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"The Pack is Back" was one of the worst albums ever released in the 80's, and knowing how bad Bon Jovi and Culture Club are, that's saying a lot. It was a time when Raven was pressured by the infamous Atlantic Records to pursue a radio-friendly sound, and the result was a complete, unmitigated disaster. One album later, and all of that would change. Raven would return to its true NWOBHM/speed metal sound, and then some.
All the synthesizers; gone. The horn sections; gone. The horrendous song writing; gone. The outrageous outfits complete with a hockey mask; all gone! Now, we get the sound that we all wanted back; the band's true sound, the NWOBHM sound. John and Mark Gallagher have crafted some real aggressive stuff using their NWOBHM expertise, giving us gems like "The Savage and the Hungry" and "Juggernaut". They've got the riffs and driving time signatures that we'd expect to hear from Raven, and they really sound as though they've been recorded during their NWOBHM heyday. John Gallagher has his signature screaming back too, only adding to the nostalgia. We didn't really hear so much of those with the previous album, as the label probably thought that the screams would make teenyboppers dumb enough to buy any Raven album run screaming with their mascara running to their jock boyfriends, squeezing them half to death as they hug them.
Sure, there are a few songs on "Life's a Bitch" that appear to be somewhat radio-friendly, but we can let those pass, cos Raven had done that sort of thing before with even their debut album, "Rock Until You Drop". The title track is one example. It has a more moderate tempo and a rocking riff, but the lyrics, of course, don't fit well with the radio (That's just fine with us, cos we're used to that sort of thing!). Another song that is proof of this is "Finger on the Trigger", yet another song with a rocking riff and a moderate tempo. We hear that a lot with Raven, don't we? It's been with us ever since they formed. They did, after all, start off with a single entitled "Don't Need Your Money", which sounds a little like your standard hard rock song, hokey and silly, and songs like "Hard Ride" weren't all that aggressive either.
But the real gems of this album are of course, the fast and aggressive songs. The sort of songs that Raven had created that would inspire power, speed, and thrash metal bands, like Metallica among others. We had to go through two albums deprived of those awesome songs and the later of which, we all know, was absolutely disgusting. One of these truly magnificent songs is "Pick Your Window". Just listen to that hyper-fast tempo and that frighteningly aggressive hook! We haven't had that in a while! Not only that, but the song's opening riff is a bit more complex as well, consisting of a flurry of notes, much like the song "Read All About It" from their "Wiped Out" album. This proves that Raven has come quite a long way from producing hooks that were lacking in terms of complexity, and that's just how Atlantic Records liked them.
My favorite song on here, however, is unique in its own special way. "On the Wings of an Eagle" begins with a melodic bass riff thanks to John Gallagher. It then kicks into gear with an aggressive riff intro and then eventually, a fast-paced aggressive song featuring Raven's NWOBHM-style hooks. The chorus and the riff that plays between the two solos of the song are also melodic. That riff, in particular, having the same melody as the bass riff at the beginning of the song. It's a song that I feel borderlines on power metal, due to its melodic nature and fast tempo. The fact that it's about dogfighting Spitfires in the midst of the Battle of Britain during World War II, a topic that isn't so cliched, makes the song all the more epic. It's something that Raven normally didn't do in their past, but this is a great song, nonetheless, as opposed to (*sigh*) that previous album.
With the release of "Life's a Bitch", Raven had made a full recovery from Def Leppard's Disease. Unfortuneately, they couldn't have done so at a worse time, for this was the late 80's here, a time when most metallers were engrossed in more faster bands, such as Exodus or Slayer, and a few of them are embracing a few new subgenres of metal; death metal and grindcore. For obvious reasons, it's a shame that this album got so overlooked when it did. It totally is. Need I say more?
The previous two albums "Stay Hard", and "The Pack Is Back" would have any Raven fans completely dismissing the band as total whores, but thankfully Raven managed to wise-up, realize what they had done was wrong, even flat-out admitted and told the truth about their need for fame and fortune. Now I'm not a drama queen, but if you tell the truth when you know what you did was wrong, I'm very lenient and generous. Thankfully Raven pick-up their instruments and go back to what they were known for and it completely shines through.
'Life's A Bitch" is just straight forward speed-induced, NWOBHM-influenced powerful thrash metal. It perfectly sits right between the three mentioned genres and thank-fucking-god for guitarist John Gallager because outside of "Wiped Out", this features some of his fastest riffs. Bassist Mark Gallager also managed to get the force and command back in his voice.
