Raven is somewhat of a metallic riddle. Having been around since 1974 and considered one of the banner bearers of the NWoBHM invasion of the early 80s, as well as a major influence on the thrash genre, they never gained as much traction as one would expect. Like Anvil and Krokus, they seemed poised on the precipice of greatness, but a combination of bad timing, poor decisions and the fickle mistress that is metal fandom conspired to bring them low and deny them their due. You’ve gotta hand it to them though, they’ve survived difficulties and misfortunes that would cause lesser bands to fold up shop and 41 years later, they’re still here and still rocking. ExtermiNation is their thirteenth album full of straight up, old school heavy metal with the volume set to 11 and the I.Q. set to 5, and what’s most surprising is how vital, youthful and energetic these geezers still sound. That youthful exuberance results in a fun, typically Raven kind of album with roots deep in metal’s past, but enough modern elements to keep it passingly relevant.
Raven built their early sound on speed and vocal histrionics and they were much closer to thrash than the other British acts of the early 80s. Over time they eased off the speed and became more like Saxon and Defenders of the Faith era Judas Priest in some ways, and that’s pretty much where you’ll find them in 2015. ExtermiNation offers a whooping 15 songs of up-tempo, rowdy pub metal with enough balls and attitude to make it work. Opener “Destroy All Monsters” is the perfect example of this, with a classic metal attack and amped up energy levels, mostly supplied by the frenzied vocals of John Gallagher. From there they vary the tempos and overall raucousness, but tunes like “Tomorrow,” “Fight” and “One More Day” have enough muscle to satisfy all but the most extreme metal fan. The songs are based around meaty, crunchy riffs and generally up-tempo rhythms, with cartoonish and crazed vocals layered over the top. The writing uses hard rock tricks and traps to make the music more memorable and hooky and it works more often than not. It’s definitely old school, but heavy enough to work in 2015.
The big winner is the rocked out stomp of “Thunder Down Under,” which takes the classic AC/DC formula and beefs it up for what seems to be a tribute to the late, great and oh-so-sleazy Bon Scott. It’s so simple, but so damn catchy and fun, you can’t help but turn it up and lose yourself in the macho mindlessness. This will be the drinking song de jure this Spring at the House of Steel and I encourage you all to hear it. “Feeding the Monster” is also a blast of pure metal with a very strong Pretty Maids vibe and a catchy chorus.
There are a few cuts here that aren’t up to snuff, and most of them appear near the album’s back third. “Scream” and “Silver” Bullet” are too generic to make a real impression, and the sole power ballad, “River of No Return” doesn’t do much for me either. Obviously, if they had chopped things down from 15 tracks to 10 or so, this would be a much more cracking and consistent album. By insisting on padding it out, they used padding, and padding doesn’t impress anyone.
Since the beginning, Raven has been the baby of the Gallagher brothers, and together they’ve made a lot of quality metal. John’s vocals can be an acquired taste, sounding something like a mix of Biff Byford (Saxon), Lips (Anvil) and Jon Oliva (Savatage), and he isn’t exactly smooth or technical. He does however sound metal as hell and he can still scream like a first-rate lunatic. Brother Mark is equally loony on guitar, but always had an ear for sharp riffs and ExtermiNation has more than the usual allotment of crunchy, enjoyable leads (I especially like the more laid back moments in “Fire Burns Within”).
After a five-year absence, ExtermiNation proves Raven is still capable of delivering the old timey goods. This is one of their stronger releases in quite some time, and also one of the most “metal” albums I’ve heard in a while. They’ll never be my favorite band, but there are few I have greater respect for. May Raven rock forevermore.