Avant-Garde Metal From Norway

I must admit, that I'm not really into today’s metal scene at all. As a matter of fact, after 1985 there are only a very few bands, that really caught my interest. When I had to review the new RAM-ZET CD "Neutralized" for Metal Maidens, I had no idea what to expect. And guess what? I was actually blown away by their sound! What the hell was this? The many speed and mood changes, which constantly take turns, sound pretty awesome and I listened to the album with my mouth hanging open.
RAM-ZET hails from Hamar, Norway and “Neutralized” is their fourth full-length album, since their formation in 1998. Recently, we had the opportunity to do an interview and find out more about their eccentric way of song writing, their rich history and also take a look at what the future might bring for this remarkable band. And since we will spend our summer holidays in Norway this September, we also received some nice suggestions from SfinX and Zet, in case we wanna go record hunting in their beautiful country. So, c’mon everybody and get neutralized with RAM-ZET in the following interview…. They really changed our vision of today’s (heavy) metal scene and opened our eyes. Have a listen to their album and find out for yourself what it will do to you, while reading these lines.....

When did RAM-ZET get together as a band and how did the first line-up come about?
SfinX: “It started as a one man project from Zet’s brilliant ideas in 1998. He involved Solem (first bass player), Magnus (keys) and Küth (drums). They were musicians, he knew from earlier projects and were ready for the task of playing in RAM-ZET. Then for the first album “Pure therapy”(2000), I came along as a session member and was soon asked to join the band. When the first gig came along, we needed a violin player and I happened to know a great violin player, so Sareeta was asked to come and try out for the band. She then joined in early 2001. After ten years, the line-up is a bit different and we now consist of Zet (vocals, guitar), SfinX (vocals), Küth (drums), Sareeta (violin), Lanius (bass) and Ka (keys). Although we now are facing another change, as Sareeta is moving on with her musical career and no longer will be a part of the band.”

Who set out the musical direction of RAM-ZET?
SfinX: “Zet set out the musical direction, since he is and always will be the mastermind behind our music. He makes all the music and therefore decides what direction we are going in. There has in that sense never been democracy in our band, but he is a fair leader and gives all of us the chance to put our personal musical print on our performances. So RAM-ZET is today very much a band and consist of highly skilful musicians, that have a deep commitment and passion for the music we play.”

Do you feel part of any scene at all, because after all the music of RAM-ZET is not true black metal, nor industrial metal or alternative metal either, but on the other hand it is all that together in one. Is there any scene, that you feel connected with or any ‘box’, that you would like to be put in - to use a very ‘non-popular’ word here?
SfinX: “I absolutely hate the word ‘true’, which is very well used in the Norwegian metal scene. People, who tend to use that description as something good are usually extremely narrow-minded about metal and music in general. After we changed a bit direction with our “Escape” album and became much more experimental, some of those people fell off the wagon, to put it that way. Also a lot more female vocals took some of the black metal fans out of our sphere. But we also gained a lot more fans, that saw our originality and loved our style. But we don’t give a fuck about the ‘true’ people, since we do music for the sake of music and not for the sake of unmusical bastards! We belong in our own genre and so far we have given it the name ‘schizo-metal’, because of all the twist and turns in our music. It is a mix of many genres both inside and outside of metal and I think we have something very original in that sense.”

Who came up with the band name and what does it actually mean?
SfinX: “It kind of came natural, since ‘Ramseth’ is Zet’s last name. So therefore the name RAM-ZET just came about. So it must be up to people to find their own meaning to it.”

How would you describe the music of RAM-ZET yourself?
SfinX: “I would call it an industrial, progressive, black, power and lyrical mix of metal with influences from jazz, classical and folk.”

Who writes the lyrics for RAM-ZET and what are they about?
SfinX: “Zet and I write the lyrics, and it’s shared 50/50 so far. We write about everything we find interesting, like the human mind, life in general, self destruction and madness. But we also have lyrics about twisted, sick love and insane religion, etc. Our first three albums is a trilogy about a schizophrenic and his nurse at the mental institution and their relationship within and outside of the institution. “Neutralized” however is no longer a part of this story and it’s more about the earths and life’s surreal, mathematical ways, that never seems to add up.”

Which other bands can we see as the biggest influences for RAM-ZET and do the band members have any musical heroes?
SfinX: “We are influenced by so many bands and artists. To mention a few of the members favorites, it would have to be MESHUGGAH, BJORK, FRANK ZAPPA, TORI AMOS, DALBELLO, PANTERA, NINE INCH NAILS, DIMMU BORGIR and the list goes on and on and on…”

What are the first reactions of the press like towards your new album “Neutralized”?
SfinX: “First reaction is that most of them love it. Ninety-five percent of the reviews so far have been extremely positive to the album. We tend to be a band people either hate or love and for me, this is a good thing. It shows we make people actually feel something, good or bad and that’s what music is all about!”

