The Raven Age release their long awaited debut LP, Darkness Will Rise (#darknesswillrise) on BMG Records this morning. The album was recorded at Barnyard Studios in Essex where they worked with producer Matt Hyde who has worked on some monumental albums from bands such as Slipknot, Trivium, Bullet For My Valentine and Funeral For a Friend.
Although I was lucky enough to hear much of this album’s material in demo format long before today’s release. I was hoping to get my hands on a finished copy before the big day, but due various reasons, no such luck. So I was reserved to getting my first proper listen this morning, over breakfast.
Now, I’d like to place a full disclosure notice here; I won’t pretend to be unbiased to this release. I’ve been friends with the band almost since day one. Some long before the band even existed. I even helped produce some of the band’s early demos. But if anything, I’m the kind of person who will be more critical of my friends work than I will of a stranger’s.
As an artist myself, I find insincere praise more insulting than any level of honest criticism. Plus, I’ve always been someone who can be pretty objective in most situations. So this is going to be no different.
Darkness Will Rise, Album Review
I already listened to Darkness Will Rise in full this morning, but I’m listening again, as I go through this review. Out of the gate, I will say I have a lot of thoughts about this album. Some big criticisms, some big praise, but often a strange counterbalance of the two.
Many things that I may dislike on a personal level, I believe work in the albums favour. They work to make it stand out in today’s cookie cutter landscape.
Okay so let’s continue…
Opening: Darkness Will Rise
Darkness Will Rise opens with an orchestral driven intro track. The first thing that strikes me about it, is it starts very abruptly. Almost as though it’s missing a couple of seconds. I think it would have been nice to build it a bit more, to give more atmosphere and a feeling of tension.
The strings are easy to tell they’re synths, which is a shame, but for such a short intro it’s very catchy and even though I heard the melody long ago, it stuck with me and is a very beautifully written piece of music.
As I said, it’s more of a case I think it needed more room to build. But as the album clocks in a hefty 74 minutes and 51 seconds. It may have simply been a restriction imposed by how much data a CD can actually hold. I think a double CD for a first album may have been taking things too far, lol.
The track then comes in with a vocal from mike which introduces some nice drawn out guitars, shortly changing to a thundering chug. Creating a nice transition into the the first main track which is…
A title with obvious biblical connotations, but with cynical overtones. A reference to the promise of an eternal paradise that never comes. The song has a great build up that suddenly leaves you hanging. Then comes the guitar chung, introducing the vocals on solid ground.
The lyrics on this sort of subject can often be caked in grandiloquence (A word I use, fully aware of the irony involved). Not the case here, they say what they need to, nothing more, nothing less. The lyrics are clever without trying too hard to sound intelligent. The vocal melody isn’t instantly catchy, but it serves it purpose to drive the song forward.
The pre-chorus for this song is really strong. Jai’s drums have some great driving force and the vocal melody grabs you straight away. I might even say I prefer it to the main chorus of the song. That while the chorus is more soaring. For me it’s not the strongest part of the song.
The bridge of this song is awesome though, it’s huge and driving. Building tons of tension before the final chorus. Overall it’s a very solid opening track.
Age Of The Raven
This tracks has a very memorable opening riff, I’d probably say it’s one of my favourite on the album. It’s not particularly heavy, beautiful or catchy, it’s just cool in an inexplicable sort of way. It’s almost an almost swing feel to it while still being in 4/4.
This song sticks to a similar structure to the previous track, with a pre-chorus that builds, but leaves you hanging til the next rendition before introducing you to the chorus. A great song writing device, but it can be overused.
Much more than the last song, I think this chorus feels like it serves the song much better as the strongest song element. It takes almost 2 minutes to get to it. But it’s worth the wait. The melody is big and catchy. Especially the second half it’s definitely a sing along.
The bridge is much more subtle than the song before. But it’s got a cool radio effect on the vocal that makes it stand out. The song does one more chorus before closing with a big finale and fading out into the distance.
Then out comes…
The Death March
Many Raven Age fans will be very familiar with this track as it’s the first up on the album from The Raven Age EP. The song is one of my personal favourites. That transition works nicely from the track before. It’s driving from start to finish. Catchy hooks throughout and some really cool synth parts that make it sing.
Michael Burrough’s vocals work really well here. It’s also got some nice time changes which keeps it especially interesting. Jai Patel’s drumming also really shines on some of the ridiculous fills he does, during one of the breakdowns.
Salem’s Fate is the band’s latest single. The video for this track is also awesome. I must admit I did laugh seeing some familiar faces dressed as angry medieval peasants though. Now I understand why knowing someone personally makes it hard to keep your suspension of disbelief.
