Archive for Joe Hasselvander

Raven – Party Killers – Album Review

Posted in Album Reviews with tags , , , , , on August 6, 2015 by novametalreview

Party_Killers

Some would question the point of reviewing a limited edition album release – after all, most who read this will have no chance of getting hold of a copy. Well, I’d equate it to a car magazine reviewing a Ferrari… The greatest majority reading it will have no chance of ever owning such a car, but they can dream, right? What we have here is a limited edition recording issued as part of the Kickstarter campaign that fans were able to contribute to used to fund the recent (and excellent) Extermination album release by Raven. See my review of that gem here: http://wp.me/p2hj3p-9q

So the story behind this recording goes something like this… The Raven lads are in a studio in Richmond essentially to work on pre-production for the Extermination record, but as they are wont to do, they happened to jam a couple of covers, and, blow me down didn’t they sound killer? Before you could boil a kettle for a cup of tea, the idea of a covers album was in the making. And not just any old tracks, but the tracks the lads grew up with. The title of the record, “Party Killers”, was born back in the day, when the Gallagher brothers would take over the record player and spin their favorite tunes – and accordingly kill the party. At least that’s how I remember the story 🙂

Another nice aspect to this recording is this isn’t a ProTools digital recording, but a “real” analog recording and in my book it sounds amazing. The drums sound alive and everything has a warm sheen to it – none of that rather cold digital hardness that some modern recordings suffer from. Overall this a big sounding record and all the better for that.

The record opens with the Deep Purple classic “Fireball” and the first thing that hits you is how un-convoluted this feels. If you had somehow never heard the original, there is no way you could tell this wasn’t a Raven track from the get-go. John Gallagher’s vocal just sits so well in the track it’s uncanny really, while Joe Hasslevander nails it on the drums. Another nice touch is how Raven fill the keyboard parts in the original with their own interpretation, in this case with some wacky bass effects.

“Fireball” is followed by a Thin Lizzy classic in the shape of “Bad Reputation” and again there is no ‘cover song sheen’ here at all – these are songs that have clearly found their way into the very being that is Raven. It’s hard to get over what this really means, but in so many cases, bands that try the covers album route simply end-up producing poor repeats of the originals, but that just isn’t the case here at all. While there is certainly an element of homage to the original artists, Raven have stamped their essence into each of the tracks presented here.

What follows is an eclectic journey though the musical foundations that brought us the band Raven we know to this day. Cheap Trick’s “He’s A Whore”, is followed by a Budgie rarity in the shape of “In For The Kill” with an infectious groove, which then gives way to a Status Quo number, “Is There A Better Way”, which had me reaching for YouTube to check out the original. Some of these are pretty deep cuts.

The rest of the track listing runs as follows: “Ogre Battle” (Queen), “Queen Of My Dreams” (Edgar Winter group), “Too Bad So Sad” (Nazareth), “Cockroach” (Sweet), “Tak Me Bak Ome” (Slade) and “Hang On To Yourself” (David Bowie). This latter track is perhaps the least obvious of the set, but every track here works wonderfully. It’s quite remarkable how well Mark Gallagher handles all the guitar parts here, because, although retaining the original character, it’s unmistakably Mark. It’s not Mark trying to be Ritchie Blackmore for example on the Purple track. Hopefully you will get the chance to hear what I’m trying to get across.

I believe the idea was that only 500 copies of the Party Killers album would be released on CD, so if I remember the number of people that signed up to back the Kickstarter campaign correctly, by my math there should be a two or three hundred copies of this CD still available. I suspect these will be sold at live shows, so if you want a copy check out the merch booth – you might just get lucky… My score for this album is a straight 10/10

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Raven – Extermination – Album Review

Posted in Album Reviews with tags , , , , , on July 15, 2015 by novametalreview

ravenexterminationcd_0

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.

Heavy Metal Heaven – Old Bridge Metal Militia Reunion Concert – Lords Of Mercy, The Rods, Raven, Twisted Sister, Anvil, T.T. Quick – Live Review 5/11/13

Posted in Gig Reviews with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 17, 2013 by novametalreview

When this show was first announced I believe it was just Raven, Anvil and Twisted Sister, and that in itself already seemed like a “can’t miss” event, so the final line-up as listed really was exceptional. A night that many heavy metal fans perhaps thought they would never see, particularly T.T. Quick and The Rods, who are playing almost never and rarely, respectively. First though I should point out that the cause behind this event, namely hurricane Sandy, and the devastation left behind, is still a horrible reality for many people, so the spirit and intent behind this show was a motivation of great passion – all the bands donated their time, the organizers, Eddie Trunk and the boys from That Metal Show, the various production companies, etc – everyone involved deserves great kudos and recognition for making this happen. The show was fully sold out the day before and, combined with the money raised through a raffle of donated guitars and basses, over $40,000 was raised, that will basically be going directly to people in dire need. Metal gives back, or just gives, since I don’t think it ever “took” anything in this case.

