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Retro-Review: Raven – All For One

1983 was an incredible time to be the NWOBHM troupe known as Raven. With a very solid debut album (1981’s Rock Until You Drop) and an extraordinary sophomore release (1982’s Wiped Out) that is, in this writer’s opinion, one of the first Speed Metal albums ever, the young band found themselves with incredible upward momentum. With that in mind, the then current line-up of John (Bass and Vocals) and Mark (Guitar) Gallagher, plus Rob “Wacko” Hunter (Drums) needed to choose whether or not to continue on the road toward hyper-speed annihilation or to switch gears and create a bulkier, skull-crushing, marginally more melodic affair. They chose to split the difference.

From the second John let’s loose his unhinged, raw falsetto at the opening of “Take Control”, the changes in Raven are all too clear. The ever so slight speed reduction from the previous album does nothing but let Wacko crush skulls like everyone knew he could. That new found percussive power lets Mark and John’s work breathe, letting them perfect the AC/DC caliber groove that some previous Raven songs had nearly achieved. A literal bang of an opening salvo.

“Mind Over Metal” is up next, showing that Raven hasn’t so much slowed down as they have learned to use both pedals. Achieving roughly the same pace as classic B-Side “Wiped Out”, the track is one of the bands best ode’s to the Rock club experience. Even John’s vocals have become more controlled, more varied, while remaining the pure sonic incarnation teenaged chaos. Every note is a challenged issued to the listener as he accomplishes inhuman insanity through “Sledgehammer Rock” and combat anthem “All For One”.

Coming through as the A side’s final track is arguably Raven’s finest moment: “Run Silent, Run Deep”. Musically the perfect summary on this record’s thesis on the use of varied velocities in the creation of raw power, it also manages to tell a compelling story of a U-Boat Captain and his ship as they’re persude through the darkness of the Atlantic by Allied destroyers. The instrumental bridge even serves as the perfect illustration, conjuring images of the submarine creeping through the ocean, depth charges exploding all around like lightning in a deep-sea thunderstorm.

Following up that magnum opus is another groove-laden speedball known as “Hung, Drawn, and Quartered”. Lyrically a precursor to the gore fixation of early 90s Death Metal, a tale of torture and execution, it also let’s loose with Marks most manic solo on the whole album. “Take Control’s” lead-booted cousin,”Breaking the Chain”, and a tantrum against tax-collection called “Take It Away” follow suit, combining for the second side’s 1-2 punch combo prelude before “Seek and Destroy”‘s nuclear apocalypse.

Album closer “Athletic Rock” is, quite simply, the period on the end of Raven’s early, golden-age. Functioning as a de-facto title track for the boys, you can tell by the performances that all involved were smiling as this was committed to tape. This was Raven’s take no prisoners, our way or the highway statement. A fun, groovy, neck-snapping track.

Coming in to the Neat Records catalogue at number 1011, All For One was produced by a german duo under the shared psuedonym of “Double Trouble”. A searing, state-of-the-art production would be applied: a smoked and grissled exterior encapsulating a fine-tuned engine. An essential component of this record’s core and, let’s face it, one could expect nothing less from Udo Dirkschnieder and Michael Wagener.

Raven would grab their greatest level of success on the back of this record, touring America with Metallica on the now infamous Kill ‘Em All For One tour. They would also be picked up by Atlantic Records on the strength of All For One, and would record the under-rated Stay Hard and the dismal The Pack is Back. Soon after they would return to their original style, but they would sadly never achieve the heights they could have had it not been for their major-label handlers.

Regardless, All For One is nothing short of a monument. A legendary opus in the early years of Speed Metal that has undoubtedly inspired many a Metalhead to push their playing and songcraft to outrageous and over-the-top heights of hysteria. For that, three dudes from Newcastle will remain an ever growing colossus in the pantheon of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal.

Rating: \m/ \m/ \m/ \m/ \m/ \m/ \m/ \m/ \m/ \m/ (10 out of 10)

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Live!: Criticull (w/ Dissentient, Alcoholator, Screamer, Barrow Wight) @ Cafe Dekcuf, 21/07/12

It’s always worth taking part when a small band from across the world makes it’s way to sleepy little Ottawa. It’s also worth participating in any event wherein one of the most fun live acts in our fair city pulls headlining duty. So needless to say, I was pretty excited for this little event.

