the albums, it takes us forever to get them out. We finally have a stable lineup of the band, so we should be able to produce more music a little more quickly. We are still going to try to be a band that’s quality over quantity on the recording end.

Dead Rhetoric: When you feel overwhelmed or you have lost your focus, what types of things do you like to do or engage in to regain perspective?

Ravage: Listening to music. That’s always been my escape from things. Listening to heavy metal has been an important part of my life, since I was in my early teens, for basically thirty years. I get lost in a good book, movies, all kinds of nerdy stuff. Comic books. Anything that can occupy my mind, other than whatever trials I’m going through at a certain time. Life for me has been pretty good.

Dead Rhetoric: What’s on the horizon for Ravage, Iron Will, or any other music related activities for the members of the band coming down the line in the next twelve months or so?

Ravage: On the immediate horizon, we are releasing this album. The double vinyl version will get released and the digital version. We will wait to see if there is a demand for the CD version, or a tape version. Hopefully putting together some semi-local album release party show. We had some things going, but they fell apart. We had a possible tour, and that fell apart. Maybe in the summer, play some shows. We have a punk band, my brother Eli plays guitar, my older brother Aaron, and I play drums in called Ruffian Dick (laughs). We released our debut album; it has a different vibe but has some classic metal elements into it. We are playing shows with that band, usually once or twice a month locally. Iron Will has been on hiatus for a while. Tony has been writing some songs, hopefully we will release a new EP or album in the coming year. There are a lot of little things we are working on.

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