As Egyptian mythology tells it, Ra was the sun god who created mankind with his tears and rode the sun like a chariot across the sky. Needless to say, Ra the band doesn’t have quite as impressive resume, or even as strong a (cough, cough) cult following. What they do have is a new take on nü-metal that proves a twist can’t prop up the shortcomings of an increasingly tired genre.
While no one can blame Ra (vocalist/guitarist Sahaj, guitarist Ben Carroll, bassist Sean Corcoran, and drummer Skoota Warner) for wanting to expand nü-metal’s lunkheaded tendencies, but while the changes they instigate are all well and good, the neglect to fix nü-metal’s failings. They’re fond of incorporating Middle-Eastern sounding flourishes into tunes (see the album-opening quasi-invocation on “Do You Call My Name” or the solo on “Fallen Rock Zone”) and Sahaj and Carroll can make their instruments sing. While I tend to equate the Middle-Eastern vibe in today’s rock scene with pretension—thank you very much, Sting—there’s no denying the band is ace, musically.
That said, jayvee squad-level nü-metal bands like Ra are in need of a serious injection of humor, though Ra is good for a handful of unplanned laughs. “Rectifier”‘s chorus sounds straight out of a Sting cover band (this might be intentional, as in Ra’s online bio Sahaj confesses, “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.”), while “Fallen Rock Zone” and “Parole” are in a dead-heat competition for Most Unintentionally Hilarious Song of The Year (OK, the album was released in 2002, but voting is still open). The former utilizes the Middle-Eastern-sounding stuff while Sahaj advocates vigilante justice against online sexual predators. Here’s the lyrics to the chorus because they have to be read to be believed: “A fallen rock zone / A broken back zone / I want to hear you scream into your cellphone / You’re just a traitor, eleventh grader / A cybersex addicted masturbator”. And there’s a spoken word part that calls to mind a demented mental hygiene educational filmstrip: “The next time you see a guy put his hands on a girl and she don’t want him to put his hands on her, you tell that guy he’s a punk. You tell him he’s a punk!” That is just batshit insane. Meanwhile, “Parole” is one of From One‘s bell-and-whistle-free rockers, but it’s about a psychotic parolee hunting down an ex-girlfriend who doesn’t want to be found.
Other unplanned comedy highlights include: “On My Side”, a tune so ponderous it makes Staind sound like Fountains of Wayne; “Violator”, another anti-internet screed (see “Fallen Rock Zone” above); and “Skorn”, with Sahaj opening the tune by reading a “Dear John” letter in falsetto. For the record, the latter tune’s title is merely bad spelling and not the opening salvo in a war of words with Korn’s Jonathan Davis. (With lyrics like “Touching your ass I scratch the skin”, I hope it’s not addressed to Davis.)
These moments wouldn’t be half as funny as they are if Ra wasn’t so over-earnest. Being serious about rocking is one thing, and plenty of bands have succeeded despite having no discernible sense of humor (Creed, I’m looking in your direction . . . ). When Ra sings about the evils of the internet set to a Middle-Eastern-influenced tune, they’re just begging for skorn, er, scorn.
It’s no surprise, then, that Ra’s simplest moments provide a glimmer of hope for From One. The stripped-down loud-quiet-loud tack of “I Believe” and “High Sensitivity” leave both tunes agreeable enough, and the acoustic “Walking and Thinking” may be the album’s best track. (In a Ra webpage online poll titled, “Aside From ‘Do You Call My Name’, What’s Your Favorite Song On From One?”, “Rectifier” came in first.) Granted, these tracks show Ra to be little more than a passable, faceless nü-metal act, but it’s a better legacy than, say, Most Unintentionally Funny Rock Band of the 21st century.