Ruby the Hatchet: Heavy metal traditions made new on “Killer”

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Ruby the Hatchet delivers their own brand of heavy rock and roll by combining styles from previous decades. The new album, “Planetary Space Child” is due out Aug. 25, 2017. The first single from it, “Killer,” is an intense, multi-textured heavy metal odyssey with an ominous narrative.

Out of nowhere: Ruby the Hatchet

While the rock world was distracted by heavy metal veterans making comebacks, and still others retiring, Ruby the Hatchet came out of nowhere with a sound unlike what rock fans have heard. Their unique sound seems to have been carved out of rock riffs from the 1970s and 1980s. This is not mere “copying.”

The Philadelphia-based band is part of the city’s growing roster of music greats that call it home. The innovative musicians include The Roots, Boyz II Men, Patti LaBelle, Hall & Oates and Cinderella just to name a few.

Despite their disparate genres, the bands have in common unique styles. Even though Ruby the Hatchet kind of flew under the radar, once I discovered them, I was intrigued. The quintet has been described as “psychedelic,” and “stoner rock.” And it depends on how a person defines those subgenres to determine how well he or she can predict the sound of Ruby the Hatchet.

Ruby the Hatchet and the new sound of heavy metal

I have written before about bands that were famous decades ago, attempting to regain their former status. However, it is different when a metal band didn’t form until 2011. That shows the genre has more staying power post-1992, than originally thought. Apparently, certain guitar riffs never go out of style. The riffs are so heavy they sound brooding, or scary. Add to that soundscape keyboards and power drumming, and the combination is irresistible for hard rock and heavy metal fans.

That there are bands like Ruby the Hatchet, shows that there continues to be audiences for heavy rock music, and the movement (if it can be called such) isn’t necessarily underground. It just doesn’t get the attention that some other genres do.

Looking at the title of Ruby the Hatchet’s latest album, “Planetary Space Child,” I immediately thought of Monster Magnet and their late 1990s hit, “Space Lord.” Pictures of Ruby the Hatchet, also reminded me of Monster Magnet.

Something about heavy metal and space has always gone together. It makes sense, really–that outsider music would find affinity with the idea of being alien. Ruby the Hatchet uses the loose idea of outsider or alien, and produces a dark narrative in the song, “Killer.”

Check out this interview for more insight on the band:

 “Killer” by Ruby the Hatchet

At once the guitars are one part “Rock and Roll Hoochie Koo” by Rick Derringer, and one part “Holy Diver”-era Dio. The sound is brooding and dark, and it is not lightened by the feminine pitch of vocalist Jillian Taylor. The singing is straightforward for the purpose of telling a killer’s side of the story. This is an individual without redemption, just a need to detail how a person becomes homicidal.

The guitar riffs that shove listeners into the song are consistent throughout. Keyboards that remind listeners of Deep Purple, sound as though they are underwater and are bubbling up from the deep. This adds to the ominous spectacle of song that is “Killer.” The vocal harmonies are reminiscent of Heart. But the performance values are like many hard rock bands of the 1970s and 1980s. Think Triumph with female voices.

A guitar solo begins around the two-minute mark. And the song slows down to half-time for a few measures before ending. The song’s simple chorus marks the very end of the song without the fuzzy fadeout that marks so many rock songs. The tension and textures of “Killer” keep it interesting without feeling gimmicky or self-conscious.

On “Killer” Ruby the Hatchet sounds like pure heavy metal, even while, and maybe even because of, their ability to incorporate what are now standard riffs into a whole new style of rock.

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Dodie Miller-Gould is a native of Fort Wayne, Indiana who lives in New York City where she studies creative nonfiction at Columbia University. She has BA and MA degrees in English from Indiana University-Purdue University, Fort Wayne, and an MFA in Fiction from Minnesota State University, Mankato. Her research interests include popular music and culture, 1920s jazz, and blues, confessional poetry, and the rhetoric of fiction. She has presented at numerous conferences in rhetoric and composition, and creative writing. Her creative works have appeared in Tenth Muse, Apostrophe, The Flying Island, Scavenger's Newsletter and elsewhere. She has won university-based awards for creative work and literary criticism.

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