70’s revival bands pop out of the ground like hallucinogenic mushrooms in this day and age, but despite making up half the population of the planet, there’s a somewhat depressing lack of female-fronted material. It’s an issue that has plagued rock and metal for decades, but when the annals contain such timeless talents as Heart and Janis Joplin, it doesn’t feel like a counterweight for all the testosterone should be too much to ask. Sure, we’re drowning in women-powered doom and symphonic metal, but where’s the beer-pounding old school swagger, huh? Clearly, The Riven agrees, and with a righteous attitude, they are now releasing a flavorful crumb of retro girl-powered heavy rock.
The five tracks on Blackbird are short, snappy, and more catchy than airborne ebola. The focal point of the band is the excellent vocal delivery of spiritual Heart descendant Charlotta Ekebergh who infuses the material with boisterous spirit. Her voice has a wonderful old-school timbre that resonates the most in the rebellious “Tower” and the fabulously unrestrained “Killer on the Loose,” which takes a cue from Di’Anno era Iron Maiden by adding just a pinch of punk influence. The other musicians are just as capable, though. The riffs are smart and lean, keeping the songs catchy and punchy. The bass and drums both keep up effortlessly and fully use the available space, bringing more to the table than just filling out the body and keeping time.
Still, the brunt is borne by the vocals, and the instrumental sections, such as the solos, are generally the weakest links in the songs. They’re not bad, but feel less inspired, and as soon as Charlotta opens her mouth it livens up the track considerably. It’s also why I consider the title track to be the weakest link; the bluesy arrangements are good but it makes me miss the unpretentious ballsiness of the leading lady, who doesn’t have as much room to really soar until the final act. It doesn’t truly hurt the EP overall though, as she gets plenty to do across the snappy 23 minutes.
The production is on the loud side, however, and doesn’t sound as old school as the band’s influences. A few instances irritate with some minor clipping problems too, such as the closer’s bass-heavy intro. On a brighter note, the mix is tight and the bass gets plenty of room, something I miss dearly in many modern metal bands. Furthermore, even though the spotlight is on the vocals, they don’t dominate the instruments, leaving room to breathe and for each to complement, rather than overpower, the other.
An important factor to why this EP succeeds is the sense of identity. Most throwback bands wind up feeling like an homage at best and derivative at worst. It’s difficult trying to embody the spirit of a very distinctive period in musical history and still be distinct and recognizable. The Riven manage, seemingly without trying, thanks to their punch and their confident delivery. While their influences are obvious, they embody their spirit and translate it into their own style and feel. Quite an achievement for a debut EP and a sure sign we can expect some great material from this band in the future.