Raven – Live Review – 4/19/13 @ Empire, Springfield VA

Just writing the band name “Raven” in the context of a live review takes my mind back over 30 years, to a smallish English town by the sea called Brighton, inside a mid-sized venue called The Dome, recalling a vivid memory of a stage that seemed to dramatically shrink in size as three young lads whipped up an energy storm that swept the crowd into a head-banging frenzy. And they were supposed to be the support act! This tour was, I believe, the only full UK tour that Raven completed before leaving for the USA in 1983, so it was either late 1981 or more likely 1982 and they were supporting Girlschool. Wow! Those were some kickass days…I still remember hand-embroidering the Raven logo on my denim vest the day before the show. I still have and wear that vest to shows this day!

The second Raven album, Wiped Out, released in 1982, has always been one of my favorite records of all time, and recently I tracked down a copy on CD, which was not an easy task, so, if you see a copy on Amazon or similar I highly recommend snapping it up. This record, released on the now legendary, low-budget rock label “Neat Records” from Northern England, has such an amazing raw power to it, and captured both the high-energy of the live show and exceptional playing from all three musicians. This record is still seen to this day as a ground-breaker that led the way for thrash and speed metal bands around the world. It’s hard to pick favorites from this record, but I’ll take a stab and take “Live At The Inferno”, “Faster Than The Speed Of Light” and “Firepower”, but really there isn’t anything close to a filler-track to be seen on this record.

For those that need a reminder (really..?), when Raven broke into the mainstream in 1980 they were a three-piece, with brothers Mark and John Gallagher on guitar and bass respectively, with Rob “Wacko” Hunter on drums, though in earlier years they had various line-ups as a four-piece, and originally formed way back in 1974 (yes, you read that right, 1974, nearly 40 years ago). Lead vocals have always been handled by John and to this day his “harmonious-cat-wail-like” high-pitched scream is an undeniable trademark of any Raven recording or live show. This line-up persisted until 1987 with the departure of Rob, and the arrival of Joe Hasselvander on drums, who technically retains the label “new-guy”, despite having held the drum-stool for some 26 years now. Joe is a master musician and has a list of album appearances, including four solo-efforts, on which he plays anything and everything from drums to guitar to bass and maybe even a touch of violin.

Currently Raven have twelve studio albums to their credit and their most recent offering, “Walk Through Fire” (2009), was something of a reflection on the return of Raven after a studio absence of some 9 years, largely as a result of a very serious accident in 2001 when a wall collapsed and crushed the legs of guitarist Mark. This accident was so serious that at one point it was questionable whether he would ever walk again. I don’t think his doctors had factored in this was a tough lad from the North of England and that a little inconvenience like nearly loosing his legs were going to stop him? No way! To see him now on the stage, I think you’d be hard pushed to even guess this had occurred, though now I’m getting ahead of myself.

I actually saw Raven performing for the first time since that show long ago the UK just last year, in a small bar in Raleigh, NC, but I purposefully held back from writing a review since I knew their were a few things coming down the pipe for the band and now seems like perfect timing. The most relevant is the forthcoming release of a retrospective DVD covering the history of the band, entitled appropriately “Rock Until You Drop”, set for release a little later this year (June I think?). Next up is the Old Bridge Metal Militia concert due to take place on May 11th in Freehold, NJ, featuring Raven, Twisted Sister, Anvil and The Rods – wow, that’s a serious slice of metal and I think a night that will go down in metal history. Yes, we have tickets!

This year is the 30th anniversary of the “All For One” album, so the band put together a short series of three dates in the mid-Atlantic region, including the subject gig at Empire in Springfield, VA, follwed the next nigh at The Dead Horse Cantina in Pittsburg and wrapping up in Brooklyn, NY at Saint Vitus Bar. Hopefully more dates around the country (and locally again, please!) will follow.

Empire is one of my favorite local venues, but it isn’t always the easiest place to get the sound right, but my fears were all put on ice when I found out that Kevin Gutierrez, who was the producer for “Walk Through Fire”, was running the sound board that night. Perfect! Also appearing on the bill were locals Cab Ride Home, and recurring favorites and NoVAMetalReview favorites A Sound Of Thunder, but due to crappy weather we didn’t make it through the doors until ASoT were well into their set, so they will have to contend themselves with a mention and a note that they sounded “awesome” this time around (and, yes, I am kicking myself for missing your whole set).

Turning now to Raven, as soon as ASoT’s gear cleared the stage, it’s the lads themselves setting up gear and sound checking without all the fuss and bluster that sometimes seems to go with bands dragging techs/roadies around with them, and after a short wait, we’re off. I think it was a scream of “Are you READY!” from John and the energy-ball that is Raven exploded on stage. Opening with “Take Control”, which is the lead track on the All For One album, immediately it’s clear that Kevin has control of the mix desk and everything is sounding as good as it ever could in Empire, with both John and Mark playing signature Oktober guitars (http://www.octoberguitars.com/index.htm). John was in fact taking his spanking brand new Explorer-styled, JG8 signature 8-string bass for its first gig, which Tony Leicht (founder of Oktober) had literally just handed over to John. It sounded really good, with a deep, full tone that perfectly fills below Mark’s guitar. Tony hadn’t even had time to take any pictures for his website! Mark on the other hand, had his Raven MGT “tele-style” guitar cranked to just about 11 despite not having his Mesa Boogie amp and was using borrowed gear, and it too sounded wicked that night.

