Album review: RAVEN – Metal City

RAVEN - Metal City

SPV/Steamhammer [Release date 18.09.20]

Athletic Rock legends Raven, long associated with the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal, issue their new album (their fourteenth) and what a blistering revelation it is too.

While 2015’s Extermination was universally well received, a classic speed metal album, Raven have taken it by the neck and put a firework up the proverbial bum on this one. Long time drummer Joe Hasselvander had been doing a excellent job until ill health forced him to give up the drum stool, and new drummer Mike Heller has helped inject a new fire.

And in front of him there are the two founder members, bassist and vocalist John Gallagher and brother Mark on guitar. They originally formed the band in the mid 70s, and were a major influence on the thrash and speed metal scenes. Anyone who knows their early Neat label material can testify to that.

As loud as ever, the album kicks of with ‘The Power’, which not only features some explosive drumming (think machine gun drumming with rolls and fills, it’s all there) and riffs, moments of bass and guitar interplay, a chromatic scale or two, and high octane feel that gets the heart

‘Top Of The Mountain’ features one of the best guitar solos I’ve heard out of Raven (which is pretty bloody good), and some good vocal harmonies. This song is proof that Raven are a fine tuned racing car running at full throttle, that can and will run on any combination of petrol or diesel.

‘Human Race’ features a couple of pace changes and a key change too, some touches of pure finesse before the raw speed metal come back in at 100MPH. Much of the album is unrelenting, continuing the 40 year lesson in speed metal, but some clever guitar and bass touches (‘Not So Easy’ an example) and some turbo charged energy mean that they are still as good and relevant as ever. ****1/2

Review by Joe Geesin

Joe chatted to John Gallagher about the new album and the band’s future plans…

Good morning John, how are you?

Hey! Doing fine! Over here in Geordieland for the lockdown shenanigans… not much of a party lol

The last album was wonderful, how did you achieve the step up on this one?

The usual way…. hard work and elbow grease! We actually learned a lot from writing the last album as far as … making things count. Sometimes when you write you either have stylistic quirks you may have used before or parts that are placeholders at best… that stuff got eliminated. I wrote maybe 30-40 songs for this project…Mark also had a boatload of great material …. we knew we had a killer album from the get go.

Once Mike came on board the bar was lifted even higher! this is possibly THE best album we have ever done. I mean, for a band that started 46 years ago … to come up with an album like this? It just doesn’t happen. There’s “legacy” bands putting out “ok” on past glories… but this is a fucking GREAT album! It’s our “throwing down the gauntlet “ moment…..” this is what WE got…… what have YOU got “?? and really… this is us just getting started!!!

Joe Hasselvander’s health scare must have been a shock to everyone? And how is he now?

He’d had some Heath issues on the last dates we’d played back in Colombia 2016 … but yeah it was a shock…. we had tour dates starting 2 days after his heart attack.. the thought of him having the attack on the road.. ugh.

Luckily he was near a hospital. He’d really wanted to stop touring anyway so in a strange way it’s all worked out well. We had to quickly get a number of guys to fill in…and this guy Mike Heller did 3 shows with us and just.. clicked!

Your new drummer’s fitted in rather well hasn’t he? And added a bit of fire?

Yes indeed! That 1st show, we all talked for maybe 30 min.. no rehearsal..then did the gig – and he NAILED it! ( here we are 3 years later… still not one rehearsal Lol). He’s a younger guy, different influences for sure but that just brings more to the table. His technique is… frightening! He’s really enjoying playing with us as it’s a creative environment and we all love to improvise and it’s a big part of what we do. His enthusiasm and energy are inspiring.

What’s the lyrical inspiration been for the album?

Oh there’s no shortage of topics.. often something close to home like adversity etc. can get dressed up in a different outfit lol… “ The Power” is pretty much that topic meets “ game of thrones”! “ Motorheadin’ is… a Lemmy tribute surprisingly(!) and “ when worlds collide” is planetary armageddon!

The deal with SPV’s been working well hasn’t it?

We’ve known and worked with Olly Hahn at SPV for many, many years and he’s the real deal & loves the band too… a good man to have in our corner.

How have you been coping with the lockdown?

Just working on videos & approving the edits.. writing… doing daily bass videos on Facebook… and now doing lots of press for the album!

