When Manowar’s Joey DeMaio coined the phrase ‘Death to false metal’ in the 80s, he could not have foreseen the overwhelming volume of ostensibly heavy music that would emerge in the decades to follow, bereft of some or all of the components that made our genre such a compelling alternative to mainstream music in the first place.
We could waste days debating the relative merits of more demonstrably modern strains of metal, but one solid, unquestionable truth remains: the true spirit of heavy metal is as strong today as it ever was, and no amount of cynical dilution or culturally detached tinkering can alter the fact that millions around the world still adhere to metal’s intrinsic values. /o:p
Sadly, as the values of mainstream rock and metal continue to be dictated by commercial concerns, rather than creative or cultural ones, it has become increasingly difficult for real heavy metal bands to attract the kind of attention they deserve, not least to the view that traditional metal and those who propagate it in the 21st century are relics from a bygone era, rather than electrifying and vital exercises in honouring an aesthetic that instinctively goes against the trendy grain.
And while the last decade undeniably saw a resurgence in enthusiasm for traditional metal, its contemporary standard-bearers have frequently been guilty of self-indulgent nostalgia: a harnessing of 80s metal’s sound and look, but often not of its undying fury and adversarial flair. But that’s where Ranger come in./o:p
Finland’s metallic prowess has been beyond dispute for a long time now, but this young tribe of diehard metalheads exhibit no interest in conforming to templates laid down by hugely successful fellow countrymen like Nightwish and Children Of Bodom. Instead, as they demonstrate with near-psychotic intensity on new album Where Evil Dwells, Ranger are flying the flag for the true spirit of heavy metal and proving that it remains as relevant and exhilarating as ever.
“Things are getting a lot better right now,” says vocalist and bassist Dimi Pontiac. “A lot of metal fans are discovering bands like us and learning about heavy metal… and they love it! This is our music and this is our way to do it. It’s not nostalgic or being retro, it’s how we feel and it’s the way things are supposed to be!
“When we started this band, we were disappointed with the scene in metal and we thought it lacked true heavy metal bands. ‘We’re true metalheads so let’s form a band that’s better than all the other bands!’ That was our philosophy. Modern metal lacks that excitement and danger. There is nothing shocking going on. It’s boring… [long pause] and it’s not heavy.”/o:p
Formed in late 2008 in Helsinki, Ranger began life as Turbin – named after Neil Turbin, vocalist on Anthrax’s legendary Fistful Of Metal debut – before adopting their current moniker and swiftly developing a reputation for insane live shows and a furious dedication to the old-school way. Over a series of demo EPs released by Finnish label Ektro, Ranger have steadily risen to the top of the retrogressive metal pile while somehow managing to avoid veering down the artistic cul-de-sacs that many of their peers have fallen prey to. Where Evil Dwells taps directly into the turbulent soul of the early 80s, wherein traditional metal began to morph into something harder, tougher and more extreme.
While some bands pay respectful tribute to that era without ever coming close to equalling the greatness of early Maiden or Metallica, Ranger’s passion shines through in every vicious riff and bug-eyed howl, as if these scruffy 20-somethings have been beamed here directly from 1983. Ultimately, not everyone can embody heavy metal’s spirit with such accuracy and fervour: you either get it, it seems, or you don’t.
“If you play in a metal band, everything has to be over-the-top, even to the point where it’s pretty ridiculous,” says Dimi, neatly encapsulating his band’s approach. “But it has to be like that. In old heavy metal bands, they always took it to that extreme point where it was fucking ridiculous… but it was so fucking good! That’s our point of view. When we made Where Evil Dwells we wanted to achieve the heaviest record in our history but also the best heavy metal album of this century too. We want to be the most extreme and dangerous speed/thrash metal band around. Other bands can say that their music is more extreme… [another long pause] but I don’t think so.”/o:p
As Dimi explains, all four members of Ranger discovered classic heavy metal through parents or older siblings, and it doesn’t take a genius to realise that in this age of conveyor belt-metalcore and fashion-driven quasi-rebellion, the blood, sweat, chaos and insanity of the original speed and thrash metal era now seems more inherently thrilling and attractive than even it did the first time round.
Those who think metal is a superficial phenomenon sustained to help flog designer cardigans and other banal lifestyle accoutrements may be unlikely to embrace what Ranger do, but for anyone looking for a genuine alternative and music that proudly raises a middle digit to conformity, this gleefully violent and demented return to underground metal’s original values hits the bullseye with joyous intensity.
“If you watch Slayer shows from back in the day on YouTube, that’s the closest thing to a Ranger show,” Dimi grins. “Slayer shows were pretty violent and our shows are too! In small clubs, it’s like a Slayer show in 1986. People always come up to us, showing us their bruises… one guy came up to me and he’d lost a tooth! We love that and we know that a lot of people share our love of this music.
“Being this way just comes naturally. It’s real. We always put on a show, even if there are only 25 people there… it’s still a Ranger show, the ultimate speed metal show, with lots of partying! This is how heavy metal is supposed to be. Like [deceased Exodus frontman] Paul Baloff used to say, it’s about crushing posers and listening to real metal. It’s about passion. You should owe your life to heavy metal.”/o:p
WHERE EVIL DWELLS IS OUT NOW VIA SPINEFARM/o:p