Glaring over the rims of the drum kit we find Joe Hasselvander, who despite not being totally fit that night, is a monster behind the kit and has a way of hitting the skins with an incredibly musical, but powerful touch. It’s hard to put into words, but despite the fact he’s pounding the hell out of the kit, it never comes across as over-hit. It’s a bit like a racing driver that can perfectly clip the apex of every corner and kisses the lip of every curb, but never gets the car out of line.

With the first number out the way, we’re off on a wild ride with “Live At The Inferno” up next, which of course is a crowd favorite, followed by “All For One”, “Breaking You Down” and, one of my personal live favorites, “Firepower”. Normally I avoid listing out set lists and include a photo of the actual setlist from the show, but Raven are one of those bands that use telepathy or some other magic on-stage, and generally don’t have written setlists (though I did grab the hand-written one from the Raleigh gig last year!). Next up we were treated to “Rock Until You Drop” and then Mark got to let rip with a guitar solo that seemed to have his guitar begging for forgiveness at the end of it all. Mark really is a wildly talented guitarist and, ever since the release of “Wiped Out”, I have held him in high regard. He is still a monster on the fret board, and it is clear his “sound” is coming not from the equipment, but directly from his fingers, and how he hits the strings with the pick.

Highlights from the rest of the set for me were “Faster Than The Speed Of Light” and “On and On” which took us to the end of the ‘set’ proper, but it didn’t take much yelling from the crowd to bring John back out onstage with his classic “custom” red explorer, trem-equipped, bass. Now, there’s a bit of story behind this bass, which recently took a solo tour of Europe – yes, without John. To keep the story short, the bass ended up as “lost luggage” after a trip to a gig in Greece turned into a weather-driven nightmare of missed and re-routed connecting flights. I think it was almost a week before John received a phone call declaring the case had found its way back to Washington-Dulles. There was a collective out-breath from many, many Raven fans around the World when John reported on Facebook it had returned. So, despite being even more beaten up, which seems a stretch considering this bass has survived at least one house fire and years of abuse on the road, John tears into a bass solo that has the bass both screaming and growling at the same time. There aren’t many bass players that can pull off a solo that isn’t a good excuse for a trip to the bar, but no matter how thirsty you might think you are, you don’t want to miss a John Gallagher bass solo.

Following this, Mark and Joe found their way back to the stage and we’re taken on a medley of covers that give us a glimpse into some of the musical foundation that Raven leans on, including UFO (Rock Bottom), Steppenwolf (Born To Be Wild), Montrose (Rock Candy), Black Sabbath (War Pigs/Symptom Of The Universe), The Who (I think it was Won’t Get Fooled Again) and Judas Priest (Genocide). Hopefully I got that right! Finally the evening was brought to a close with “Break The Chain”. I noticed that Mark had switched to an older ESP guitar (I think it was an ESP…eek?), and with John on the 4-string, I did notice a little thinning of the sound in the encore section; some of the “balls” was gone, which is probably a comment more on how powerful the 8-string bass/MGT Oktober guitar pairing was for the main set.

What the above fails to convey is the overabundance of energy that comes with a Raven show. There’s always something going on, with guitars being crashed together, Mark and John running this way (greatly facilitated by the headset mic that John uses), screams and yells, and just general rock’n’roll mayhem. Raven lay claim to be “the wildest band in the f**kin’ world!” which may be a little stretch of the truth, but I definitely would agree with the “wildest band in the f**kin world still playing after nearly 40 years”. That is true by a long, long stretch. Raven may not be one of the first bands you think of when you think early 80’s NWOBHM bands, but they really should be, and if you get the chance to go see them DO NOT PASS; they are a riot and epitomize all that was, and still is, good about a good heavy metal band. My score for the show, a riotous 8.5/10.

Note:  Most of the photos below were taken by Michelle , who is by FAR a way better photographer than I am! Great shots. There are more, just too many to post here.
Raven 117 Raven 034 Raven 048 Raven 057 Raven 065 Raven 066 Raven 072 Raven 084 Raven 089 Raven 090 Raven 093

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4 Responses to “Raven – Live Review – 4/19/13 @ Empire, Springfield VA”

  1. We just need more Tour Shirt selection please like maybe the Wiped Out logo or Raven logo only that look like metal lettering. I can’t fit in my original wiped out shirt anymore, lol (cheers! Dominic)

  2. zappafrank Says:

    I saw them the next evening in Pittsburgh and they were amazing. I love going to concerts, but this was the 1st show in a long time where I was all amped up in anticipation.

    John’s 8-string sounded AMAZING (and it definitely showed wear and tear). And I never realized what a great player he was. When I complemented him after the show on his voice still sounding phenomenal, he said that he’d recently actually blown it out, and that it was only then getting back to normal!

    Mark also had a guitar adorned with “Life’s a B*tch” artwork off to the side, but he never used it.

  3. Hmm is anyone else having problems with the pictures on this blog loading?
    I’m trying to determine if its a problem on my end or if it’s the blog.
    Any responses would be greatly appreciated.

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