Unfortunately, thanks in large part to OC Transpo, I was late to the show and only managed to catch the last few songs of opener Barrow Wight‘s set. What I heard was a band working largely within a Venom-esque framework, but pouring in liberal doses of prog rock à la Jethro Tull. An interesting mix to be sure, and one full of potential. One thing the band still lacks is a true stage presence and energy. The members, in large part, just stood around looking at the instruments as if they were a little unsure of their playing. However, it was also evident that they were enjoying themselves, and that is the soil from which charisma springs. (7/10)

Screamer on the other hand, while being no older than yours truly, had the presence and passion of seasoned vets. NWOBHM by way of Sweden (i.e. Iron Maiden by way of Torch), this is total throwback Metal with dead serious intent and execution. Vocalist and Bass guitar player Christoffer Svensson is a talented frontman in the early 80s British mold, his voice reminding this writer of Tygers of Pan Tang‘s Jon Deverill, punctuated by highs reminiscent of Sin After Sin-era Halford.  Drummer Henrik Petersson is no slouche either, doing some very interesting stuff that most drummers don’t even bother with. Instead of just maintaining the beat, he throws in little flourishes and extra hits in tasteful places throughout the tunes. An extra dimension to an already rock solid force. (9/10)

Montreal’s Alcoholator is a full-on Thrash act with the philosophy that the world revolves around two things: Heavy Metal and Booze. Far from a unique approach to be sure (I can think of at least one band that has made an entire career out of the exact same concept) but that doesn’t make Alcoholator any less fun to watch and listen too. All instruments are solid and vocalist Matt Butcher is an adept in the use of that good ‘ol Thrash rasp, and the songwriting shows moments of brilliance. Some of the Thrash breaks actually gave me chills (Re: “Drink Beer… or Die Trying”). They have a long way to go before becoming masters of the mosh, but if they can stay the course and continue improving, Montreal could have yet another really special band in their midst. (7/10)

When Gatineau’s Dissentient appeared, their frontman Phil Campbell stood centre stage wearing a Fear Factory t-shirt, and that was certainly an apt comparison. This is a bruising Death Metal unit lying somewhere between that aformentioned California juggernaut and Montreal Tech-Death legends Gorguts. Standing out like a sore thumb as the heaviest unit of the evening, it was evident that this was a band who not only loves what they do, but know know their way around the respective instruments. The technicality in each members’ playing was incredible, and made moreso by the fact it looked easy. Bass guitarist Stef Stomphe is like a caveman who just discovered fire, flayling away on his instrument like he invented it. Throw in a song length Star Trek reference (specifically infamous TNG-era bad guys The Borg) and you have pretty much the perfect, nerdy, Tech-Death unit. (8.5/10)

Headliners Criticull are one of those bands who’ll never dissappoint. That has a lot to do with the fact that there’s no one else doing exactly what they’re doing. Sure there are reference points: Suicidal Tendencies, Primus, and early Faith No More are obvious influences. But, no one really truly blends Funk, Thrash, Hardcore, and a gonzo sense of humour and manages to keep it heavy and energetic. Yet despite how much they have going on, the songs themselves manage to stand-out and even become memorable, “Sabre the Flavour” and “Who Killed You?” being hilarious highlights. If you’re an open-minded Ottawa music fan, this is a band you need to see. Their is no one like them and, if they chose it, they could take their brand very far. (9/10)

Overall show score: \m/ \m/ \m/ \m/ \m/ \m/ \m/ \m/ (8 out of 10)

Photos courtesy of the fantastic Gilles Landreville of GMLPhoto! If you wish to inquire as to his services, you can e-mail him at this address.

Weekly Rare Track: Exodus – “Death and Domination”

*I do not own the rights to this song. All writing, performance, production, publishing and distribution rights are tht of their respective owners.*

Paul Baloff (R.I.P.): Lead Vocals
Gary Holt: Rhythm Guitar
Kirk Hammett: Lead Guitar
Jeff Andrews: Bass Guitar
Tom Hunting: Drums and Percussion

Exodus is a long running, highly respected, much celebrated Thrash band from the legendary Bay Area scene of the 1980s. Kirk Hammett, Lead guitarist of Metallica, was actually a founding member of Exodus and played on the 1982 demo (from which this track is taken) and the “Die by his Hand” demo before being plucked by Metallica to record their debut full-length.

One of the defining features of the Bay Area sound, especially in it’s earliest days, was the blatant NWOBHM-isms that permeated the work of most bands. This demo is no exception. One can quite clearly hear early Maiden and Venom  in the riffs, while a close listener can also hear the Uli Jon Roth (Scorpions) influences in the lead-work of young Kirk. Paul Baloff‘s vocals here have not achieved their full-on Thrash rasp, but definitely incorporate a few bone-rattling screams into what is otherwise a fairly standard, british-inspired clean vocal.

Even legends begin by emulating their influences. Exodus is no exception. Enjoy!