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Springtime Abracadabra: Ruff Majik’s “Seasons”

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There are very few countries more metal than South Africa. Don’t believe me? Look it up. Aside from being the second largest producer of gold, the country at the southernmost tip of Africa happens to be the world’s largest producer of chrome, manganese, and platinum.

Of course, if you’re looking for metal bands going platinum rather than mining it, it’s a different story. Thanks to the Internet and Bandcamp, some bands have a bit of name recognition outside of Johannesburg, and it’s a diverse bunch: Zombies Ate My Girlfriend took their funny name and melodic death metal all the way to Wacken after they won the South African metal battle in 2016, and their countrymen Megalodon did the same with their Meshuggah-inspired prog-groove metal the next year. The Drift stayed home to support Lamb of God on their South African tour.

Still, it’s an uphill climb for a South African band to attract international attention. It might be doubly so for Ruff Majik, and not just for the name no sufferer of Ortographobia can love. The metal that has emerged from the region tends to be death and groove metal, most of it overblown and luxuriant, whereas these three dub themselves the “Atomic Trinity” and worship all things fuzzy and retro. Their new album Seasons releases this Friday.

It’s possible that a Cape Town retro-metal scene centered around the bands Kuduchild and Red Huxley were an inspiration. Even though those bands faded away a couple of years ago, they constituted a genuine scene that looked to the Desert Rock of late 1980s and early 1990s Palm Springs for inspiration. Ruff Majik is a little more specific, emulating early Kyuss although with perhaps even more of a straight blues-rock band mentality.

The more metallic moments stand out. “Last of the Witches” is fuzzy funk led by Ben Manchino’s busy drums and Johni Holiday’s guitar which goes from Eddie Hazel to Tony Iommi in the blink of an eye. “Gone Down in the Woods Today” and “Hanami Sakura (and the ritual suicide)” are better than most of the Zeppelin-come-lately clones that littered the landscape not too long ago. “Birds Stole My Eyes” has a slippery bass-line from Jimmy Glass lead a song that is simultaneously among the speediest and sludgiest on the debut album after a slew of EPs.

Sometimes the band remembers that even Sabbath were a bunch of hippies. This manifests itself in “Tar Black Blood,” the shortest track on the disc, as well as the 14-minute album closer “Asleep in the Leaves” which seems to be an organic rock opera of sorts. It tries to be epic but only partially succeeds, a victim of its own ambition. When the whole song stops and then returns with clean guitar, you wonder who invited Tesla to jam.

Despite the occasional misstep, there’s a lot more to like about Seasons than there is to criticize. There’s an authenticity to Ruff Majik that is just as valuable as the other metallic exports from their homeland even though no amount of gold can buy it.

— Brian O’Neill

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