Ancient armies will clash. Muscle, sweat, bone and blood will meet gleaming steel. Once tranquil fields will be littered with tattered banners and fallen heroes. This is Ravensire‘s world and we just fight in it. Hailing from Portugal, they’re an epic heavy metal band through and through, taking inspiration from all the best swords (Doomsword, Ironsword), the Viking ethos of Bathory‘s Hammerheart era, and of course, the loin beclothed he-men of Manowar. This is their third album of unruly barbarian metal for the mighty, strong in its adherence to the stoic, Spartan ways of trve metal. It’s designed to stir the spirit to great deeds of daring and inspire a life of high adventure. Their 2016 platter The Cycle Never Ends did all these things quite well, despite having some rough edges and unpolished elements.1 Now the band boasts of greater polish and smoother edging, but will this blunt the attack of this ransacking horde of ear vandals?
Not on massive opener “Carnage at Karnag” it doesn’t. Things begin in very Hammerheart-esque fashion, with the sound of waves lapping the shore paired with gentle, melancholic strumming. Soon it kicks into battle mode with a beefy mid-paced war gallop and the hoarse, raspy bellows of vocalist/bassist Rick Thor. He sounds a lot like Running Wild‘s Rock n’ Rolf did on early albums like Branded and Exiled, and though he’s a very rough and grumble vocalist, he mostly works with the tough and garbled music here. And it’s a clanging, gonging war march with nary an ounce of grace, but it fits the bill of epic, trve metal to a well armored T and it makes the sword hand ache. Cuts like “Gabriel Lies Sleeping” and “Dawning in Darkness” are sturdy if generic traditional metal numbers full of Maiden-esque gallops and tales of bravery and badassery, entertainingly olde school but lacking that element that really claps you upside the helm. Closer “The Game of Titus” is the longest and most trve song on offer, pulling out all the stops with dramatic spoken word segments and scads of interesting guitar-work. It’s very much a Viking metal song at heart and reminds me of Demonaz when it really gets going. If the rest of the album was of this caliber, I would be much more berserkerified about it.
Sadly, there’s a hefty shortage of song writing skill this time out. “Red Thieves of Pleasure” has some fun music but Rick’s vocals are really rough and forced and the chorus isn’t good, making the song a Herculean chore to enjoy. “The Smiting God” is the fastest, heaviest song on offer, but it’s smote by a really awkward, dysfunctional and cheeseball chorus. Lastly, “After the Battle,” the band’s tribute to the late Mark “The Shark” Shelton of Manilla Road, isn’t bad, but it rambles on too long for its own good.
Rick Thor was never a talented vocalist, but he’s taken a step back on this album. He often tries to do too much with his limited abilities and starts to sound silly and at times, quite annoying, as on “Red Thieves of Pleasure” where his caterwauling verges on parody. This drags down the generally solid music, which is a shame as they nail the classic metal sound well. On the plus side of the ledger, Nuno Modred and Mario Figueira are able and talented guitarists with an ear for the early 80s sounds of Cirith Ungol and Manilla Road, and they wield some tasty riffs and harmonies that help make the material listenable. Rick’s bass presence aids the music in obtaining a toughened texture, giving it an imposing low-end which really works. If the vocals were a bit more tolerable, this would be a much better dose of ancient war metal.
A Stone Engraved in Red has some fun moments of barbaric wrath, but overall it’s a steep slide down from their last outing. They need to work on those vocals and improve their writing if they hope to break out of Portugal and get a bigger profile on the world stage. I’m rooting for them, but won’t be joining this campaign. I’ll just sit here sharpening my blade ov metallic destiny and await a more promising raiding party.