Were there any negative reactions as well and how do you deal with those in general? Do you try to learn from it or don’t you care?
SfinX: “Like I mentioned earlier, we do music for the sake of music and we do what we want to do. People can either go with us on our musical journey or not. That’s up to them and not for us to have or want control over. RAM-ZET has never been a band to go under any kind of conformity and will never be either. Some people always think there is too much female vocals (they obviously don’t know what the f*ck they are talking about…) and some people tend to want only female vocals and can’t stand the growls of Zet. To me, that is a mystery, since his growl is so unique and haunting. I guess, this is our biggest challenge; that we balance a fine line of the extreme and the soft and therefore some people will never be satisfied. However, the people, who let themselves get lost in out sound tend to become huge fans and think our originality in that sense is awesome. Because in our music contrast is one of the most important elements and it would be blend and not RAM-ZET at all without it.”

What’s your favorite song on the new album and why? (I think, mine would be “Addict”, but the next minute it could very well be “Beautiful Pain”….)
SfinX: “I have to say “Addict”, “I Am Dirt and “Beautiful Pain” are my favorites. But I have eight favorite tracks on this album and they all grow on me each day. That’s the brilliance of Zet’s compositions. They never become boring and you can always find something new to ‘thrill your soul’.”

What would you change about “Neutralized”, if you still had the chance?
SfinX: “At the moment I wouldn’t change anything, since I feel it is our strongest album so far. But some vocals I know I could have done better. I am a total perfectionist, when it comes to my voice. I’m guessing, Zet has something in the sound or arrangements, that he would have liked to be changed as well, if he could. Being the perfectionist, he is! But if we thought everything was perfect this time, we wouldn’t have any drive to do even better and therefore stand still as musicians and artists. Now that would be real sad. And way too many bands tend to stand still and never thrive to do better. This really sucks, if you ask me!”

Can you tell us a bit more about the writing process for new songs? How does a new song come about? Do you first start with the music or with the lyrics or perhaps you just start jamming and see what will come out of these sessions?
Zet: “No jamming leads to songs in this band, because every time we jam, we end up playing a lot of funky stuff, which just makes us end up laughing after a few minutes. And it’s always me who writes the songs and not because the others don’t manage, but because that was the general idea of this band. I’ve been in several democratic bands and I’m sure that it can work out great for some people, but for me, it doesn’t work that way. I like it, when the roles are defined from the beginning, so I write songs in various ways. For the next album, I do all the work in the studio, while before I’ve tried to travel different places to get the inspiration. I also collect some ideas on my cell phone and try then out when I get back to the studio. The ideas can be inspired from other artists, sounds, or just pop up in my head, without knowing where I got it. Often I just sit with my guitar, or with keys and play, and stuff turns up. I never play other artists music when I’m sitting down with the guitar. But of course, I’ve played in some cover bands and learned a lot from that as well. The lyrics are mainly done after the music, because the feeling of the song, kind of decides how the lyrics will be.”

Who comes up with all these amazing style changes within the songs? I mean, I can’t think of a band, that would put a jazzy part in a groovy metal song like “222”. You really must have guts to implement extreme changes like that...
Zet: “I’m not sure, if guts have anything to do with it (lol)… I mean, I just do what I feel like doing. I know, that this can be annoying to some listeners also, who don’t want anything else than metal music from a metal band. But for me, having all this different musical inspirations, I would have to play in fifteen bands, if I should be able to do all I want to do. So as compensation I guess, I bring a lot of different elements in to this band. And you have to believe on this, I don’t do it ‘to be original’. I like the contrasts it brings to our music and if our goal was to sell a huge amount of records (and that alone), we would never make such complex music. We do it, because we like it.”

When is a new RAM-ZET song good enough to put on a CD and were there many ‘leftovers’ from the “Neutralized” album (songs that didn’t make it to the CD)?
Zet: “There tend to be some leftovers. That could be songs that are almost done, or ‘half’ songs. For the “Intra” album, I wrote too much music and in the end, I really couldn’t decide what was good and what was bad. And the criteria for a song good enough.. well.. I guess, you just know, when it’s written and we’ve tried it in the band. We feel if it fits in to a RAM-ZET album.”

