by Keavin Wiggins
It was about 5:30 in the morning and my phone rings. I automatically knew who it was because there is only one person I know who is usually still up at that hour, Hollywood promoter Happenin' Harry. I figured he was calling to see why I didn't show up for the show that night at the Cat Club (antiMUSIC sponsor's his weekly shows at the club, so that's where you can usually find me on Sunday nights). I was feeling a bit under the weather so I stayed home that night. So I pick up the phone and Harry asks me, "Have you ever heard of a band called Ra?"
I chuckle and answer, "Sure have, it's funny that you ask because we just printed a five star review of their CD and that hardly happens." Which is true, especially over the past couple of years. "They are great band! So why do you ask?" It turns out some of the guys from the band showed up to Harry's show at the Cat Club. That's not unusual; you never know who is going to show up from week to week. That is part of the fun to going to Harry's shows on Sunday and Wednesday nights.
Harry ends each Sunday night show with an all-star jam where belts out vocals to hard rock classics with a who's who of rock backing him up. Turns out he blew away the guys in Ra with his monster Bon Scott vocals and they went up to talk with him after his set.
They kicked Harry a CD and he had the same reaction that I did to it, he love it!
Ra's Universal/Republic debut, "From One," came out in October but it is only recently that things have started to really heat up for the band. The first single "Do You Call My Name" is racing up the radio charts and the group is winning over fans at every stop on their tour.
Typically we'll get an advance copy of a new CD a few weeks before it's release but for some reason Republic didn't send us a copy of "From One". I first heard great things about the group back in December when I went to a party and ran into an acquaintance who works rock radio promotion for Universal. I asked her how some of their new releases were doing like Tonic and 3 Doors Down and she had good things to report on that end but when I asked what was the hot project at Universal at the moment without hesitation she answered, "Ra". At that point I hadn't heard the disc but had heard of the group when their publicist sent over a streaming jukebox for us to post. (sometimes things are so crazy here, I don't get a chance to listen even then)
I could see that she was genuinely excited about the band as she oozed with enthusiasm, "It's a great record!" So my curiously was piqued but with the mountain of work on my desk I let it slip my mind.
A few weeks later a package came in the mail from a marketing and promotion company out of Los Angeles that a lot of labels use for their "high priority" releases. I opened up the package and low and behold there was the Ra CD along with 3 Doors Down's new CD. I put the 3 Doors Down CD aside for a moment and popped the Ra CD into my CD player and was instantly hooked!
I listened to disc practically nonstop for about a week before I sat down to write the review that we posted on Rocknworld last month. I thought the disc was so good that it actually inspired a brand new series for us with an eye towards featuring reviews of albums that earn a five star rating. The series was cleverly titled "Five Stars."
I have to be honest, over the past year or so I have grown increasingly sick of hearing "new" cookiecutter nu-metal and rap rock bands. It had gotten to the point that I actually loathed opening up packages from certain labels, knowing that once I played the CD contained in the package I'd hear the same old nu-metal tricks without any variation.
To say the nu-metal trend has grown long in the tooth is an understatement. We are at the same point now with nu-metal that we were with glam when we reached the fourth level of artists like Pretty Boy Floyd. You know bands that brought absolutely no originality to the genre and seemed content on cashing in on every single element that brought the dominate bands in that trend success.
Most music trends have a five-year run before being replaced with something new. The problem the music industry is facing at the moment is nu-metal, rap-rock, teen pop and punk-pop are all running out of steam and there isn't anything to replace them with. Many had high hopes for the raw rock revival bands like The Strokes and The White Stripes but the buzz and excitement over those bands has not yet translated into significant record sales. A new band may come out next week with the "raw rock" sound and take the genre to the top but that hasn't happened quite yet. It doesn't look like it is likely to either.
While the dying of a trend is bad news for record companies, it's great news for fans since it forces the labels to break outside of the box and look for bands to sign that have something different to offer. That seems to be the case with Ra.
The natural reaction at first might be to lump Ra in with nu-metal but the label doesn't really fit. It's true that musically Ra embraces some elements of nu-metal but at the same time they go far beyond the confines of the genre by branching out and including elements from other genres into their music and in the process are taking modern metal into a new direction! I touched upon that in my original review where I wrote, "RA goes a long way to restore my hope for metal in the future. It's not the metal I grew up with but RA does seem like the natural evolution of the genre when you take Alternative rock's influence into account. So in other words they seem to take some of the best elements of metal, prog and modern rock and create their own sound that showcases some great riffing, some amazing musicianship and arrangements with some of the strongest lead vocals heard since before Cornel was raging against the machine."
We need to look a little deeper than that to truely find the formula to Ra's success. They start with rock solid songwriting that includes all the necessary elements, especially the hooks. The music has a lot of underlying dynamics that you find lacking in most nu-metal bands. Yes, it's a little progressive but not to the point of being self-indulgent and losing it's commercial appeal. In my original review I pointed out that "the music goes far beyond the simplistic nu-metal variety we have heard over the past few years and they have more in common with Faith No More than with Korn. At times they seem to bridge the gap between Kings-X and Tool. Not to say they are derivative of either group. RA is far more progressive than the nu-metal pack but also have a keen ear for writing hooks that are undeniably addictive."
I personally feel that the magic ingredient that puts the music over the top is their rich harmonies. Sahaj is a gifted vocalist who is compelling enough on his own but when you combine his voice with bassist Sean Corcoran's you create some of the richest harmonies we have heard in years. Let's not mince words here, harmonies have always been the secret weapon used in rock to turn a catchy song into an addictive piece of ear candy. Just ask the Beatles.
Ra takes those elements; the dynamic music, the rich harmonies and the hooks and put them together to create a potent combination that can't be ignored.
Sahaj is the principle songwriter in the group and his musical vision has produced music that is heavy yet extremely melodic. Being that the band is named after the Egyptian sun god, it's only fitting that some of the songs contain middle eastern musical elements and that further helps set Ra aside from other groups and makes them that more appealing because of the excitement of hearing something new.
When composing the music Sahaj didn't set out to reinvent the wheel, instead he just wanted to give it a new spin. "Our music can be played alongside that of any contemporary band, and it sounds like all of them and none of them," says Sahaj. "That's the key. I tried to make the music sound familiar yet different."
But just how different did Sahaj want to be? "I wanted to hear Metallica with the Police's Andy Summers playing guitar and Sting singing. It bothered me that there wasn't a band like that, so I formed one," he jokes in the band's official bio.
Copyright 2003 - Iconoclast Entertainment Group