Artist: Ruff Majik
Album: Elektrik Ram
Label: Mongrel Records
Release Date: April 28, 2023
Location: Cottbus, Germany / South Africa
As a South African by birth, it’s always nice to hear an album that does my homeland proud and Ruff Majik have accomplished just that with Elektrik Ram. While I haven’t been back to SA since I was 13, I still have fond memories of my time there, so anything positive that I can relate to the country is a boost to that positive energy bank that breaks through all of the news of hardships and struggling that I hear from relatives back in South Africa in recent years.
Now the question is how to define Ruff Majik’s sound. On a base level I would call them a blend of psychedelic/stoner/blues rock with elements of desert and garage rock, some subtle hints of sludge and even a few pop undertones in the catchiness of their song writing. The album is honestly a fantastic mix of different sounds and styles, all of which blend together perfectly to create a cohesive and engaging sound. It’s that fusion of experimental, groovy, brooding and catchy elements that makes the album such an enjoyable and diverse listen.
The album’s sound reminds me of a hodgepodge of choice cuts of elements of Queens of the Stone Age, The Mars Volta, The Blood Brothers, Alice in Chains, (to a lesser extent) Led Zeppelin, some 80s hard rock elements, as well as bits and pieces from a few other acts. From some of these acts they took instrumental inspiration, others vocal and others its more their song writing style and energy. But what really makes it so great is that while there are so many varied influences, you can go into this and experience something that feels fresh and new.
Before we go any further, I need to talk about the themes on the album, as for me, this is one of its most powerful factors. On their Bandcamp the band state that:
Elektrik Ram was written and recorded between 2020 and 2022 after Johni Holiday found himself in and out of mental health and recovery facilities, struggling with severe agoraphobia and substance dependence brought on by PTSD.
In the lyrics and structures of the songs, Johni painted character sketches of the many faces he saw inside the white walls of the hospital – and this became the framework for the entire album. The recordings happened as the band found time to go into studio and contribute, and the process aided Johni in his recovery and rejoining of society.
I think that this makes the whole album much more powerful and impressively written. The fact that the band has created such catchy anthemic music with such real and impactful lyrical themes and inspirations is something that always deserves praise.
Personally, my favourite element on the album is the vocals, they have such a unique tone to them but also offer an impressive amount of variety. They range from a higher pitched, more nasal style that reminds me of a mix between Jordan Blilie and Cedric Bixler-Zavala with occasional Dave Mustaine flourishes, to a far more bluesy style with some swagger to them. Vocalists of this style and sound are hard to come by and really stick with me as a listener, the same way that Geddy Lee helps Rush to stand out from other prog rock bands of their era (well all of Rush’s members helped with that, but you get my point). The delivery of these vocals is also crucial, as the band shifts between a more powerful, forceful delivery for the heavier tracks and segments and a lighter, more bubbly and upbeat delivery for the more pop influenced moments.
The other major element that helps the album to stand out for me is the guitar work, which is just as varied and fluid as the vocals. There are some extremely catchy riffs and hooks that will get stuck in your brain, but also some heavier, more powerful moments to break these up. The guitars work in tandem with the vocals as the driving energy of the release, setting the pace and tone of every track. Obviously with this much variety, nobody is going to like every song on the album and I’m no exception to that rule, there are a few tracks that just didn’t do it for me, Rave To The Grave being the main one that comes to mind. However there are other tracks that really spoke to me, particularly Delirium Tremors, Cement Brain and Queen Of The Gorgons all of which offer something different to each other, but stood out to me on an equal level.
Overall, I think that this was a truly solid offering of rock and metal music that fans of the catchier side of the realm of fuzz should find plenty to love about. I applaud Johni Holiday for opening up lyrically with such personal themes and topics and his ability to turn something so traumatic into such enjoyable music. I look forward to what the band do next.
Listen to and order the album: