Ra, the band not the sun god, are a neo-hard rock, melodic alternative metal band led by a rarity in the current world of hard rock: a real vocalist, Sahaj Ticotin. The band has gone through as many ups and downs in the music industry as bands twice their age. Their path took them from a disastrous run with Universal to an indie label and finally to their own label with distribution from Universal. Whatever the course, the band has arrived with their fourth CD, Black Sun.
The opening track, “Broken Hearted Soul,” is a driving mid-tempo guitar-fest, not altogether different from most hard rock on the radio nowadays. But the chorus lifts this one up high. Shades of Joe Lynn Turner echo through the refrain. It’s refreshing to hear a band actually embrace the concept of a strong hook. The band’s hook-mania culminates with “I Believe Again,” which if this were the 80s would be a real cheesy power ballad about some groupie, but as the melodic centerpiece of Black Sun, the song sits as a perfect balance between raw power and commercialism, experimentation and playing it safe. The power continues with the next few tracks, especially “Faulty Information” and “Don’t Turn Away," both radio-ready yet eclectic and uncompromising. Other strong tracks include “Lost Along the Way” and “A Poets Dream.”
The band occasionally wears their influences a little much on their sleeve. There are a couple of riffs that ape the simple repetitive guitar chunk of Disturbed and some drum fills that are exact replicas of Godsmack, but backed by Andy Ryan on drums, PJ Farley on bass, and Ben Carroll on guitars, Saraj propels the band through various musical genres with a sense of purpose, making forceful music without musicianship taking a back seat. There are flourishes of Middle Eastern music, wisps of Celtic, and even quick detours into prog (in the liner notes, Ben Carroll thanks Frank Aresti, the esteemed guitarist of prog metal pioneers Fates Warning).
Ra are perhaps too inventive for their own good. The smothering cover of pure garbage like Nickelback and Saliva make it difficult for talented hard rock bands to break through on active rock radio. Ra will undoubtedly reach the lower ends of the airplay lists, but they may be better served charting their own guided path, backed by a fervent following of fans that appreciate good heavy music rather than appeal to the sheeple that digest the tripefest that modern hard rock has become.