Ranger – Where Evil Dwells (Spinefarm Records)Tuesday, 10th March 2015
Adorned in patched vests and bullet belts, if you weren’t thrashing and bashing your buddies in the pit, you were being smashed against the front-row barricade, wrecking your neck with horns held high and hair flailing about through the air, the 1980s was a magical time for heavy metal. It’s no wonder a slew of young and hungry bands are harkening back to that golden age, when speed reigned supreme and thrash was king. Finnish speed metal merchants Ranger are the latest to enter the fray, joining the ranks of Enforcer, Stallion and Evil Invaders, among others, as bands who not only pay tribute to the classics from that era but whose works can stand right alongside them on their own merit. Founded in 2008, the four-piece hailing from Helsinki released a series of demos, a couple EPs, a compilation and a single prior to delivering their full-length debut, Where Evil Dwells. Take the speed of classic Agent Steel and Exciter, the raw energy of early Slayer and Running Wild (before Rolf set sail under the Jolly Roger), and the twin-lead double axe attack perfected by Iron Maiden and Judas Priest, and you’ll begin to get an idea of Ranger’s sound.
Clocking in at 38:44 and containing only seven songs, Ranger doesn’t waste any time with instrumental tracks or introductory interludes. Full of nuclear-meltdown intensity, “Defcon 1” explodes with rapid-fire riffs, pummeling drums and smoldering leads. Clean gang-shouted vocals trade off with bassist/lead vocalist Dimi Pontiac’s raw but gritty rasp (think Paul Baloff), which he utilizes for the most part throughout the album except for when he soars into the upper John Cyriis register, his banshee-like wails approaching air raid siren levels. Like a fin knifing through the waves, the band dives headlong into “Deadly Feast,” featuring pounding drum fills and pummeling double bass work from Miko and dizzying solo breaks from guitarists Mikael and Ville Valtonen.
The band not only knows how to craft molten slabs of speed ferocity, but finds a way of injecting powerful melodies that twist and turn, weaving seamlessly amongst the spitfire lead breaks and jackhammer riffs, keeping the songs fresh and memorable (see “Black Circle (S.Y.L.S.)” or “Phantom Soldier”). Ranger’s take-no-prisoners attitude leaves little room for rest, slowing down only long enough to allow you to grab a beer from the fridge (or visit the bar in the live setting) before launching back into a frenzied blitzkrieg. “Where Evil Dwells” does begin slowly, in almost dirge-like fashion with droning guitar chords and plucked bass notes but the pace picks up less than two minutes in, with possibly the fastest riff on the record (though album closer “Storm of Power” may beg to differ), before launching into the Maiden-like extended solo section reminiscent of “Phantom of the Opera,” calling to mind some of the Smith/Murray guitar tandem’s best work.
Where Evil Dwells benefits from tight musicianship and a strong production. Miko’s drums thunder out of the speakers and while Dimi’s bass can be heard in the mix, it’s not too upfront, allowing Mikael and Ville to drive the songs with frenetic chainsaw riffs, accented with dazzling fret acrobatics. A tour de force that would rank an F5 on the tornado intensity measuring Fujita Scale, Where Evil Dwells is a clear indication that Ranger is ready to take the metal world by storm. Poseurs need not apply.