Review Summary: Made by a gorgeous atmosphere and tasty riffs abounds, The Raven Age's debut LP is hardly perfect, but there's tons of things to love about it.
It's hard to argue, for anyone even vaguely familiar with The Raven Age's history, that 2016 proved to be a fantastic year for them. Having been together for nearly a decade but only having a single 17-minute EP under their belt, the band were asked to open for Iron Maiden's 2016 collosal The Book of Souls
Tour, and gained themselves quite the cult following. On said tour, they even debuted tracks they had written for their debut LP, which to that point had been 7 years in the making, and even achieved quite the social media presence. Now saying that this probably wouldn't be possible had it not have been for guitarist George Harris being the son of Maiden bassist Steve Harris would basically be redundant, because it's common knowledge among most Maiden fans that nepotism has been a factor in choosing opening bands for the past decade or so. But if watching The Raven Age's fanbase grow and comparing it to other ventures has been any indication, The Raven Age is definitely the first indication of it paying off. Need any evidence" Their entire debut EP is available on the band's YouTube (for those who don't have Spotify), and just a mere listen to the four tracks says all you need to know: a modern Alternative Metal sound with hints of metalcore and prog, and even elements of classic metal bands, and even moments of pure catchiness to be found. While calling it original by any stretch would be delusional, it's definitely not delusional to consider that it has its place in modern metal. And it does help that they are genuine lads, too (having met a few of the members, I can definitely attest to this).
With that said, nearly 8 years after their formation, the band finally drops their first LP, and sure makes up for the long amount of time making it by giving us a solid 75 minutes of madness. Beginning with an atmospheric intro and ending with a haunting fade-out of soft guitar notes, Darkness Will Rise
is almost like a sheer rollercoaster ride with the amount of tempo changes, ups, downs, even violent changes in nature present. Almost the length of a traditional double album may be long for a debut, but it definitely shows the band are hoping to make more than just a first impression, and if a listen to the album is any indication, they're making a hell of a case for it. Whether they're singing spooky Witch-hunt tales over a badass metal beat ("Salem's Fate") or rants about religion over a powerful Sabbath-esque riff ("Promised Land"), the band's musicianship, formulaic as it may be, is undeniably joyous to listen to. What's even more impressive is that the band manage to actually live up to the promise set by an album that dares to be over 70 minutes- which is definitely hard to come by.
Perhaps the most impressive thing about the album is the atmosphere. Most bands of his kind hammer out the riffs in a start-stop fashion with not much else to add, but if there's one thing that the Harrises have seemed to carry on, it's that the band know how to stop their songs from becoming fatiguing by either knowing exactly when to throw in a tempo change, or knowing when to slow things down. It may become formulaic after a few songs, but it does show the band has a sense of adventure. The band aren't the most technically skilled musicians, but they make up for it by refusal to let the songs become stale and, in addition the above mentioned changes, actually let the song's atmospere shine through, if only just for a minute. Probably the best example of this is shown in "Eye Among the Blind", where the song's bridge stops things for a moment to give an interlude with synth strings, before the heaviness kicks back in. "Salem's Fate" is similar with its being bookended with a spooky slow intro/outro, the intro having Michael Burrough softly setting the tone by singing about Salem being ruled by fear. And even the fantastically heavy "My Revenge" begins with a gorgeously dark riff played softly on downtuned strings before Burrough catapults the song into chaos with a beastly scream, slamming the listener headfirst into a violent musical tale of revenge.
It helps that these songs have no shortage of catchy moments or memorable riffs- "The Death March", which was previously available on the band's EP, tramples along at a fantasically fast pace for the first half before shifting tempos for its chorus, and even picks up its pace again for an A7X-esque solo section. "The Merciful One" is similar in this regard, both in nature and moments of fun- the chorus in particular has some of the more haunting vocal melodies on the album. Burrough may not have the voice of the metal greats, but he makes it work by expressing the emotion set by the lyrics perfectly and making it an essential part of the musical experience. Even better, he blends in with the band's sound perfectly- a Bruce Dickinsonesque singer would not have fit in any way, as great as that may have been. And more impressively, for songs whose length average on 5-6 minutes, very few times do they stretch themselves thin. The 8-minute closer "Behind the Mask" justifies its length by almost being like two songs in one, the first half being a kickass headbanger with haunting verses and a gorgeous chorus to boot, as soon as the song slows down to soft guitar picking, it transforms into a gorgeous power ballad that ends the album on an ever so sweet note. And "Trapped Within the Shadows", arguably the catchiest and most groove-laden song on the album, exists on almost Michael Poulsenish vocal deliveries and an undeniable sense of groove that's sure to make it one of the highlights.
Of course it's not a perfect album; "The Dying Embers of Life", the sole ballad on the album, while not being a bad song, doesn't fit well into the tracklisting and the album wouldn't suffer without it; the title track intro doesn't quite have the same impact that "Uprising" from their EP does, and the mix does kind of get overpowering, with Matt Cox's bass getting buried in the mix at times, but what few flaws this album does have, they're immediately compensated for with excellent and catchy riffage and no short of gorgeous melodies. For a debut, Darkness Will Rise
sure makes one hell of a case for itself, and is definitely something for The Raven Age to be proud of.