Julian Cope presents Head Heritage

Raven
Rock Until You Drop


Released 1981 on Neat
Reviewed by achuma, 24/11/2008ce


You might well ask over there in merrie England [or in the USA, where the band have been based for years], is this really ‘unsung’ enough to warrant a review here? To some people who already know and love Raven, they could be regarded as a fairly well-known classic metal band. However, to many others – such as myself, until recently – they remain relatively unknown and unjustly overlooked, and having discovered the charms of Raven for myself , the need to shout about them from the rooftops has overtaken me. They seem to be barely known in my native Australia, and their albums are not easy to find in shops here.
Newcastle’s Raven [not to be confused with the decent 70’s American band whose ‘Back to Ohio Blues’ has recently been reissued] should have been big, but they never quite became a household name as did Metallica [who supported Raven on their ’83 US tour] – to the extent that a metal band can ever really be a ‘household name’ [my mum would probably think Metallica is a paint colour]. Arguably, they have been heralded as the ‘inventors’ of thrash and speed metal, but most modern metalheads have probably never heard of them, let alone heard them. Anyway, for my money speed metal was created much earlier [if not fully formed], examples that come to mind being Deep Purple circa ‘In Rock’ and onwards, Blue Cheer’s ‘Come & Get It’, and parts of the Night Sun album ‘Mournin’’, and regarding the thrash outgrowth of speed metal, Queen’s ‘Stone Cold Crazy’ and ‘Brighton Rock’ deserve a godfather credit, as well as the end bit of Guru Guru’s ‘Electric Junk’, which sounds like it could have been recorded yesterday. By the later 70’s, Judas Priest and Diamond Head were certainly moulding the form. But back to THIS album...
‘Rock Until You Drop’, their first LP, is arguably the best Raven album and of course the best place to start. The cover art, which has the band buried in a pile of their own wrecked equipment, gurning heads visible above the clutter, is a great depiction of the kind of band you’re dealing with. These guys rock hard & fast, wreak mayhem, and have fun doing it – and they are so manically INTO it, that you will, too. Unless you don’t like this sort of thing anyway, but then, you probably wouldn’t have read this far.
The first track isn’t as strong as what follows, sounding a bit Van Halen-ish, but is still good. I’m not really into Van Halen, by and large, and I’d probably just offend those who are by going into any detail about what I don’t like about them. Raven, on the other hand, who occasionally are reminiscent of early Van Halen on this album, kick it up a notch or three, and lack the L.A. party rock wankery vibe and corny mullet-headed chord changes, replacing them with better metal songwriting and a comically bloodthirsty hunger to ROCK for rock’s sake (there’s a great stage photo in the middle of the Spitfire reissue of the second album, ‘Wiped Out’, that really shows this. Without hearing a note you know these guys would really go for it as though their very lives depended on it, even just for rehearsals). Anyway, by the second track the Raven magic is kicking fully into gear, and for the rest of the album you’re treated to, well, a treat, if metal is your thing. Although – besides a short, more acoustic moment – every track is pretty cranked with energy to begin with, quite a few of them unexpectedly wring out even more crazed peaks of flaming electric dementia in their second halves. If you ever wondered what Sir Lord Baltimore or Highway Robbery might have sounded like as a proto-thrash OTT speed-power metal band, this is it, except the brilliant histrionics of bassist/vocalist John Gallagher sound somewhere between John Garner and King Diamond! Gallagher also has perhaps the most impressive sustain on his voice that I’ve ever heard, at one point holding a single note for longer than seems humanly possible. Not only the vocals impress technically, but all ‘round, these guys are excellent players who just can’t sit still for long, each song being quite complex and played with total abandon that’s all the more impressive as they’re only a trio, and there’s sure no room here (or need) for any extra players, to say the least... For the nostalgic headbangers amongst us, the guys also entertain with a medley of Sweet’s ‘Hellraiser’ and ‘Action’, which sound only a little different to the originals, suggesting I should add Sweet to that list of speed metal grand-daddys.
And that’s about as much as I can say without repeating myself in different combinations of words. The next album, ‘Wiped Out’, is also great and more or less does away with most traces of any Van Halen-ish-ness; follow-up ‘All For One’ is not quite as classic from start to finish, but has some killer tracks and is still a pretty good one. Raven went through a bit of a dip in quality in the mid-80’s, but ‘Nothing Exceeds Like Excess’ was another great album from the late-80’s – and Raven are still around now, though I haven’t yet heard their newer stuff. You can find reviews of all of these albums elsewhere on the net, but none here at Head Heritage I don’t think, so here I leave my opinion, which I hope might turn at least one Raven virgin on to the band!

*Some notes and warnings about the reissues floating around...
Although there have been at least three different CD reissues of this album, I don’t think any are still in print. The one with almost an album’s worth of bonus tracks is very hard to find, and my experience suggests you should be wary of certain US vendors on eBay claiming to have it at a low price, because IF they have it at all what they probably have is either the version with three bonus tracks, or the one with no bonus tracks. As some of these places are apparently unwilling to phone or e-mail their own warehouse to ask for such details on behalf of a potential customer, be wary before putting your money down on-line if the version with the most bonus tracks is what you want [and yes, those bonus tracks are worthwhile if you like Raven]. Don’t get stiffed like I did after a couple of months of screwing around! Also, the most recent version – the 2007 Sanctuary reissue, a digipack with no bonus tracks and no booklet, and the one I unintentionally ended up with – is presumably no longer in print because Sanctuary doesn’t exist anymore. However, there are probably still many copies available.


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