The album is divided into two different types of songs; speedy-as-fuck NWOBHM-inspired thrash metal and hard-rocking metal tracks that are more mid-tempo that are more in touch with early Raven. The first three tracks "The Starved & the Hungry", "Pick Your Window", and the title track will make you completely forget the last two piles of commercial crap. If you're going to listen or even buy this album, it's worth it for the first 3 songs alone. "Overload", "Your A Liar", "Playing With A Razor", and "Only The Strong Survive" will have you head banging and remind you of early Overkill in some sections. "Juggernaut" reminds me a lot of Metallica's "Seek And Destroy" only the guitars are tuned down a notch and gives it a heavier tone.
Unfortunately for Raven, even though this was a back-to-basic sound and even some of the heaviest stuff they had written up this point in their career, they were starting to suffer from the fallout of their previous two albums which alienated most of their die-hard NWOBHM fan base and shortly after "Nothing Exceeds Like Excess", they would fall into obscurity in the 90's. Sad really.
The clearly anti-commercial album title says it all: no more synth guitars, pop metal leanings, horn section, bubble gum and everything else about "The Pack Is Back", fortunately the short Raven commercial era is definitively over. They were dropped from the big label Atlantic, and that's the best that could have ever happened to the band. There would be no more pressure from that record company, which was obsessed with massive album sales, radio hits and money-maker artists. Atlantic didn't care about the quality of the music obviously, otherwise they wouldn't have kicked Raven out, because "Stay Hard" or the "Mad Ep" were really honest metal releases. Anyway, it didn't take so long to the band to realize the commercial way was the wrong path for a metal band. Unfortunately, other band such as their NWOBHm mates Saxon would be playing commercial cheesy stuff by the early 90's (no comments about Def Leppard...). But back in 1987, "Life's A Bitch" along with Anthrax, Running Wild, Exodus or Sodom's records, among others, would make that year a great one for metal.
The stuff here it's raw, fast and powerful. "The Savage And The Hungry", "Fuel To The Fire", "Only The Strong Survive" or "Playing With The Razor" are from the finest stuff Raven has ever recorded, and I would definitively put those ones in the same level as their first 3 album masterpieces. The killer speed metal sound filled with aggression and music ability is back, and the lyrics also became harder, listen to "You're A Liar", "Never Forgive" or the title track ("...I feel like telling the world to fuck off!!!"). On other hand, the songs are still catchy, specially "Pick Your Window" and "Overload", but not commercial at all, that's one of the differences with "Stay Hard". Also the production by Chris Isca and Raven themselves is not commercial focused, something that makes the sound more heavy and tough. And obviously I highlight the remarkable work of the Athletic Rock metallers: guitar virtuoso Mark Gallagher, killer drummer Rob "Wacko" Hunter and, of course, John Gallagher's still crazy and hyperactive vocal style (whose screams inspired thrash vocalists such as Tom Araya by the early 80's).
The remastered version includes two bonus tracks, "Finger On The Trigger" and " Speed Of The Reflex", this last one from the "Mad Ep" and one of the best songs that Raven had recorded while they were with Atlantic Records which also show that their sound started to change into their original amazing metal sound. It's absolutely shameful that a metal masterpiece like the "Life's A Bitch" '98 CD reissue would be so hard to find, I hope someday that will change, not only with this album.
So if you're a 80's METAL maniac or just a NWOBHM or thrash collector, this album can't be missed in your collection.
Raven is one of the many legions of bands in the "shoulda been bigger category" but a decade or more of poor business decisions and bad management have kept this powerhouse of NWOBHM underground even to this day. The bands midcareer release 'Life's a Bitch' is possibly their best, showcasing the bands talent not only as song writers, but as musicians as well.
The production is pretty good for a later period NWOBHM album. The guitars are heavy and fast. There is a lot going on as the riffs are very busy and fairly technical. The leads and solos are intense and soaring. There is an ungodly amount of melody from start to finish but it works very well. The guitars are tuned to standard.
The bass is surprisingly competent and doesn’t always follow what the guitar is doing. The drums are a little more than standard, but work all the same. The vocals are perhaps the bands selling point as John has an incredibly unique voice. It’s a case of you either love or hate it as it does tend to get obnoxious in some places. He is almost unmatched however for his high range.
This is a very energetic and fun album that has a lot of soul and feeling to it. This is by far the bands creative peak as everything before it was merely building up to this and everything after has been less than. Its albums like this that make one throw their hands up in confusion as to why band X never made it outside of their styles specific limits.