Clocking in at over 7 minutes, it’s the second longest track on the album. But it marks the point in the album where things start to get more interesting.
Up until this point apart from the intro, clean guitars have been few and far between. A long, but beautiful intro I’d possibly compare to Fear of the Dark.
It’s an interesting subject matter that you don’t often hear covered, especially these days. It’s nice to hear a modern band go back to the roots of metal in this way.
The Merciful One & Eye Among The Blind
This track has probably got one of the best driving riffs opening it. The verse vocals while a strong performance, are maybe a little dry in the mix. But this track has a beautiful break down, the build up is epic. The vocals have some great harmonies and the solo that follows has a great soulful feeling. Pushing out with a double time ending makes this song really pump.
Next, The Eye Among The Blind smashes in with blast beating drums. Another track that has obvious anti-religious overtones in the lyrics.
“You’re all too ignorant to see, It’s all for power and for greed, You are the puppets on the strings” leading into “It’s time to wake up from these force fed lies, No chance for choices when they shield your eyes, Don’t let me be the only one who sees, ‘Cause I’m the eye among the blind” I think it’s pretty clear it’s mocking the insanity that is organized religion.
Although to nitpick, having sat with this song a long time. I still can’t shake the feeling the chorus comes off as a little patronising. Apart from that, it’s a great song with massive hooks. An important message. A great middle 8 that is a total sing along and really drives into to the final double chorus.
Winds Of Change
This song starts out with another long building intro, in similar fashion to Salem’s Fate. To me this song is most memorable for being someone’s most dreaded to play live in the early days of The Raven Age. Although I’m sure that’s long since past.
I could be wrong, but I have an educated guess to the specific events that inspired this songs lyrics. Yet, it’s open enough to interpretation that I’m sure everyone can relate on a personal level. Which to me is one of the most important things a song can do.
It’s a great track with lots of dynamics that build in just the right way, the thing that grabs me about a lot of the tracks so far is they have lots of space for building with the crowd in a live situation and not just writing for the radio like many of the modern metal contemporaries.
On that point, I think it’s worth mentioning having seen the band live on several occasions. They are tighter than a nuns vagina. Which is certainly less common in today’s metal scene. But knowing how often they practise, it’s not hard to see why 😉
Moving on to the last third of the album…
Trapped Within The Shadows
This track is solid. Although the bass guitar sitting on it’s own during the intro’s stab section is odd. You’d expect it to be combined with stabbed guitars. I’m not sure if this was intentional, but it does stand out.
The harmonies in the chorus have tons of energy. The chorus has massively driving punk paced drums which is unusual for a chorus with so much melody. It works a lot in the favour to make this song stand out on this album.
The bridge starts out with a slightly off-kilter drum beat, but that’s soon remedied with the introduction of a single handed roll, which is definitely a nice touch from Jai.
The first part of this track really stands out on the album for several reasons. For one, it’s clean guitars feel a lot darker and more atmospheric than at any point before. The eerie vibe they offer is almost haunting. Secondly this short little intro offers the only scream vocal in sight. It’s buried in the mix, it’s actually hard to make out. Like a voice calling from the dark. It’s actually quite epic.
Sadly, it’s extremely short lived. While the song that comes in isn’t a bad song. I feel that intro deserved something so much more. Personally I feel it would have worked much better in front of a track that is yet to come. Angel in disgrace possibly.
The rest of the song is solid, in fact it has some of the coolest and original vocals on the album, but it’s far too happy and melodic for such a dark intro.
It’s also got a wicked break down that’s sure to go down well at live shows. But again the chorus comes back into sounding far too cheerful. IMO this track has some of the coolest parts on the album, but is my least favourite overall, but only because I felt it had so much unused potential.
The Dying Embers Of Life
I love this track. It’s the only real ballad on the album. The songs lyrics strike a personal chord with me. It definitely has a theme and feel reminiscent of things that have come before. But it’s original enough to stand on it’s own two feet, without being obvious.
George and Dan’s guitars carry a soft swaying melody that is sweet to the ears. Filled out with a simple but satisfying bass line that carries the sound.
The chorus is awesome, the guitars soar, the drums are driving and the lyrics are profound and relatable. The vocal melody is epic, and really works well as the main hook of the track. Musically I’d say it’s one of the strongest choruses on the album. If I was to nitpick again, it’s that Matt Cox’s bass should have been louder in the mix here. It would have made the chorus sound even bigger.
Again much like Winds Of Change. Even though I know the specific inspiration for the lyrics. They’re written in a way that is open enough to interpretation to be relatable to anyone that listens.
