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There's no denying that Raven is one of most recognized bands of the NWOBHM aside from Iron Maiden, Def Leppard, and Saxon. They delivered hard, driving and speedy metal great enough to inspire the likes of Metallica in their early days. Their music was more than just what they called "athletic rock", it was the driving force of heavy metal as we know it, and we owe our debts to them just as much as we do Iron Maiden. But when we do owe our debts, we must stay from the albums they recorded under Atlantic Records. They were made during a time when they sold their souls to a major label, and said label wanted to make "rock stars" out of them. Their first album under Atlantic, "Stay Hard", is the beginning of the slippery slope towards the band making absolute fools of themselves.
When Raven signed to Atlantic Records, I'm pretty sure the executives told them this; "You guys have a lot of potential, but you know what, you sound too scary. You need to cut down on the speedy tempos and the violent lyrics. The kids will not buy your music if it has those things in there, they'll just run and hide under their beds and wait for those big, scary monsters that made that stuff to disappear. If you want to be rock stars that make tons and tons of money and that the kids will follow, you've gotta have people buy your stuff, and they're aren't going to buy music that sounds threatening to them." The members of Raven might have been hypnotized by the executives advice that would affect them for a few years. That advice totally shows in "Stay Hard", as the time signatures are completely stripped of their speed. There is not one song on here that has that speed that can be found in classic Raven songs found on "Wiped Out" or "All for One". Instead, we have songs that mainly have mid to slower-paced songs meant to be singles. They've even made a music video for "On and On", and man, did Raven look RIDICULOUS (more on those ridiculous looks later).
While the songs are a bit slower than usual, at least they're not abysmal, like anything on the album that would come after "Stay Hard". This is cos there is still a bit of NWOBHM magic left in Raven, even when they made this album. If you ignore the fact that the tempos are watered down, you can find traces of NWOBHM riffage in much of the songs on the album. You can find them in "When the Going gets Tough" and "Get it Right", and they prove that Raven isn't yet the band that would produce the abomination that is "The Pack is Back". They've still got some of their roots with them when they made this. On the other hand, though, the solos are a little watered down too. For example, the solo in "On and On" doesn't really sound like Mark Gallagher is really playing the guitar at all. It actually just sounds more like some 10-year-old guitar noob found his way into the studio, randomly picked up a guitar, played around with it, and recorded his playtime. The solo doesn't show as much skill as the solos in songs on Raven's previous albums, they just sound completely sloppy and unrefined.
The solos aren't the biggest thing to complain about on this album, oh no. There is a particular song on here that is a dead ringer for a sellout; "Pray for the Sun". It starts off with a completely soft, psychedelic-sounding intro that only a Pink Floyd fan could love. You would think that the song would accelerate into something that sounds even better, like something driving and at least having a NWOBHM-influenced hook. Nope! Not this time! Here you get something that Raven has never done before or since; a ballad. A soft, meatless candy-coated ballad. The complete polar opposite of what Raven was meant to be. I swear, John Gallagher's voice does not go well with a softer-sounding song like this. He's used to screaming at the top of his lungs when delivering speedy NWOBHM songs that borderline thrash metal, not ballads. It sounds like Max Cavalera of Sepultura trying to record a Rod Stewart song. It just doesn't work. Combining Mark Gallagher's rough, tough voice with sweet-sounding balladry is like combining Metallica's aggressive sound with Lou Reed's voice (and we all know how well that turned out!). Oh, and then there's the instrumental song that closes the album, "The Bottom Line". It features a horn section. All I can say is, "uh-oh, a horn section? that's never a good sign". Surely it isn't cos Raven would have never placed a horn section in their earlier albums. A NWOBHM/speed metal band with a horn section would be like putting synthesizers on an Overkill album.
Raven's sound isn't the only thing that suffered during their stint with Atlantic Records. They also had to play dress-up in order to create an image for themselves. If you look on the back of the album, you'd be in for a nasty surprise. The members of Raven don't even look like a NWOBHM band at all; They look like wannabe glam rockers. John and Mark Gallagher, have eyeliner, their hair is permed up, and worst of all, is the image of Rob "Wacko" Hunter, the drummer. I can't decide on whether to laugh or to cry when I look at him, he looks so terrible. He's decked out in a hockey outfit complete with a mask, and he's got some facepaint on his face. It's like they wanted to make Hunter the loveable star of the band that's so goofy that people would love him. It's really not like the NWOBHM giants they used to be at all. A true NWOBHM band would NEVER go that far.
Man, have I stumbled upon a truly sad case of Def Leppard's disease. Their next album, "The Pack is Back" would be even sadder, cos they've completely abandoned their roots in that album. That being said, "Stay Hard" is one of the weakest efforts put out by Raven. It had some cool riffs, yes, but it could have been better if those pesky executives at Atlantic would have been more tolerant of Raven's signature sound. The "kids" that the executives speak of might never buy albums like "All for One", but we heavy metal fans surely would. Just cos the kids won't buy the music doesn't mean that NOBODY would. Unfortunately, the executives and the kids would cast a huge, dark shadow over Raven that would last for a very long time. Enough time to crank out one more album, one that be one of the worst metal albums this side of the "Cold Lake".
For the record, I am not a homophobe, let's just get this straight. But this album just makes me feel very uneasy.
Right before the mind-numbing Huey Lewis and the News-inspired "The Pack Is Back", Raven's attempt to start becoming more commercial started with an album called "Stay Hard"...one of the more homoerotic albums this side of Liberace.