Now I don’t know the full back-story behind the Old Bridge Metal Militia or the Heavy Metal Heaven record store, but between them they were the organizers of this exceptional event, and they did a fine job considering everyone was basically a volunteer. Pulling off something like this is by no means a cake-walk and at the end of the day I’d like to offer my thanks for putting the event on – notwithstanding the good cause, this was a heavy metal night to remember, and this is likely one of those nights that becomes legendary, at least in rock history.

Rather than string this out in my usual fashion, with a little history lesson here and a tale from the “old days” there, I’ll try and keep to the meat’n’potatoes of the night as much as possible, but first a word on the venue. Hailing from Northern Virginia, the Encore Center in Freehold, NJ, meant absolutely nothing to me, and when we arrived it seemed we were at a rather non-descript strip mall… not very heavy metal at all. Fortunately the sheer amount of long-haired, leather clad metal fans confirmed we were in the right place. Entering the venue, we were greeted with a variety of guitars and basses up for raffle, a display from Oktober Guitars (http://www.oktoberguitars.com/), who had donated two of the raffle entries (an 8-string bass and a Raven MGT guitar), event t-shirt sales, plus a Raven merch stand. Despite all this, I suspect this hall was more used to wedding receptions, than metal shows. Not that mattered once we made our way into the main hall, which was dominated by a wide, high stage, flanked by a serious looking PA with a back-drop of two large video screens. I think the venue capacity was 1500 and at its peak the floor was packed, but not ridiculously so. In other words the organizers got it pretty much spot on.

The running order was Lords of Mercy, The Rods, Raven, Twisted Sister, ANVIL and topped off with T.T. Quick. I managed to snap a photo of the official running order and set-time list – see below. Basically everyone was scheduled with a run-time of 40 minutes, which seemed fair, even if didn’t seem to run quite like that later. I was surprised by the start time listed for Lords of Mercy as the tickets stated “Doors 7pm, Show 8pm”, so anyone taking a late entry probably missed what was an exceptional kick-off for the evening. I can’t claim to know anything about Lords of Mercy except they were the local team and came out swinging. Front-man ‘Brandon Sweeny’ is a power-house and despite only catching a couple of numbers from front-of-house, if there was any need of an energy injection to light the night off, he was the man to do it. They did plenty more than enough to be sure I will be in the audience if they make their way down south anytime soon. Thinking about it they would be a good addition to the Rock Harvest II bill, due to take place at The House Of Rock (White Marsh, MD) in November. Before we leave Lords of Mercy, I have to say Brandon is a very personable chap and we were fortunate to meet him back-stage, and he even insisted on taking some pictures with our kids (yes, we turned this into a family outing!). Great PR.

With the evening off and running, the energy level in the whole venue was raised to ‘11’ and this was further stoked by Eddie Trunk, Don Jamieson and Jim Florentine, from That Metal Show, who were comparing, and next up they introduced The Rods. I had never seen The Rods before this night, but everything I had read told me to expect a much heavier show than their recordings, and boy, was that an understatement. It was interesting to me that tonight there were three true three-piece bands appearing, The Rods themselves, Raven and ANVIL, with each of them bring a serious slice of heavy. It’s somewhat poignant that I happen to be writing this on the 3rd anniversary of the passing of Ronnie James Dio, and that date was in my mind as I looked across the stage at the diminutive in height, but hugely talented guitarist, David “Rock” Feinstein, Ronnie’s cousin and band-mate during his time with ‘Elf’. I can’t help but think, had Ronnie been alive on this day, this would have been exactly the kind of benefit performance where we may have been blessed with a guest appearance. Somehow I know he was there in spirit, of that, I have no doubt. Their 40-minute set time passed way to fast and I was left wholly impressed with their power and overall heaviness. Again, another band to add to my list that I would travel a considerable distance to go see.