Can you tell us a bit more about the front cover of “Neutralized”? In what context does the picture match the album title?
SfinX: “We wanted to go back to the more industrial look this time. It was a cool setting and it works well together with our ‘dirty’ and earthy lyrics. Our image goes well with the scene of the album cover. The word “Neutralized” also has a very industrial sound to it, so therefore it matches the picture quite well. The picture is also filled with contrasts (like our music), because when you look closely at it, you will find intricate details.”

How did you get in contact with Ascendance Records, who released the album?
SfinX: “We got in touch with them through our My Space page and they were very interested in our new (and old) stuff. Zet had some talks with them and after a while we decided they would be the perfect label for this album. We are now much more ‘female-fronted’(with more female vocals, I mean) than earlier and we are/were even three woman and three dudes in the band. That’s very rare in such an extreme metal band.”

How come that you almost never play live?
SfinX: “We are now doing gigs and playing live much more often than earlier. Much thanks to our new booking manager Roger and St. Andrews Booking. Unfortunately, we have never been given the chance to play much outside of Scandinavia, except the European tour. This will now hopefully change with the new album. We want to show our smashing live package to the world and will do what we can to make it happen!!”

The acoustic live gig in your hometown Hamar has been some kind of a one time event only and will be released on DVD very soon. What can people expect from it and how special was it for you to play these songs in a live setting?
Zet: “People can expect a very different sound from us obviously and a few critics, who don’t think we write songs, but just put parts together, will have to reconsider their opinion. I’m a very skilled musician, not by technical brilliance or something like that, but my musical understanding is on a very high level. So sometimes it’s a provocation, when journalists who clearly has now deeper understanding for music, try to tell me what I should to make better music. That makes me very angry. At least for a short period… And then.. of course.. music is entertainment and I respect the individual taste. I just don’t like the journalists, who claim to have some sort of answer, when they’re so far from understanding what our music is about. Sorry, what was the question again??? (lol) I think, that fans of RAM-ZET will love this versions of our songs, because they’ve kept the main feeling in the songs, deleting a lot of ‘noise’ and adding some other elements. It was a great experience both for us and the audience and probably, we will do something like that again, but I don’t know when.”

Did you add any show elements to this performance and wasn’t it difficult to prepare a set list for this one time live show?
Zet: “We made a special stage for this show with audience all around us and the stage in the middle. Also, we made it look special by using various requisites and lights to create a magic setting. The set list was not that hard to prepare, because we could immediately feel if we were going to make the songs work with their new arrangement. This was, I would say, a totally democratic process, which included all the band members and everyone came up with ideas about how the songs should be done. They’re just great musicians, and it made this whole process as easy as it could get.”

Will there be any bonus footage or special features included on the DVD?
Zet: “The DVD will also include our release gig from 2009 at the same place and there will be some scenes from our rehearsal room and back stage as well. Also a video, made by Ka, will be added. This is a video, which we use at our live shows, when we get the opportunity.”

We also read, that you are about to play the Inferno Festival in Oslo, Norway this April. Have you got something special prepared for the fans of RAM-ZET, and what can the people expect from this live show?
SfinX: “First of all, we are excited to play at the Inferno festival again. It has been ten years since last time we did that festival. Since we are doing the big stage this time, it is even more exiting. We will give the audience a great show as we always do with lots of energy and balls, and there may even be some special features, but people need to be there to find out.”

I also read the sad news, that this will become the farewell show for violin player Sareeta. How come she is leaving the band after ten long years?
SfinX: “The whole reason for this can be read at our My Space and homepage. It is a result of a long process going on in Zet’s mind about the future Ram-Zet sound. After ten years and four albums with Sareeta’s violin as an important part of this sound, Zet came to the conclusion that his new songs went in a rather different direction. Then, instead of writing violin parts, Zet decided, after long talks to Sareeta, that it was time to end the co-operation, so she can use her skills and great musicality with someone else and move on with her career. We are still very close friends and we wish her all the best with her career and she also wants all the best for us. It was a hard decision and she will be deeply missed by all of us!!”

Will she be replaced in the near future or do you plan to move forward without violin player?
SfinX: “Like I said above, the reason for the parting of Sareeta is that Zet no longer sees violin as a big enough part of the future RAM-ZET sound, so there are no plans for replacing Sareeta. But I am not the one to say that there never again will be any violin at all in our music. That is up to Zet to decide.”
Zet: “Yeah, and I can’t decide now, what will happen in the future, because we have a lot of violin on our first four albums and it will be a new experience to do them actually without a live violin. But for now, there are now plans for a new violin player in RAM-ZET, because, like Sfinx mentioned, the new songs do not contain any violin parts.”

