Monday 12 December 2022

The Riven - Peace and Conflict (2022)

Country: Sweden
Style: Hard Rock
Rating: 8/10
Release Date: 25 Nov 2022
Sites: Bandcamp | Facebook | Instagram

When I reviewed the debut album from the Riven back in 2019, I talked about it being blues rock or hard rock, because both applied. The band preferred "heavy blue rock" but for this follow-up, they seem to be going with "high flying power rock" and that works even better, as the blues aspect to their sound is toned down a little here in favour of good old fashioned hard rock, mostly eighties I would say but also seventies. There's a psychedelic edge and the folk angle is definitely still there, along with an occasional flirtation with proto-metal too. The result of this genre-melding is major energy delivered right in your face and it makes for a solid and arguably more consistent album.

The Taker has a bouncy Girlschool vibe to it. It grows into a more psychedelic feel but it never loses its NWOBHM energy and, once it was that obvious on track two, I heard it everywhere in On Time too, which is the opener. These are snappy sub-four minute infusers of energy and the pairing sets the album off well, even if I'd take The Taker over On Time any day with Arnau Diaz's urgent guitar and Olof Axegärd's infectious beat. Maybe it's second to ramp up from a strong opener before the album calms down a little for the title track with a more Thin Lizzy flavour to the guitars.

Like many songs here, it's built out of big power chords and big beats, but it finds a calmer vibe for its verses, which rumble along in vaguely psychedelic fashion behind Max Tenebring's bass. It feels like the openers are there for the band to get the audience whipped up, so that they can trawl this one out to vary the set. And, just in case anyone's not happy with that calmer approach, they shift into high gear for the solos, which ought to keep anyone happy. And I realise that I've given shout outs at this point to everyone in the band except Charlotte Ekebergh, the lady at the front with an immense voice to dominate the show whenever she wants, but, rest assured, she's still here and in fine fettle with more than one spotlight moment by this point.

I'll call her out on Sorceress of the Sky, because it's bombastic from the outset. Teasingly, it calms down when Ekebergh shows up but not for long, because she'll be soaring over the power chords soon enough and even more so over the glorious solos in the second half, which unfold with a clear middle eastern flavour. The only problem I have with this song is that it ends and far sooner than I wanted it to. Sure, there's a Spanish guitar intro called La Puerta del Tiempo, which is reprised at the end of the track proper, but this one feels like it deserves to be an epic and it isn't.

The epic of the album is Death, even though, at a breath over six minutes, it's actually just shorter than Sorceress of the Sky, if you factor in that intro. However, Death grows wonderfully and always feels epic, even before that build starts. It's phrased like an epic and it works like one. There's epic in On Top of Evil too, though it isn't played that way quite so overtly as Death. It's here that proto-metal shows up, because this one begins in the sort of quiet psychedelic mood that Black Sabbath dropped into every once in a while early on. It builds too, like so much here, and it all feels heavy, a definite nod to the early seventies rather than the early eighties.

Those are my three highlights—The Taker early, On Top of Evil later and Death to wrap everything up in pristine fashion—but I would be remiss if I didn't mention Sundown, because that returns us to the folkier aspect to the band's sound that was so prominent on the debut album. This isn't the Led Zeppelin style folk that Far Beyond tackled so well on the debut; this is much more of a singer/songwriter style with a loose acoustic guitar behind a much more subtle Ekebergh vocal, albeit an exquisite Ekebergh vocal that demonstrates the range of her power. She's introspective here, but she turns up the power and let's that voice wonderfully loose. The result is partway between Mary Chapin Carpenter and Tracy Chapman in its quieter sections, but neither of them can soar like this.

I expected to like this album and I do. I think it's a more mature release in terms of its songwriting but also a more even album in the sense that, as powerful as Ekebergh is, this doesn't sound like a solo project at all. All four of these musicians shine throughout and, on almost every song, it feels easy to let any one of them steal our attention, so that we follow them through it. In fact, Diaz is a power right up there with Ekebergh and this album is at its best for me when both of them are on fire at the same time. And, because the end of Death is one of those times, this definitely lives up to the old show business maxim of leaving us wanting more. However many times I listen through, I never once want this album to end.

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