Now the venue was *really* heaving, and with the clock ticking past 9 o’clock, expectation was growing for the imminent arrival of rock legends ‘Raven’. Those who track the NoVAMetalReview blog will know I saw Raven a few short weeks past in Springfield, VA (Empire) and should recall I was raving (uhg, pun totally intended) about their raw energy and sheer outright musicianship. From the mighty Joe Hasselvander on the drums, who, for me, defines power and drive, to the outright insanity of Mark Gallagher on guitar (who, I swear, makes his instrument sound like there are two guitarists in the band) and incidentally easily wins the insane guitar face-pulling competition by several miles (sorry lads, thanks for playing…), to the hypersonic vocal abilities of John Gallagher, who I should also mention is easily capable of melting the frets off his bass, whether it has 4-, 8- or even 12-strings! Raven are one of those bands that don’t need written set-lists and use some kind of on-stage telepathy to know what song is up next. Looking round the hall, and not claiming any kind of science beyond “eye-balling it”, there seemed to be a very high percentage of the audience with Raven shirts on, so they either did a storm on the merch stand or they have some seriously loyal fans.

From the moment they opened with “Take Control”, the thing that struck me more than anything was the audience were singing along with every song, and heck, they knew every damn word. It was very cool to just stand there in the massive crowd and feel that happening. Up second was “Live at the Inferno” and the crowd went nuts. Personally, my favorite of the night was “Firepower” from the Wiped Out album, which I have previously stated is firmly in my top 10 records of all time, followed by “Rock Until You Drop” which perhaps was more appropriate this evening than many others, given the expect late close. Where The Rods scored with “heavy”, Raven went with “power”, just about evenly balanced with “energy”, and they brought it by the truck-load. Actually several silly-big trucks. Full trucks… Now, there was a little ‘odd moment’ at the tail-end of their set, when the stage manager (I assume that was his role?), basically ran onto the stage and announced ‘time’s up’ and cut the set short? WTF? I’ve never seen that at any show, at least as blatantly and just as it was clear that the lads were about to start what was presumably their last number, which I am guessing would have been “On and On”, since that hadn’t been played yet. We shall never know. I have a strange perception that Twisted Sister were getting slightly preferential treatment (more on that to follow) and this was a ploy to ensure T.S. got to hit the stage at their anointed set-time, but let me be clear, this is purely conjecture on my part. However, as Raven departed the stage, a huge chant broke out throughout the crowd: “RAVEN! RAVEN! RAVEN!…”, that echoed throughout the hall and far backstage I’m sure. Raven were the only band to receive this sort of adulation all evening.

Backstage, not one of the Twisted Sister members had ventured into the hospitality area, which certainly set them apart from all the other bands. If you look below you will see a photo of a poster that I bought to commemorate the evening, and every member of every other band signed that poster, but there are no T.S. signatures to be found. For me, as a fan of metal and wanting to be part of an evening that wasn’t about any one band or performance, T.S. did not enamor me one little bit and later this only got worse. But I am getting ahead of myself by about 40 minutes.

When TS hit the stage they certainly delivered musically and Dee Snider appears quite disturbingly the exact same as he was 30 years ago, vocally and appearance-wise, less the make-up. I’m not going to try to pretend I’m a fan and know any more than the standard TS MTV hits, but basically that was their exact set last Saturday. Good stuff, well played and, not surprisingly, the audience knew every song. We got several feel good moments just listening to the audience singing along to music they grew up to. A very well received little extra came in the form of Dave “The Snake” Sabo from Skid Row, who joined the band for a ripping version of “Under The Blade”. I couldn’t hope to captured this verbatim, but during one of the song interludes, when in times past Dee Snider has been know to let rip at the crowd, he turned this around and tore into the “authorities” for the situation left behind in the aftermath of superstorm Sandy, and based on the intensity and sincerity in his voice I really felt his passion. Of that, I have no doubt. Their set closed with ‘I Wanna Rock” and this had the crowd totally hooked, belting it out and loving every moment – it was amazing to be part of this.

At that point, I was headed backstage and despite a badge that said “All Access” apparently this didn’t mean “all” when T.S. are leaving the stage area, and security were blocking everyone, no matter what badge or reason. Something about this ‘privileged’ behavior left a bit of sour taste and it wasn’t only me that noticed this. Where every other performer worked around the chaos, little that it may have been, it seems T.S. were above all this. So, this ‘fuss’ and the rather obvious “get Raven off the stage, or Twisted are going to have a hissy…” were perhaps the only two downers throughout a wickedly good evening. Well that and the fact that the venue ran out of alcohol at some point…

Up next we got the mighty ANVIL, a band I have a particular soft-spot for, having been a fan since “Hard ‘n’ Heavy”, with that particular signed album cover taking pride of place in our ‘music room’ up on the wall, alongside an ever growing collection of memorabilia. I’ve seen ANVIL several times in the past 2 years, ranging from a terribly advertised show at Jaxx (Springfield, VA), where there were perhaps 25 or so people in the whole place, to sold out shows in Vienna (VA). The one thing you can never say is they don’t deliver, no matter what size crowd. Of course, that was not a problem for this show.