Are there any plans for more shows or will this be another one time event?
SfinX: “We have many shows coming up and even some plans for playing in Europe and even the States, so stay tuned on our My Space and our homepage for more info on gigs, etc.”

Will the Inferno Festival show also be filmed for a DVD release in the near future?
SfinX: “We have no plans for that at this point, since we already are making a live DVD from the release gig for “Neutralized” and the acoustic gig last year as well.“

Zet joined RIDE THE SKY on their tour in 2007. What was that experience like and didn’t it give you the urge to go on tour with RAM-ZET as well?
Zet: “That was five years after the RAM-ZET European tour and of course, it made me want to take my own band on a tour as well. Hopefully, it will be a reality pretty soon as well. The RIDE THE SKY tour was a great experience and a bit special, as I didn’t know any of the band members before we met at rehearsals in Stockholm, only five days before the tour started. It’s a shame, that RIDE THE SKY didn’t continue with their work, because they are great guys and even if they’re mainly from Sweden (apart from Uli of course) they took rather good care of me..(lol).”

What are the future plans for RAM-ZET, long and short term, please?
Zet: “Our plans (short term) are to do live gigs mainly in Norway, but also in the rest of the world in a while. Hopefully, by then, I’m done with the material for the next album and we will rehearse on that during the summer and record in the autumn, I think. Hopefully, we will be ready with our fifth release early next year.”

Do you have any ideas already for the fifth album of RAM-ZET?
Zet: “I’m almost done with the material or at least, I think I am, but I’m having a break right now and will have to listen to it all and complete it in a few weeks. I have to work rather compressed, when I work and have a few breaks, because I have to get into a certain kind of mood, you see. It’s hard to describe the new material and at this point, no one has heard it except from me, so I don’t really know if the rest of the members like it. I’ll make them a listening party, where everyone can tell me what they think of the new material and if they don’t like it, I guess I’ll have to start all over again..(lol).”

SfinX, we are an on line ‘zine, which is completely focussed on the female musicians in the (hard) rock and (heavy) metal scene. Do you think, that female musicians still need this attention or do you feel that you already get all the recognition, that you need so much?
SfinX: “Well, hard question! Here I am going to put out some controversy and maybe even piss some people off, but it needs to be said: I believe that after the ‘female-fronted hype, there were a lot of bands getting female vocalists (mostly) or on other instruments as well, that looked good just to sell albums and for many of them, it worked as well. However, many of them were really poor singers and musicians and had nothing to do with the music or lyrics. They did not contribute to the band other than looking good and maybe sporadically doing some rather boring vocals and they kind of ruined a lot for the woman, who actually know their shit and are trained and skilful musicians. It is sad, because as a woman in the metal world, I don’t want be classified as a ‘woman’, but as a musician. I tend to get questions about where I get my clothes and makeup and shit like that!! And it`s very annoying, when I know my stuff, when it comes to music. I have a musical degree from the University and have been doing music my entire life. I am not doing music just to put on makeup, show of my ass and get guys to drool all over themselves. I don’t mind if they do, but It`s not what drives me, to put it that way. But the guys always seem to get the musical questions and some people think that woman in metal only listen to ‘soft’ metal. As MESHUGGAH is my all-time favorite, I guess I cannot be put in that category either, but so what if we listen to softer stuff as well? So do the guys, but they are not stereotyped because of it. And now I need to stop this answer, because I could go on for ages about this! I wish, that all woman in metal had the balls of Angela Gossow of ARCH ENEMY (and myself.. lol), because then this would not even be an issue!”

Metal Maidens is based in The Netherlands. What else do you know from our country, besides the fact that we have colourful tulips and beautiful windmills over here?
SfinX: “I have been to Amsterdam many times and it is one of my favorite cities. I love the architecture, museums and the diversity of the city. I can just walk around for hours not getting bored. And as a special treat after 12 at night, almost naked women turn up in the windows! Quite fascinating! (lol) Dutch people also are very kind and helpful. The men tend to be lookers as well (Just to fire up under the stereotypical shit..). But the truth is, I really love the country!”
Zet: “And being on tour with RIDE THE SKY, I got to know the people from EPICA, who are really nice people and their crew members as well. Wilhelm, the guitar tech, discovered that I played on my Adrian Vandenberg signature model, and that gave me some extra points..(lol).”

