If I were to take a stab at the true meaning of the word “Ronin,” I would say it probably has its roots in Ancient Eastern cultures and translates loosely to “Let’s Turn On Our Amps And Rock, God Damnit.” Well, I was close. The word actually refers to a samurai who has become ostracized from his clan and is considered an outcast. Ronin formed in late 2002 in New York City and has been on the outlaw bandwagon ever since.
Ronin’s sound is not unfamiliar. Captain T (vocals and guitars) is responsible for writing much of the music and lyrics for the band. With self-admitted influences such as Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, Tool, Kiss, and Cher, (yes, Cher. Ok maybe that’s not pertinent but it’s true!) it’s easy to imagine what sort of mandatory noise he’s crafted for the band’s first release, The Sun Rises in the East. If you were to ask me, I would tell you to imagine Axl Rose singing for a Soundgarden/Tool/Sabbath hybrid.
Most of Ronin’s songs follow the same formula. Tracks like “Six Eight” and “Portal” start with a strong, loping bass line until a beautifully composed and distorted lead guitar joins in, creating the sad and striking Somber Rock Sound (referred to as SRS from here on out) that we’ve all come to know and love. Or at least know. There is a solid balance between quiet and loud on each track, but the modus operandi becomes a little repetitive and predictable. Let’s break it down. Step One: Quiet intro with a grooving bass line. Step Two: Warm and quiet lyrics and a slow tempo until the end of the verse. Step Three: Enter loud, crunching guitar and screaming lyrics to complete the rock dyad of sad and angry. Lather, Rinse, Repeat.
The production sound on this album is great, but I can’t help but think that the vocal sound is mismatched with the music. I want to hear Captain T sing, not screech like Axl Rose in the cold November rain. If I want screaming, I will turn to Maynard James Keenan, Zack de la Rocha, or Chino Moreno. It’s not that the good Captain doesn’t screech well, it just doesn’t settle quite right with the overall sound of the band. I want them to drop the nouveau, butt-rock quality of the chorus and focus on the disconsolate SRS that is the heart and muscle of this band. Ay, ay!
The bassist provides an extremely sturdy foundation for the band’s sound. He is also a ninja. And that is awesome. According to the band’s website, Ninja Boy was “raised in three continents — Asia, Europe and North America. Ninja Boy went through vigorous martial arts training at a very tender age…Ninja Boy approaches the bass just like in martial arts — with rapid attacks and a focused mind.” Man, I wish I had a ninja! He could focus his mind on rapidly attacking my roommates when they eat my Girl Scout Cookies! In any case, Ninja Boy’s tactics are beefy as well as astounding.
Essentially, Ronin has a quality sound that is full and well developed, but doesn’t really go anywhere due to the cyclic song approach and mismatched stylistic elements. But perhaps all they need is a bit more vocal sound-honing, and there will be a good chance that we could be hearing more from these rogues in the future.
Artificial Records/Hit Media