However, following TS was not perhaps the easiest and opening with ‘March of the Crabs”, they simply did what ANVIL does. While they may have closed with “Metal on Metal”, in many ways this is the band mantra. Turn it up to ’11’, feel the power and go with the metal. If you ‘get it’ you’ll be head-banging with the best of them, otherwise go find a spot at the bar and chill. Robb Reiner is a monster on the drum kit and in many ways I have felt he is the power-plant of the band – he is the musical master, from which everything flows. While Lips is no doubt a showman, he is certainly not the most technically appointed player and there are times when I wonder what a few less ‘weed sessions’ might have given us? On any other day that thought probably wouldn’t have crossed my mind, but when you’ve got master musicians like Mark Gallagher, Dave Feinstein and Dave DePietro to measure up to, it isn’t hard to see who’s got the chops. However, Robb, on the kit, is more than a match for anyone on any given day, and for me it was his performance I noticed.

It was great to see Sal Italiano pumping it out on bass. Even though he is truly the “new guy”, he brings more to the band than previous bassist, Glenn Gyorffy, ever did in my opinion. I am very pumped for the new ANVIL album, “Hope In Hell”, due to hit the streets at the very end of May, which will be the first to feature the current line-up. From what the guys were able to tell me and from the few pre-release reviews I have read, we are in for a treat, taking us back to the true roots that brought us “Metal on Metal” and “Forged In Fire”.

At this point it was noticeable that the crowd had begun to thin a little and I’m sure the combination of TS having been on relatively early and the fact the venue was out of beer at this point, and perhaps not everyone present knew who T.T.Quick are, was to blame, but, for me at least, I was pumped at this point. Mark Tornillo has been doing a fantastic job with Accept and I have been fortunate to see them twice in the past 2 years or so. I know many Accept fans find the lack of Udo up front a problem, but Blood of the Nations (2010) was an exceptional heavy metal record and Mark does a fine job on the older Accept material. The idea that we were about to see T.T.Quick was now almost reality, something that I never thought I would see.

After a few more words from Eddie Trunk, T.T.Quick hit the stage and despite some initial mic issues (which were not the first of the night; we had witnessed at least two other instances where a mic ended up being thrown across the stage because it wasn’t working), the band hit the stage with a power and bite that showed they were here to deliver some serious metal. David DePietro is a guitar monster and I had been primed to pay attention – anyone that was involved with teaching Zakk Wylde must have some serious chops and from what I saw in the first couple of numbers had me convinced! Revisiting “Metal of Honor” after the show really had me wondering why T.T.Quick never achieved more success? Sometimes the music industry just has me shaking my head. The entire set was a power-play and for me I think it was ‘Front Burner’ and ‘Metal of Honor’ toward the end of the set that really had me doing my nut, but there wasn’t a weak number in any of the seven numbers they delivered. Eddie jumped up on stage and incited the audience to call them back for more and we were treated to “Go For The Throat” and then a crushing version of “Sabbath Bloody Sabbath” that included an impromptu ‘all-star’ appearance by John Gallagher from Raven who delivered a couple of lines and was off again! And then we were done. I don’t remember looking at the time but it must have been around 1.30AM and one of my most memorable moments in my heavy metal life was over, but the memories will live on.

Since the show I have seen many great pictures of the night, but I have yet to see any really good quality video footage – hopefully there is some. Overall I had a blast and I have only seen good things said about the show. Scoring this seems a little pointless, since how do you score something that is unique? But for completeness this was a straight 10/10.

Running order for the show

Running order for the show

Backstage there was cake! Metal cake!

Backstage there was cake! Metal cake!

The Rods

The Rods

Raven doing crazy Raven-things!

Raven doing crazy Raven-things!

Twisted Sister

Twisted Sister

ANVIL from side of stage

ANVIL from side of stage

T.T.Quick

T.T.Quick

The 'Poster'

The ‘Poster’

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

Posted in Gig Reviews with tags , , , , , , , , , on May 2, 2013 by novametalreview

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.
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