Wednesday 26 July 2023

Raven - All Hell's Breaking Loose (2023)

Country: UK
Style: Heavy Metal
Rating: 7/10
Release Date: 30 Jun 2023
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When I reviewed Raven's fourteenth album, Metal City, in 2020, I suggested that they hadn't much changed from their early days in the eighties, the style still fast and raucous without any apparent care to update for the modern era. This fifteenth album follows suit but I do have something more substantial to say this time out because the songs are a lot better. In fact, I ended that review with the suggestion that, while I enjoyed it, "I'll surprise myself if I remember any of these songs when I wake up tomorrow morning." I was right, but some of these songs are already sticking in my brain.

Quality is really the only difference. The line-up is the same, John & Mark Gallagher still the focus, as they've been since founding the band back in 1974, with Mike Heller still behind the drumkit, as he's been since joining in 2019. The sound is the same, heavy metal rather than speed metal but in a fashion that reminds us that Raven were one of the latter genre's key influences. The songs are relatively straightforward, with simple but powerful riffs, almost out of control vocals and speedy but catchy results. The biggest difference from the early days is Heller's use of double bass pedals.

Last time out, I enjoyed the album on multiple listens, but could still only find one song to call out as a highlight, which was the one they kicked it off with. It wasn't that the songs were bad, simply that they weren't particularly good either. Here, they're much stronger, kicking off well again but keeping going this time. Medieval is another solid opener, but Surf the Tsunami is a better follow-up, my first highlight of the album. The drums are frenetic, as Heller is keen to keep them, but the riffs are excellent and the hooks are strong. Two songs in, it's already better than its predecessor.

And there are other highlights to come. All Hell's Breaking Loose is pure Raven, energetic British heavy metal from the opening roar. John Gallagher in particular has a blast on this one, speaking these parts, singing those and screaming the rest. The chorus, delivered in backing vocals, is very memorable too. Desperate Measures echoes much of what I just said, but with an even better riff that absolutely stuck in my brain—I found myself humming it while doing the dishes, which has to be about the least metal activity there is— and a little more of a single-minded approach. It just doesn't want to be quite as fancy, not that fancy is a particularly good word to use on a Raven LP.

Invasion is a grower for me, because it starts out slower and heavier but kicks into gear with style, barrelling along through its midsection. It becomes a blitzkrieg and the only track left that has to follow it is more than up to the task. It's Go for the Gold, which features another storming chorus, another couple of excellent wild guitar solos from Mark Gallagher and even more drum fills than ever from Heller, who's been steadily working through his repertoire throughout the album and I should add that he's not just a drummer, he's a drum teacher.

In fact, Heller is an absolute dynamo on this album, an excellent choice of new school drummer for Raven's old school style. It's like the Gallaghers are throwing everything they have at him but he's keeping up with it all and relishing the challenge. I won't say that he manages it effortlessly, as I'd say there are a couple of moments when it feels as if he's actually having to work hard, but I would absolutely say mostly effortlessly. When Raven started out, it felt like they were unprecedentedly fast, pushing the envelope. They haven't changed much at all but metal has moved on. They're not remotely the fastest band in the world any more and Heller can almost keep up in his sleep.

So that's five highlights on an album with ten songs, which is a pretty strong hit rate, especially in comparison to the one last time out. What's perhaps most important is that the lesser songs here are probably all better than the lesser nine on Metal City and that means that this is more than a little bit better, it's a lot better. It's an easy 7/10 but I'm wondering if I should nudge it up to an 8. I find myself in two minds there. The pro is the consistency, because it's strong throughout, nothing letting the side down. The con is the lack of originality, because absolutely nothing here is close to new. Ditch the double bass pedal and Raven could have played these songs live in 1982.

So I think a 7/10 it is but it's a high 7/10. If you're a Raven fan and you don't care about originality, which seems like a redundant pairing, add another point to my rating because you're going to be a lot happier with All Hell's Breaking Loose than Metal City. You're going to replay this one a lot.

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