Sfinx guested on the albums of FOR MY PAIN and ETERNAL TEARS OF SORROW, and Zet went on tour with RIDE THE SKY. Are there any other involvements or projects, that include RAM-ZET members right now?
SfinX: “We all have our own projects and bands besides RAM-ZET, bigger or smaller, as guests or as band members. But RAM-ZET is always our main priority and that’s the way it needs to be at moment. I have my own project with the working title “HEX” going. It is my own compositions being arranged and produced and I am working with brilliant musicians from both Norway and Finland. It is getting real strong and I`m extremely excited about it. It will be metal a bit more ‘commercial’ than RAM-ZET, but without getting boring. Hopefully, we will get a deal for it real soon.”

Are you still in touch with former band members?
Zet: “Yeah. I’m having a lot of contact with Solem and his wife and kids. We’re visiting each other on a regular basis and we even play some bands together (lol). Also I talk a lot with Magnus and from time to time I meet up with Jon, who’s living in Oslo.”

I read somewhere, that former ARTCH singer Eric Hawk (or Eirikur Hauksson) was a member of RAM-ZET once. Is this information right and if yes, for how long was he a member of RAM-ZET?
Zet: “Well, that’s not true, but me and Eirikur played together in a band, called MATCHES FOR MAGGIE before RAM-ZET got started. We never got further than some demos, but it was a great experience, because he’s a very good singer.”

SfinX, do you play any kind of instrument as well, besides having such a beautiful voice?
SfinX: “I play piano and keys as my second instrument and I also can do some easy bass, guitar, a little bit flute and very sporadically drums. And I do a mean rhythm egg!!”

Do you have any hobbies or interests, besides playing in a band or music in general?
SfinX: “I have a very strong passion for animals and for animal rights. My lovely Maine Coon cat Tuborg died from a mysterious disease on January 4th this year and that was a hard blow for me. I loved that cat so damn much and he was my sweet, little hairy baby. But now I`ve decided that during the spring/summer, I`m going to get two new Maine Coon kittens and they will light up my life like nothing else (except music) can do! I love all animals and the only time I really feel like killing someone is, if I see them hurting an animal! Then the mean beast of SfinX comes out for real! Other than that, I like to get drunk once in a while and have some good conversation with friends and family.”
Zet: “I’m also very fond of animals and we have a cat called Missy (KD’s sister at the “Them” album). I also like to take photos and work with them in PS, but I’m not very good, because I don’t mange to use enough time. Lanius, our bass player, is a very skilled photographer and he’s done the photo and layout for the “Neutralized” cover.”

We are actually planning a trip to Norway during our summer holidays (at the end of August). Besides Hamar, which cities or parts of Norway may not be missed, when we visit your beautiful country?
SfinX: “For nature you should go to the Lofoten and the north of Norway. For a beautiful city, you should visit Bergen, which is in the west coast or for some nice sea and relaxation time, you should go to Grimstad or Kragerø, that is in the south coast. But Norway is very, very long and it would take some time to do all that if not travelling by plain. Hamar and the south east where we live is more like The Netherlands with flat farm country. But our lovely lake “Mjøsa”, that is the biggest lake in Norway, is very nice in the summer as well. And of course Hamar has the best music in all of Norway!”

Do you have any good suggestions for some good record stores in Norway maybe?
Zet: “Unfortunately, the really good record stores are becoming extinct and that’s a shame. In Hamar, we have only one, called musikverket and even if they’re doing their best, they can’t have the selection of albums that they wish, because of the rather poor sales of CDs these days. I wish it would turn, but I’m afraid it’s just getting worse in the future.”

Do you have any personal messages for our readers?
SfinX: “Be open-minded and do not judge the book by its cover! This also transfers to music.. And remember: there are two means of refuge from the miseries of life: music and cats.”
Zet: “For our fans: thanks for being there for us! It means a whole lot and I appreciate every mail we got from you! For those yet to be.. We may not be the easiest band to get into, but all the time we get the message that people have to listen a few times to get into what we do.. and then, there’s no way back! Yeah, be open-minded!”

Maybe you can share a last newsflash or update with our readers?
Zet: “I think, that right now, Sareeta’s departure is the latest and most important newsflash.. We wish her well into her musical and personal future!”

The last words in this interview are for Zet, Sfinx and RAM-ZET...
SfinX: “I’ll summon this up with some wise words: “I have opinions of my own----strong opinions-----but I don’t always agree with them” George W. Bush.”
Zet: “Sfinx being philosophic as always…. Well, I just have to say: See you all on tour in the bright future and thanks for the support to Toine!”
SfinX: “Yes, thank you so much, Toine & Metal Maidens for a great interview! See ya!”

copyright: METAL MAIDENS
interview by: Toine van Poorten, Metal Maidens 'zine / February 2010.

Visit their official website at: www.ram-zet.com/
or go to their My Space site at: www.myspace.com/ramzetofficial