It's a step-down from their classic sound in a more radio-friendly sound that would make Anvil sound like black metal! Although it DOES still have some NWOBHM riffs scattered about the place, there is a lot of material here that lets you know what they really want; fame and money. Nothing wrong with that, but don't do so with album's titled "Stay Hard" with an overtly homoerotic image. Rob Halford never even attempted to do that with Priest. I mean if you haven't fucking figured it out by what I am referring the homoerotic image it's the goddamn album cover. The Terminator has become The Sperminator!
The music for the most part teeters between ok and weak, but not before being weighed down with a "Ugh" at both ends. Songs like "When the Going Gets Tough", "Get It Right", Restless Child", "Power And Glory" features some good riffs and sounds like it could have been the light material off "All For One". Again these songs show the more standard catchy hard rock sound they wanted to get famous with.
But then comes those songs which reminds you at why this album is homoerotic. Just read the song titles! "Stay Hard", "On and On and On", "Hard Ride", "Extract The Action"...and it doesn't help when those songs are filled with material that is a shade light of Scorpions/Def Leppard/ACDC. "Pray For the Sun" starts off with a psychedelic into and then turns into a Motley Crue "Home Sweet Home"-esque ballad. Ugh. Fuck that.
This album still beats "The Pack Is Back".
It's curious how as thrash was becoming harder, louder and faster, the most succesful NWOBHM bands were getting into REALLY commercial styles. Just listen to Saxon, Raven, Diamond Head or Def Leppard (specially!) by the mid-eighties while Metallica, Slayer or Megadeth had alreaady released the most killer heavy stuff ever. Raven were following the 80's glam metal trend by 1985, and not only with their music. They later admited it was a big mistake, that's clear if you just compare "The Pack Is Back" with any of their first 3 records. But this one, "Stay Hard" still rocks heavy and the original Raven sound is still there, although it's affected by a focused commercial production.
All the songs here are remarkable raw speed metal tunes, but specially their biggest hit "On And On",a really catchy song which can perfectly be considered a NWOBHM anthem. It's also one of the few band's visual stuff from the 80's. The re-recorded version of their debut album "Rock Until You Drop" classic "Hard Ride" is also a sensible choice, the solos are wilder than the original version and John Gallagher's vocals are even crazier. "Get It Right", the amazing "Extract The Action", "Restless Child" or "When The Going Gets Tough" are full of amazing riffs, fast solos and that proves that the aggression and speed of the early Raven sound was still alive. "Pray For The Sun" was the first band's ballad (not love song, not like Saxon or other bands did) and its just as brilliant as any other song on this album. So the result is really honest and enjoyful, not even the commercial production by Michael Wagener (curiously a legendary killer metal producer) affected notably the final result: a great dispaly of athletic rock (as they described themselves, but its obviously METAL!). Raven still stayed hard by that time, their next album its another part of the story...I gotta admit that I don't think you can honestly put these discs on the same level as the first ones, but they are still good albums.
The remastered edition contains some track from the awesome "Mad Ep" from 1986, also great stuff, probably even more heavy than the "Stay Hard" songs. But anyway, this album is really underrated and I think it deserves to be inlcuded along with the considered best Raven albums, or just along with the most remarkable NWOBHM stuff ever released.
Kicking out in '85, this album was a marked change for Raven, and some would say for the worse, but I'd disagree as the music on here alone speaks for its self. Now you can tell that Raven had changed quite abit since unleashing Rock Till You Drop 4 years earlier, and they were definitely hungry for that elusive popular acceptance, and break (and seeing it as a very real possibility), but even with this album taking a much more marketable sound, and mainstreamed feel Raven still didnt let up as far as musical creativity, and song writing talent goes. Actually, everything these guys did, no matter how mainstreamed was always totally Raven, and really thats what I love about this album so much. These guys had they're own schtick, they had they're own sound, and they, regardless of all else, had some real fucking talent. Anything else is purely subjective.
The guitar riffs are a bit all over, but stick to a particularly Raven esque sound. A heavy reliance on quick chorded rythms, done in a NWOBHM fashion, but with an amped up Speed Metalish feel, and classic anthem type Heavy Metal chorus'. They stick to a fairly genre typical song structure, but accent it nicely with each members unique characteristics of sound. The guitar tone is nothing short of killer (probably one of my favorites Raven ever had) and really helps drive the riffs onward. Also, there is a plentiful supply of leads, and solo's on here some of which are pretty impressive. Raven always delivered as far as riffs were concerned, and this album also showed a bit more variety than their previous efforts, but only in a more mainstreamed type way (check out "Pray For The Sun", and "Get It Right").
The vocals mix certain tones of the singers ability, from a some what normal kinda voice to that seemingly now forgotten 80's high toned wail, the singer totally ingrains that fighting 80's youthfull spirit of anger and all out partying. Droping all humorous aspects of the lyrical content aside, which is fairly obvious "Stay Hard, Stay Wet" amongst others (also the cover, showing what appears to be a man with a woman going down on him), you can really get a feel of the times in the simplistic yet strongly original words. The chorus arrangements are very catchy and in a very traditional rock based way (great bridges also, check out "On and On" for an awesome bridge chorus structure).
Overall, this album rocks. Even with its highly mainstreamed feel (Raven would soon go abit too far in this direction on "The Pack Is Back", though), and pop appeal this album still packs enough killer, and less filler to warrant my praise. These guys had more individuality than countless others, and more talent, and drive too boot. Get this if you are a fan of the band, or style.