I remember Count Raven from their debut album in 1990, which was yet another decent entry into the growing catalogue of Swedish doom classics. I don't remember anything after that, but I seem to have missed three further albums in the nineties as I was drifting away from music, all with Dan Fondelius adding lead vocals to his guitar duties after Christian Linderson left to join Saint Vitus. I see that they split up in 1998 but got back together again in 2003, but they haven't been too active in the studio, this being only their second album in those eighteen years, a dozen on from the last one, Mammons War in 2009.
I don't know what they got up to on those four middle albums, but this feels old school to me, very much in the traditional vein with Ozzy-era Sabbath obvious throughout. It's downtuned but not so much as to feel extreme. It's heavy, of course, built off predominantly slow riffs that get lively on occasion. The opener, Blood Pope, gambols along like a baby mammoth, heavy but also bouncy to the point of being playful, and there's a great escalation halfway through Oden that does that in much the same way. And the vocals, still from Fondelius as they've been since 1992, are clean.
And these songs are long. Blood Pope starts the album out just shy of nine minutes. The Nephilims breaks ten and Oden almost reaches twelve. Only one of these nine songs lasts under five and it's an anomalous song that's oddly like a Phil Collins solo single with a surprisingly heavy atmosphere of keyboards layered over it. I kept waiting for the moment when the drums would kick in just like In the Air Tonight. It works here as an interlude, especially given that the three tracks ahead of it total almost half an hour, which would make an album all on their own for some bands.
I like Blood Pope, but my favourite early piece is easily The Nephilims. The riff gets under the skin and the vocals are interesting, almost a chant at some points and a narration at others. It's easily the most varied and quirky song on the album and I'd call it out as my favourite period, if not for a few later songs that resonate in other ways. Baltic Storm has a memorable chorus. Oden is a great epic that ends in a great singalong.
And then there's The Ending, which is traditional except for a whistling keyboard line that adds an interesting melody over the riffs. If it isn't my favourite song here, it's certainly my pick for those in search of a gorgeous riff-driven stomper. For those looking for heaviness, then it's The Giver and the Taker that I'd queue up, again mostly because of its riffs. Everything here is rooted in Ozzy era Sabbath but this one's the closest to that template, on all fronts, especially the vocals.
So, while there's variety here, the biggest problem the album has is that it's very long, at over 73 minutes, and there just isn't enough variety to sustain that sort of length for anyone who isn't an inveterate doom hound. Sure, Heaven's Door is something different and Goodbye wraps things up with something different again, being a ballad. It could easily be called Count Raven's Changes as it really is as different from the norm as the song of that name was for Sabbath. And, like that old ballad, it's occasionally clumsy lyrically but it's clearly heartfelt and it's impossible not to feel the grief that was poured into the song.
I'd call this a solid and welcome return for Count Raven, after a dozen years away from the studio. It's good to see them back.