Ravenna Arsenal – “Ravenna Arsenal” [Self-Titled]

Are you into psychedelic and classic rock, but the type that “never descend into cover band hijinks”? If so, this is your record.

Lee Fowler

out of 10

Ravenna Arsenal
Ravenna Arsenal [Self-Titled]
February 23, 2013
RMS Records

The legendary drums at the beginning of Led Zeppelin’s “When the Levee Breaks” were supposedly recorded in a stairwell with microphones hung ten and twenty feet above. The titanic thud and echo captured there surely stands as one of the most visceral sonic moments ever committed to tape. It is in that tradition that sludge peddlers, Ravenna Arsenal, fearlessly spread their thunderous wares in the metal marketplace. Bands like The Sword and Baroness may have the chops, but they lack the reckless, all-out spirit of this recording. No sanitized studio wonkery here; just some guys in a room playing really loud.

In general, the short-term thrill of metal’s overwrought conceptual and instrumental ambition gives way to boredom for all but a very few. It’s fun to throw up the horns and bang your head ironically for five minutes or so, but pretty soon you’re just going to walk outside with your friends until the headliner starts playing. Metal gets a little too nerdy and socially awkward too quick. You’re never quite sure a metal band is joking (and they’re probably not). It’s much better when metal bands just want to be heavy and loud. That’s it. Thankfully, Ravenna Arsenal is both.

The first track is called “Ultraheavy.” But it’s not really. And that’s fine, because it’s loud. There’s a big dumb drum beat, an open high hat, and a thick, nondescript riff that bursts into a wall of loose distortion over which a squealy lead works. “Wild Dogs of Giza” begins furiously and features a verse or two of vocals yielding to loose dueling solos, another mean groove, and another verse before the opening riff slaps you silly to close it out. The opening of “The Desert Shows No Mercy” is a melodic setlist breather before the thick low-end returns with dissonant guitar textures and guttural screams. There are psychedelic and classic rock flourishes throughout (“The Water That Covers the Sky”), but they never descend into cover band hijinks. There is often some great but pointless soloing, notably in “Sun,” that appropriately serves up the next destructive burst of volume.

Being a son of the South, I’ve always searched for the perfect soundtrack to the suffocating summer nights, the kind of nights where the humidity sucks the energy out of the world and everyone collapses sweaty onto the sheets in front of a box fan. There’s a weight and substance to the tracks on this album that are a perfect complement to the stifling summer heat. I’m not sure what Ohio summer nights in their native Ohio are like, but what Kyuss is to the California desert, Ravenna Arsenal is to the South. There are times when intricate music just won’t do. Thoughtful, melodic songs can’t cut through the stifling atmosphere. You need something intuitive—something unintelligent, but instinctual. In the blistering barrage of the Arsenal, you sweat but you don’t care. The stifling heat of Georgia is replaced with the oppressive weight of this four-piece from Ohio. There are worse places to be.

Lee Fowler, August 26, 2013