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Monday, May 15, 2017

980. The Raven Age / Darkness Will Rise. 2017. 3/5

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Twelve months ago I had the pleasure of seeing Iron Maiden live in Sydney once again, and their support band on this leg was The Raven Age, a band that all I knew about was that Steve Harris' son George was one of the guitarists. They played, and it turned out that they weren't one of the worst support acts I've seen. So when they announced that their debut album was coming out I felt it prudent to seek it out and see what they had to offer.

From the very beginning, for a debut album, it is long. That's a risky thing, given you are trying to grab people's attention. You don't want to the album to feel as though it is dragging on too long or you are going to lose people. Not only that, the songs are long, the shortest being five minutes. It's the same principle surely, if you start to lose your fans interest, where do you go from there?
My problem with this album lies in the same areas as I have with other bands of a similar ilk. The vocals of lead singer Michael Burrough are of that type that sound the same in every single damn song. The range doesn't change, and they just seem to hammer across the melody of the guitars. That's not to say they are poor vocals, but I feel like I'm listening to the same song all the time because that's just how the singing sounds - different lyrics but the same pattern all the time. If it is done well enough this becomes less noticeable, and this is also true of the more you listen to and get used to an album. But you have to be able to work past that if you are going to get the most out of this album, and that's not an easy thing.
There is also a very formulaic feel about the song writing. Despite the twin guitars in the band, there is very little break out soloing that takes centre stage of the song. The solos are there, but they just don't stand out from the rest of the song. The musicianship is fine, like clockwork really, but it is just the fact that it doesn't break away from the metronome type of feeling that there is some issue in finding something to grab onto, something that makes this album click.
All of this probably makes it sound like I don't like the album, and that's not completely true. What I did find was that I liked SECTIONS of songs without necessarily enjoying all of the song. Half the time that is solved with time and repeated playings, as the songs become more familiar, and to a certain extent that has happened here. The opening salvo of "Promised Land", "Age of the Raven", "The Death March" and "Salem's Fate"all grew on me over time, even if they have never become good friends. Their characteristics are similar and if not ignored would become a burden, but time has improved their edges.
"The Merciful One" breaks out of the sludgy mold that many of the songs have been cast from, and driven by the excellent rhythm drum and bass of Jai Patel and Matt Cox this became one of my immediate favourites on the album - at least until the middle of the song, where inexplicably it goes quiet leading into a mournful section again. OK, so by this time I have to accept that this is the band's style and genre, and that I'm not going to hear what I might consider would be that ultimate break out moment. "Eye Among the Blind" also comes from their debut EP, and it is noticeable that there is some difference in the song writing between the releases, except for where we again seem to stop mid-song once again, go into quiet vocal mode, before bursting back to complete the song in mourning again. Really? It's the same format, one song after the other.
"Winds of Change" and "Trapped Within the Shadows" for me are the best on the album, showcasing the best of the undertow of the band and also allowing Harris and Dan Wright the room to show their skills on guitar. "My Revenge", "The Dying Embers of Life", "Angel in Disgrace" and "Behind the Mask" are all off that same conveyor belt of the start of the album, and without trying to repeat myself, will be songs you either learn to like or will dispose of forever.

As a summary, I can only convey that I enjoy the album. It goes in a different direction song-wise than I would have imagined, and both the length of the songs and the length of the album is probably too long. A tightening somewhere along the way would probably have improved its impact. Still, as an opening effort it is a good listen once you have sanded those dull edges.

Rating:  "Destroy all you've ever known and hide the lies of your purity".  3/5

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