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The Origins of Ravine...




Tim writes: This story was written in May 1997, when Ravine released their first album. Back then, they were still getting compared to their old outfit, Ritual Device, as this story clearly illustrates. The photo above is from a Ritual Device show at the long lamented Capitol Bar & Grill. Those were the days....



First, a bit of history:

Before Ravine, there was Ritual Device, a tortured, monolithic punk rock band whose sound had been aptly described as "gutter groove." Ritual Device made perfect background music for your typical serial killing or perhaps high-speed chase through a bombed-out Beirut neighborhood. The closest comparison? Maybe the Jesus Lizard meets Ministry with a little Nine Inch Nails thrown in (without the synths, of course). It was violent music, scary.

These days, it’s become a rather popular past-time to dis’ Ritual Device. Maybe because they’re no longer together and the former lead singer, madman Tim Moss, is thousands of miles away in San Francisco, well out of earshot or gunshot from any former fan who has decided that the band always sucked afterall.

One guy, a local punk rock aficionado who used to brag up the band as "the next big thing out of Omaha," laughs when I mention Ritual Device. "They were never very good to begin with. They were a one-act play, a one-trick pony."

But the fact was, Ritual Device was onto something. Back in 1994, when Omaha had a thriving punk rock music scene, vocalist Tim Moss, bassist Randy Cotton, drummer Eric Ebers and guitarist Mike Saklar, were poised. Their CD, Henge, was a critical success, selling more than 10,000 copies. A split-single with Killdozer helped net them a couple mentions in Rolling Stone. The lead singer of The Offspring was wearing a Ritual Device T-shirt in the now infamous "Keep ‘em Separated" video. The band was even voted by E! entertainment television as "the ugliest band on the Lollapolluza tour for 1993." No one knows for sure if it was an honor or just an off-the-cuff remark by ultra-hipster John Tesch.

Then all the sudden, Ritual Device was gone. Tim Moss moved away. And Omaha’s punk scene began its slow decay. The rest of the band was left scratching their heads, wondering what to do next.

"After Ritual Device broke up, we weren’t even sure we were going to go on," Cotton says. "We didn’t play for a month. That gave us some time to think about music and what we wanted to do. We realized that we’re all pretty close on a musicianship level and that we have a chemistry."

Moss actually wrote very little of the band’s music. His role had been lyricist and resident stage psychopath. The band reformed as a 3-piece, changed its name to Ravine, and hit the road for an East Coast tour that convinced a number of people that maybe Ritual Device really wasn’t just Tim Moss and a back-up band.

Which brings us to the present and the new CD, simply called Ravine. Surviving Ritual Device fans will be pleased. The recording has the same driving, gutteral sound -- heavily percussive; rhythmic, loud and disturbing. At the core of the 63-minue CD are Ebers drums, an ever-rolling, moving bassline, and layer upon layer of Saklar’s abbrasive, sobering guitar overhead.

All three share vocal chores. Please note the lack of references to "singing." With Ritual Device, Moss shifted between two vocal gears: mumbling and screaming. It was his cavalier mumbling, however, that gave the vocals a so-what, jaded and slightly cynical appeal.

Saklar, who sings on most of the Ravine tracks, adds a bit of tonal depth, along with a healthy dose of Metallica-like sneering. Cotton was so disturbed with the Metallica comparison, that he asked a number of times that it not be mentioned in the article. The resemblance is purely surface; trust me, Ravine will never be mistaken for Metallica.

"I suppose what we do is one step closer to singing than what Tim did," Saklar said. "The vocals aren’t atonal. Our biggest concern was the music."

With their sound all but perfected, the band now has to be concerned about its live performance. Again, comparisons to Ritual Device most likely will be made. Because with the right crowd and stage, Ritual Device made a pretty good argument as one of the best performing bands out of Omaha. Though in retrospect, it had a similarity to what David Yow does with Jesus Lizard, Moss had an otherworldly stage presence -- a mix between Charles Manson and a circus geek. His classic throw-yourself-on-the-crowd stage performance and, shall we say, serial-killer energy was like watching a car wreck. Eveyone was waiting to see what bone Moss would break this time.

Printed in The Reader May 1997.

Copyright 1999 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.

Photo of Ritual Device by Mike Malone, Copyright 1999 Mike Malone. Used by permission.

"I suppose what we do is one step closer to singing than what Tim did. The vocals aren’t atonal. Our biggest concern was the music."