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Raven soon realized The Pack Is Back was a massive mistake, they were also aware of the fact Atlantic was trying to make cash from them and quickly disposed of all those elements that made their music so commercial and fashionable to bring back the original spirit of the NWOBHM, the trademark speed and aggression on the first 3 albums. John recalled they were doing again what they really wanted on the Mad EP, playing some truly ferocious tracks but velocity and brutality increased substantially on the following record Life’s A Bitch, on which the Newcastle trio was unleashed, absolutely pissed-off and determined to play as heavy and fast as possible without however losing control or direction (after all, we’re talking of remarkably professional, disciplined musicians). By November ’86 they quickly set about recording this album at Bearsville Studios with Chris Isca, using the mysterious “Total Death” method – a proper description for the attitude and energy displayed on these 12 songs. John says:
“A lot of tension in the air...most of the album was written in the studio, it was becoming obvious Rob was becoming unhappy but still he played ferociously on this, possibly our most aggressive album! All our frustrations came out on this one, some great songs and it holds together well, although our original track-list was changed (“The Savage And The Hungry” and “Overload” were swapped, we wanted “Overload” to start!). At the time, they were pushing cassettes so “Finger On The Trigger” was only on the cassette! (It appeared on CD on the Mayhem 1998 re-issues again). We were in Bearsville Studios (Woodstock, NY), this was in Nov./Dec. of 1986 as I recall – I remember we lived in the “barn” (a combination rehearsal/living area, pretty cool!)”.
Electrifying tunes of relentless riffing, rapid beats and malicious lyrics like “Never Forget” or “Pick Your Window” confirm Raven’s willingness to deny the cheesiness, simplicity and stupidity on the previous record, putting their efforts on making violent, raw music instead, stripped-down from the pompous production, childish lyrics, persistent choruses, synthesizers, horn sections, the click track and all that junk. Riffs are now sharper than ever, speed emphasized completely and John’s verses explicit and controversial, pushing away the politeness and commercial standards to recover their genuine identity. The passion and enthusiasm of the trio makes the music so intense, crude and dynamic as if it was recorded live – showing admirable precision on its execution. All that real aggression remains untouched during most of the album, notable on straighter tunes like “You’re A Liar” and “Playing With The Razor”, which feature a simpler configuration but including some concise, elaborated instrumental parts too. The group always composed difficult, ambitious tunes effortlessly before and this album is no exception as you can check on “On The Wings Of An Eagle” and “Only The Strong Survive”, which reveal considerable song-structure variety, lengthy intricate sequences and unpredictable instrumental shifts of absolute taste and technical ability. Velocity is predominant; the band rarely slows down in 50 minutes of energetic thrashy speed metal – though some weightier sections on the title-track for instance, discover bigger cadence and power created by pounding low-tuned, accented riffage on “Juggernaut” as well. But there are also more casual cuts here, “Iron League” and “Fuel To The Fire” are instrumentally proficient, yet less pretentious, emphasizing choruses you soon feel tempted to sing along – catchier and more accessible, without getting excessively repetitive, including insistent choruses which are just a complement at the service of instrumental section, not attracting all the attention this time.
The Gallagher’s & Wacko had learned the lesson, now doing what they wanted, composing music that ain’t intended to satisfy some greedy producer or passing trend, letting ideas flow naturally and spontaneously, not forced. Musically, these 12 songs are stronger than anything else Raven ever did, again proving their unique capability to write advanced music with adequate continuity and perspective, skilled arrangements and diversity of structures, putting emphasis on the coherence and evolution of riffs during the songs and the essential key & tempo changes as well. This is probably the most relentless album in their career, they had never played that fast and outrageous – the band’s dissatisfaction with their record company, all the pressure and restrictions gave the group some extra motivation to play heavier and rougher than ever before as redemption for their mistakes. And it seems these guys had been saving the brightest ideas for this record – deprived of the parameters and limitations the mid-80’s glam principles set for their music, they eventually come up with the most challenging schemes, the crudest riffs, the most rapid rhythms and nihilist lyrics, yet all that rage obeys a specific pattern, therefore all that velocity and technique is constantly controlled and rigorously focused. Raven’s sound has become more sophisticated with the years, here we find a more professional, experienced group in comparison with the Neat Records years, without excluding the original concept of thrashy speed metal but adding cleaner arrangements, bigger instrumental precision and greater dexterousness on the execution and progression of music. Particularly, Mark’s abilities have improved tremendously, displaying stunning virtuosism and creativity, coming up with imaginative riffs and hooks, easily designing competent variations and surprising us with more of his advanced string techniques and details.
Fortunately, they realized the commercial way was the wrong path before selling out completely, in contrast with their pals from Saxon who kept doing pop until the mid-70’s (no comments about Def Leppard) – yet we wouldn’t have the chance to enjoy such thrashy album like Life’s A Bitch if the group didn’t go through that experimental, cheesy radio glam phase. All the make-up, the synthesizers, the ambiguous sexuality never fitted the attitude of this band, it undoubtedly worked for others to make cash but you surely didn’t expect a Newcastle speed metal band to that go soft and sell out when their real essence was craving for aggressive, fast music. Commercial failure turned into musical success – the band didn’t sell millions of copies but were honest again to themselves and their roots, doing what they always did best: playing fist clenching, high power metal.