Last year’s live album Screaming Murder Death from Above proved that Raven are still a popular live draw and still as energetic Would you agree? Where do you find the energy?

Of course it does! That’s our forte.. playing live. This album was a freak in that we had no idea it was even being recorded until the sound man gave us the files after the show… it captures us in full flight and was the perfect way to introduce Mike to our fans… it’s a great segue into “ Metal City”. The energy? It’s always there! We just live what we do and to us… that’s the way a live rock show HAS to be… full on .. 110%!!!! Every damn show!

What are your plans once Lockdown eases?

We have a European tour booked for February 2021 .. and working on festivals and other tours too!

Your regular Facebook videos seem popular. Is that the future of fan engagement?

Well, it will never replace a live show.. but it’s fun to do and I think, fun for the fans too! I get to stretch out a bit, show people what the bass can really do… from chordal pieces/ cover tunes to full blown freak out solos!

Raven originally formed in 1974; who or what were your influences back then? What covers did you play?

Yes.. back when dinosaurs ruled the earth! Our initial influences were Slade, Status Quo, Sweet.. the heavy end of TOTP ! Then we got into Sabbath, Zep, Purple, Budgie etc and got to see basically every band there was when they played our hometown of Newcastle Upon Tyne.

We gravitated to the faster, heavier stuff… so we’d play “highway star” instead of “ smoke on the water” for example… and that rubbed off into our our original songs.. which we always slipped into the sets from the very start. We cut our teeth playing the pubs and workingmens clubs in the North East.. and that turned us into the rabble rousing entertainers we are!

You were a 4 piece for a while, what changed?

Paul Bowden who was our other guitarist quit.. we tried another guy and it just didn’t work…so we looked at each other and said “ let’s try as just the 3 of us” and never looked back! Each guy has more responsibility… and there’s no safety net.. a lot more real estate sonically to cover… but it’s so much more fun and the creative possibilities are endless .

You seemed to get through a Spinal Tap-esque number of drummers in the early days didn’t you?

Lol not that bad but we had maybe 4 guys from 1974 to 1979…. then Rob Hunter from 1979 to 1987… and Joe Hasselvander from 1987 to 2017…. so the odd case of “ spontaneous combustion” here & there!

Do you prefer playing studio or live?

That would be live…. it’s what we are all about. We do love the studio, the creative process and taking an idea and turning it into a song.. but then playing it live and seeing the reaction from the crowd is just the icing on the cake.

Have you got any funny (and/or disaster) stories from the road?

Too many unprintable ones… and since I never partook in the drugs and drink thing I unfortunately remember most of them! From Lemmy stealing pita bread…. our motor home blowing up on the tour where Metallica opened for us… waking up in time to wake the asleep at the wheel tour manager who was driving across the highway into the woods… being surrounded by Italian paramilitary cops with machine guns…. “don’t shoot!! we are musicians!!! Here! Look in the truck!”… “ oh? You are… musica???? You are … Genesis???….. “ YES! WE ARE GENESIS! LOOK… HE’S PHIL COLLINS!!!!” It’s usually the school trip from hell!

Has Mark made a full recovery from the collapsed wall accident a few years ago?

He still has some knee issues .. he took a bad tumble in Melbourne Australia last year and had to finish the last few dates with a leg brace… but his recovery was truly astounding. At first “ he may not make it”…. the “ he’ll need his legs removed”( to which he said … fuck off!) to “ he will ever walk again”…. 4 years later we were onstage at the Keep It True Festival in Germany! He’s a stubborn Geordie bastard for sure!

Is there much unreleased Raven material in the vaults?

There are a few things here and there… a few things I’d love to track down as we are finally getting our rights to the early stuff back and eventually would love to do the comprehensive “ box set” thing. I found a treasure trove of cassette stuff recently that we are transferring to digital.. and stuff pops up all the time as regards bootlegs, photos and even video!

Who would you most like to play with?

Well Metallica were nice enough to let us open for them a few years ago in São Paulo Brazil in front of 70,000…. and we warmed those buggers up for sure! So more of that please!!! But at this point we just want to be doing what we do best and be playing ..period!

Any message for your fans?

Thank you all for your support over the years… you are going to FLIP when you hear the new album “ Metal City”… and see you in 2021!!!!

After the interview John also confirmed that there is a book in the pipeline.

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