Raven – Metal City Review

Ah, Raven. Lovable goofballs from the dawn of the NWoBHM, perhaps best known for having a drummer who wore hockey equipment and their rather exuberant brand of “athletic rock.” Having been a teen during the dawn of this bygone era, I ate up most of Raven’s discography through the eighties, and played my All for One cassette to the point of it being worn out. Sadly, the band’s attempt to join the ranks of the hair metal bands with 1986’s The Pack is Back was a bad move that alienated the band’s fanbase, and they never really recovered.1 The following year saw the departure of demented drummer Wacko, who was replaced for thirty (!) years by Joe Hasselvander (Pentagram) as the band toiled away in Anvil-like obscurity. The past few years the band’s drummer has been Mike Heller (Malignancy, Fear Factory, and about thirty other bands), and Metal City is his first studio outing with the venerable Gallagher brothers.

Wacko may be long gone, but Raven’s sound has always been the Gallagher brothers. Mark’s guitar playing can reliably be spoken of in the same breath as many of the old-time guitarists, and was an influence on the burgeoning thrash scene, while John’s vocals often took on the demented attitude that Wacko displayed when bashing his drums with hockey masks. Those two facets of the band remain intact here, although not as consistently over the top as in the olden days. Metal City has plenty of vintage Raven moments, though: “Battlescarred” for one is a standout track, and the refrain of “All for one and one for all” takes me back to 1983. With a killer riff, some much fancier than expected bass licks, and a vintage vocal performance it’s the epitome of the Raven sound, albeit with a modern sheen.

I’ll be honest: I haven’t bothered listening to these guys since ’86, and was expecting a debacle on par with Anvil. These guys surprised me, though, as the band sound as strong and youthful as ever. At their best, as on opener “The Power” or the speed metal “Motorheadin’,” the trio strut their stuff and blast through tunes on par with their classic material. The songs straddle the line between anthem and thrash, more often than not tripping into the latter but with rousing choruses as per the former. I don’t know if it’s the awesome power of the quantize button in today’s recording software, but the band is unnaturally tight, especially compared to their sound before most of you were born. I found myself missing the sloppiness of their early work, but certainly not their enthusiasm, which is off the charts here.

Sadly, there are also a few duds on Metal City, one of which is the tepid title track. John’s singing and Mark’s guitars (and Heller’s drumming, I suppose) are in fine form on every track, but they can’t always save poor songwriting. “Cybertron” and “Not So Easy” are unremarkable in nature, simply filling up space, and closing song “When Worlds Collide” is a duck out of water, not fitting in at all with the nine preceding tracks in feel or pace. Four weak songs out of ten does not bode well, and while Mark’s lead breaks are exceptional, John’s vocals haven’t aged a bit, and Heller’s frantic drumming fits in (the intro to “Not So Easy” is bonkers), the performances can’t overcome some worn-out songwriting.

I don’t know how often I’ll go back to Metal City; there’s just too many records to listen to, and not enough time. But I can tell you that it’s been a fun walk down memory lane with the Gallagher brothers – enough so that I dusted off my Mad and Break the Chain EPs for a few spins. Raven can be proud of this album. For the most part it’s fast, energetic, and off-kilter, and features admirable performances by all three fellas. “Battlescarred” has bruised its way onto my bicep curl playlist.2 A few weak songs throw the album off track, but when cherry-picking I come away with six entertaining cuts. If Raven was your thing back in the day, give this a spin.

Rating: 2.5/5.0
DR: 5 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Steamhammer/SPV
Websites: ravenlunatics.com | facebook.com/ravenbandofficial
Releases Worldwide: September 18th, 2020

Show 2 footnotes

  1. They started the sell out on 85s awful Stay Hard. – Steel
  2. List all gainz. – Steel
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