Definitely one of the strongest tracks on the album for me and I hope they release it as a single. I can imagine a great video with very strong visuals that would only enhance the experience.
As the song fades out it beautifully leads into…
Angel In Disgrace
100% the strongest track on the album. Angel In Disgrace is epic from start to finish. Like much of this album, it has lyrics that definitely have an atheist/anti-religious vibe to them, but this track knocks it out of the ball park so to speak. Jai’s drums really shine here. Especially when you see this song live.
The bass thunders, the drums pound and the guitars scream in unison. When it kicks in, it’s like a monumental fuck you, with a ten foot middle finger to the lord almighty himself. Okay maybe that’s going a little far, but you get my point. Can you tell I’m not a fan of religion myself?
Angel in Disgrace has great dynamics. The Raven Age have done themselves proud here. George’s songwriting is especially strong and Michael’s vocals during the chorus really bring it home.
It’s easy to understand why on Spotify it has almost 5 times the plays of every other track on the EP combined. Yes, I did the math, fuck you.
Behind The Mask
Bringing the album to it’s conclusion. Behind the mask is probably the track I’m least familiar with, or at least has had the most changes since I heard it’s early recorded version. Slightly cliché saving the the longest track till the end. But even with over an 8 minute running time, this track certainly doesn’t drag. In fact, I think it’s definitely in my top 5 best tracks on the album, it’s almost a shame it was saved til the end. The Chorus vocals really shine, maybe even being a step up from Angel in disgrace in how much they make you want to sing along.
The strings in the middle 8 are almost seductive. This is the part in the track I can really imagine fans jumping around on their bed in nothing but a pair of underpants. Whether strapped around the appropriate part of their waist, or mysteriously stuck over their head in excitement. Playing air guitar and trying to sing woefully out of their range vocals at the top of their lungs. While pounding their chest in a display of teenage angst that would impress a NOFX fan.
Sadly this track where things really start to get interesting is the point where it all ends. Leaving you with that empty feeling you get when you finished Breaking Bad, or the first Linkin Park album. I suppose that’s the sign of something that had an impact on you.
In many ways I’m not sure how to feel about this album. Having already been familiar with the new material (Songs that weren’t on the EP) for over a year or so now. I am missing a lot of that excited tingle when you hear a great song for the first time.
The EP released stuff even more so. I’ve still got demo’s on my computer of George and Dan singing to rough guitars and a drum machine. The songs weren’t even in the same tuning back then. Thankfully I can say the songs came a long way by the time they released the EP.
Almost 3 years after The Raven Age’s self titled EP’s release. Comparing the tracks side by side to their EP counterparts there is a noticeable step forward in the sonic quality. But, not as much as I’d hoped for. Don’t get me wrong, technically the production is almost flawless. But comparatively, compared to a lot of new albums coming out, this album sounds a lot more raw. The guitar tones especially are extremely heavy in the midrange.
The good ol’ days?
A sound that reminds me of the late 90’s and early 2000’s. Early Bullet For My Valentine springs to mind. It makes every note crystal clear. For any guitarists wanting to learn the tracks by ear, this album is a dream come true. Yet, it makes them sound less polished.
It also makes the guitars sound a lot brighter/happier. You would never guess that the guitars are tuned to Drop B flat, only a semitone away from Whitechapel territory.
Personally I love the sound of newer records. Although, I know many (Especially my generation and older), feel they sound too sonically perfect. Therefore, they’ve become almost sterile like they’re listening to computer generated music.
I’ve never been one to agree with my peers though. As I said earlier, putting my personal feelings aside, I think this almost certainly works in the albums favour. Making it stand out amongst the crowd of bands that all sound exactly the same.
No doubt about it though, the album is a very solid debut. The album has it’s own unique quality, a sound that I can’t really compare directly to much else, but I wouldn’t say it’s complete yet. Many genre defining bands started out this way though, so take that with a pinch of salt.
I think the band have left themselves somewhat of a blankslate concerning their sound. They’ve carved themselves a niche, but are yet to define it. Leaving lots of room for the band to grow musically into the future.
Some extra final thoughts
On a side note: Knowing that many of these songs were written years ago. Some probably while George Harris (The main songwriter) and Dan Wright (co-writer and composer), were barely out of, if not still in their teens. Making the mature lyrical content and excellent songwriting only more impressive.
After 2 years of almost constantly being on the road. I know that they’ve all grown as people and as musicians. So I believe the next album, which is certainly on its way in one form or another already, will be even better. That said, after almost 5 years of waiting, let’s just hope they don’t make us wait as long for the next one.
It’s certainly an album worth getting, buy it now from Amazon.