Opening up the sleeve notes, and looking at the figurines arranged into scenes resembling a cross between the Nazi concentration camps and a more traditional representation of Hell, I wondered why Ramesses had shoehorned Nazi imagery into their artwork. The Nazi guards are all suffering the same atrocities as their victims, so it’s not as though it’s a glorification, but I wondered how it could be used as artwork. Obviously The Holocaust has been tackled by art before, but the worthwhile material tends to have a more educational take on things (Maus comes to mind). I know Ramesses play dark music, but this is too…real?
Slayer sang (read: screamed) about The Holocaust a lot, and Lamb of God had a big screen up above the stage at their Wembley Arena gig last November (supporting Megadave and The Deaths) showing footage from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq (Megadeth went with something that reminded me of Windows Media Player Visualisations). Amid the the grooving and the breakdowns and Randy Blythe’s stomping I found this disquieting; entertainment ahead, images of war above. Drink a beer. Go mosh. But I suppose part of metal is that it’s not just entertainment; in terms of philosophy, embracing negativity (in a variety of ways) is one of the things that defines and separates it from lots of other music. Black Sabbath started it all off by talking about evil, and three out of eight songs on their best album (Paranoid, obviously – which was going to be called War Pigs) are about war. Since then, metal, across its wide variety of styles, has been preoccupied with suffering. ‘Doom’ as a genre can be about feeling blue, unimaginable terrors, or sometimes just how much you love Black Sabbath, but the artwork here shows it as a definition of death of a sadistic, all–encompassing scale that was imagined and then made real. None of H.P. Lovecraft’s unspeakable terror here, and the effect of this choice of artwork was to really make me think about what I was hearing, and why this kind of music exists. As the case is, a bit of research led to me to find out that the artwork is taken from an exhibition created by Jake and Dinos Chapman called Fucking Hell, and that the victims are actually the Nazis suffering the same treatments they dished out (thanks to this excellent Quietus article here). So, Holocaust glorification, no, but it’s still pretty dark.
On a side (and lighter) note: was this band actually from Dorset? Really?
Wailing wind and rain enters. A 4/4 drum shuffle stutters in, and then out, of time. In lurches a guitar, huge but somehow also blown–out. The beat drags, with the pace generally that of some ominous clockwork, ratcheting by in some place unaccountable, counting the nothingness of it all (wicked drum fills though). There aren’t really what most humans would call ‘melodies’; the songs are led by ugly guitars with more mid–scoop than an ice cream parlour in, well, Dorset (really? It just surprises me. I went there once on a family holiday when I was 10. It wasn’t very evil.), and the vocals, croaked and crooked, alternated between reminding me of Lemmy and something that would send a H.P. Lovecraft narrator mad. This is not the enlightening nor the vista–inspiring doom of Pallbearer or Samothrace; this is dirty, blackened doom.
I get the impression Ramesses play this way not because they wanted to play a particular genre, but because they wish to emanate a particular vibe. To clarify, opening track Iron Crow (a crowbar apparently, but made me think of a gibbet) wades crown–deep into sludge at 5.00, and Black Hash Mass starts off fast, blurry and raw; in other words, as black metal (which I usually dislike – ‘Hey! Let’s not write a song!’). It is Ramesses’ faster riffs that draw most explicitly from this genre, but even after the pace slows to that of a batch of fresh tar slowly burying your feet, that raw, hellish vibe, with references to Satan, witches, prophecies and other evil shit, is present and is a presence itself on Take The Curse. This is bigger than genre.
Lots of bands have made ugly music, but as the artwork would suggest, Ramesses have made something that feels sincere in its darkness. It’s not played to fit a style, as a throwback to 1970, nor as a love letter to Sabbath; it’s played for atmosphere. Ramesses didn’t use artwork of a crow up a tree in a graveyard or of themselves in front of an old castle wearing bell bottoms or of an evil–looking goat making a magick symbol (whilst wearing bell bottoms); they put the Nazis being tortured in their own concentration camps. The impression given is not that of just wanting to sound and look like Sabbath. They carry the flame on into darker places.
By chance, listening to Take The Curse during my commute into work, my train stopped so that my carriage was half–in half–out of a tunnel. It was dark, dirty and overgrown, and combined with the smashed windows and gaping doorways of the abandoned brickwork buildings, the environment had an air of neglect and abandonment. This urban decay struck me as a very suitable place for this music. What is it that lurks in the dark? That’s where you’ll find Ramesses.