On their full-length debut, the Helsinki speed metal quartet retains much of what made them memorable, capturing the sheer fun of speed metal while tweaking their sound just slightly.
Helsinki speed metal quartet Ranger's 2013 EP Knights of Darkness captured all the classic, leather-clad menace of the pre-thrash early '80s with a demonic grin on its face. Few younger bands capture just how fucking fun heavy metal can be to listen to, but Ranger take riffs and speed very seriously and little else, which appeals to those wanting a rush without the seriousness of other, more extreme genres. On their full-length debut, Where Evil Dwells, they retain much of what made Knights memorable, while tweaking their sound just slightly to accommodate a longer running time.
With two new guitarists, Ville Valtonen and Mikael Haavisto, Ranger throw in some classic NWOBHM licks in addition to the mix of Canadian and German speed metal they’ve cut their teeth on thus far. The melodic leads and anthemic vocals of "Dead Zone", for example, could be from Angel Witch or a pre-Bruce Dickinson Iron Maiden cut. Where Knights proved just how relentless they can be, Evil reveals an ear for catchiness too. "Phantom Soldier" features some of their most gripping riffs, especially the bridge breakdown. You can easily imagine singer Dimi Pontiac (who also plays bass) whipping a crowd into a fist-pumping frenzy over it.
With a need to make a strong debut statement comes sharper production, and Pontiac’s vocals benefit the most. His voice is much higher in the mix, which greater outlines his snarl. His high screams are still in evidence, but Evil’s production illuminates his normal singing voice, which has a snarky bite not unlike a less nasally Dave Mustaine. The attitude in his vocals carries as much weight as their riffs, and allows Ranger to harness the most adrenaline from their songs.
Ranger take one big risk on Evil—the ten-minute title track, just under half the length of Knights. Is it their "At War With Satan", Venom’s infamous 20-minute orgy of Satanic excess? Not quite: It sounds like they took two Ranger songs and just smashed them together. The only issue with "Evil" is its placement; it should close out the album, not the single "Storm of Power". "Storm of Power" is Ranger at their most concentrated and reckless, a blitz of light-speed solos, breakneck rhythms, and gang vocals, but it would work better placed earlier, as a way to build towards "Evil". But Metallica worked in a similar approach on Master of Puppets by placing the grand instrumental "Orion" before the apocalyptic rager "Damage, Inc.". Metallica, however, did things most bands couldn’t, then or now. It's a minor sequencing issue, though, and on the whole, Evil is not just an amped-up take on a classic form, but an exhilarating testament to how and why metal continues to gain younger converts(Pitchfork / Andy O'Connor) 7.3