Raven – Extermination – Album Review

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The band Raven represent one of the foundations of much of what we regard as “heavy metal” these days, but sadly, many fans of the genre simply don’t understand just how influential Raven were when they broke into the mainstream in the early 80’s. I have previously written about my first Raven gig at Brighton Dome back in early ’82, which was the only full UK tour Raven carried out before leaving for the USA in ’83. That gig will always remain as one of my most enduring early metal smashing experiences… three impossibly young looking lads, creating such a powerful sound and doing it with so much passion and fun. The first two albums, “Rock Until You Drop” and “Wiped Out” remain favorites of mine to this day.

After arriving in the US they toured with Metallica as their support act… the history of the band in the following years can be left to the reader as homework, but some of the record company-led decisions in retrospect probably did the band less good than might have been otherwise, however there is still great music to be found in the Atlantic-era album releases, in particular “Life’s A Bitch”.

There is one thing that seems to have been missed by many so called ‘fans’ – Wacko (Rob Hunter) left the drum-stool back in 1987… Joe Hasselvander has been the permanent drummer ever since, which clocks his membership within the ranks at 28 years. I still cannot believe how many times I’ve seen people act surprised that Wacko isn’t with the band any more. Come on people – 28 years!

There is a dark period in the history of the band; In late 2001 Mark Gallagher suffered a very serious injury to his legs following the collapse of a wall at a construction site, that left him lucky to have not lost at least one of his legs. Despite contrary opinion from several doctors, Mark showed incredible will and fortitude, and was back performing with the band from a wheelchair in 2004 and then back on his feet! The album that followed this, released in 2009, “Walk Through Fire”, the title of which is perhaps a reflection of the trials the band has suffered, was a beaut and brought back the raw energy that the band delivers every time they hit the stage.

Now, admittedly there is a good long time between 2009 and today, but 2015 brings the release of the latest Raven album – Extermination – and it might just be the best ever Raven album… Sure, I am getting ahead of myself, but it really is a massively great piece of heavy metal music. Another quick note – production duties were once again awarded to Kevin Gutierrez of Assembly Line Studios, who was also at the helm for the previous record, and this album is another killer job. The production is crisp, heavy and alive with groove – avoiding the all to common-these-days ProTools flatness. Nice job Kevin!

So, turning now to focus on Extermination, the album opens with a short 42 second piece called imaginatively “Intro” which flows directly into the opener, “Destroy All Monsters” which is a double kick-drum fueled thrasher –the opening guitar riff is annoyingly catchy and the vocals announce themselves by tearing themselves out of the speakers with what I can only call “The John Gallagher Scream”. This track is a masterpiece of power through the verses, coupled to a hook-melody in the chorus that you can’t forget. There isn’t anything you could point to here and change for the better. This is heavy metal at it’s best. Exterminate!

Now I’m not going to run through this track by track, so don’t imagine for one second any that I skip over are any less worthy – I can only afford to spend so much time on this review – but the following are perhaps my favorites.

“It’s Not What You’ve Got” – This is a mid-paced stomper of a track, but with one of those “oh, shit, I can’t get this out-of-my-head” vocal melody lines, particularly in the verses. This track also has a short-but-sweet signature Mark Gallagher going nuts on guitar solo.

“Battle March/Tank Treads (The Blood Runs Red)” – What a crushing riff! And again John on vocals sounds in tip-top form. This track allows Mark to cut loose through an extended solo section, and it really shows what a unique approach he has to tearing the frets off his guitar.

“Thunder Down Under” – A fitting and well executed tribute to Bon Scott. Just a great heavy metal song, that cleverly rolls in so many classic AC/DC song titles. With a great overdriven bass intro into the solo section.

“Malice In Geordieland” (bonus track) – A celebration of John and Mark’s roots. Just magic stuff… of course being from the UK, despite being from ‘down South’ I can understand what this song is all about, but some may struggle!

Overall this is a slice of heavy metal that deserves to be bought by every single fan of heavy metal, heavy rock, thrash metal, you-name-rock-metal-whatever! Raven have captured all the power and energy that comes with a Raven live show and shoved it into the bits encoded on the CD or in the wiggly groove of the LP if you happen to be a vinyl addict. This may be the 41st anniversary of the bands formation (yes, they formed back in 1974…), but this is as fresh sounding and power-driven as you could ever wish. A cracking good album and easily worthy of a 10/10 score.

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