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Still Hard, Still Wet, Still Hungry - 89%

Metal_Thrasher90, March 24th, 2009

“Our first major label album, plenty of pressure to “sell, sell, sell” but still vintage Raven, although the sound does not rip like the previous album. Still a lot of killer songs and some fun on “The Bottom Line” and “The Bottom Line” we’d had from the All For One sessions. Mike was brought in at the halfway mark to do a couple of songs over and remix the rest. Against our better judgment, we redid “Hard Ride”, hmmm and after a frustrating few days we finally nailed “On And On” – very hard to get that one right, other that getting the arrangement to gel, there were about 24 tracks of vocals on that I had to do! Aggghhh! The songs were really good to do live (see the Raw Tracks album!)”

As John explained, by the mid-80’s, with 3 fantastic albums behind them Raven eventually signed with a major record label, Atlantic Records. The Gallagher’s & co. had essentially contributed to the consolidation of thrash metal, a new underground then-extreme metal subgenre but the massive success of Def Leppard by that time seemed to affect the Newcastle trio, which later honestly admitted they lost musical direction and succumbed to fashions and trends. The band moved to NY and set about recording the next album Stay Hard with the collaboration of legendary producer and friend Michael Wagener. Those were the times when glam ruled the world, when most NWOBHM of the first generation sold out, when major record companies started making cash unashamedly from them, when MTV videoclips, make-up and poppy metal were more popular than ever.

Raven delivered still some ferocious thrashy cuts here – the opening title-track and “When The Going Gets Tough” feature abrasive riffing and quick beats, not as relentless and outrageous as other tunes from the previous record but pretty violent and fast anyway. However, despite the considerable energy and roughness on those songs, it’s the vocals and choruses what the group is emphasizing particularly. Verses are also numerous and repetitive, accompanied by proficient instrumental basis, remarkable solos and elaborated sequences. “On And On” and “Get It Right” accent even more those persistent choruses and the casual feel and attitude on lyrics, intended explicitly to be catchy, accessible and polite – ideal for the radio but not totally mediocre instrumentally as riffs are quite intense, intricate and modified with meticulousness and skill. Actually, Mark is offering some of his most inspired shredding solos, squealies, harmonies, fills and lots of details and other techniques, serving however the supremacy of John’s vocals. Songs like “Extract The Action” and “Restless Child” expose admirably versatile structures, superior arrangements and brilliant technique – executed with passion and configured with originality. “The Bottom Line” and “Hard Ride ‘85” confirm how inspired and motivated these guys were, easily composing diverse song-bodies, alternating distinct tempos, introducing assorted solid arrangements to escape from simplicity. Most of these tracks go quite fast and loose, yet Raven slow down on “Power And The Glory” with weightier pounding riffs (complementing more repetitive choruses) and the unexpected ballad “Pray For The Sun”, featuring John’s most lyrical performance and Mark’s most delicate arpeggios and chords. The band would do other ballads later on the Glow record, though this one remains as the most emotive and proficiently well-arranged of all – specially those vocals prove the versatility and capability of the elder of the Gallagher brothers as singer, without much falsetto.

The band is playing more sophisticated, commercially-focused music here, in particular emphasizing choruses, choruses and choruses – yet I insist, not simplifying the difficulty and ambition of instrumental sections excessively. It’s John’s verses what will attract the attention of the listener most of the time, yet instrumental structures, the highly-professional rhythm combo and the quality and variety of those monumental riffs should be highlighted too. It seems Raven can’t deny their predilection for technically-pretentious schemes, immaculate performances and systematically-designed instrumental parts and solos – even though their willingness for melody and politeness is evident. These cuts might not be as strong musically as previous efforts but they’re much better produced, arranged with greater rigor and less-spontaneously played, so this time the Newcastle metallers are headed for bigger challenges. Aggression and speed are now combined with refinement and notable melodies in a surprisingly reasonable balance on which insistent vocals ain’t affecting the continuity, vision and consistency of the music too much, on which instrumental advanced sequences are taken into consideration too – that’s exactly what keeps Stay Hard from being a lame copy of Pyromania: the truly superior musicianship displayed, the much more complex arrangements and the heavier edge, greater velocity and cohesion of Mark’s electrifying riffing were something Elliot & co. could never dream of. John’s contribution was passionate as well, as he’s trying to offer more polished, disciplined predominantly accessible mid-range vocal lines, avoiding generally his trademark enthusiastic falsetto to fit the nature of the music (which is still crude and violent but notably melodic and classy at the same time, undoubtedly softer from previous attempts).

This is a solid record but not Raven’s most honest work as they were succumbing to the pressure of Atlantic Records and the passing trends on the metal scene in those days – yet all the energy, passion and attitude of the early days remains nearly intact here. We could’ve lived without so much choruses, sound effects, synth-guitars and teen lyrical issues – instrumentally and technically, the Gallagher’s & Wacko were at their best anyway, not using their entire virtuosism and capability but making good music still. Among the mid-80’s commercial NWOBHM infamous Pyromania clones, Stay Hard was one of the heaviest, fastest and most talented (adjectives you can’t elude when it comes to writing reviews about these guys). The album was a success and elevated the band to a higher plateau, they would often appear on the covers of popular metal magazines, opening for major acts in America and receiving positive reviews from fans and press but they would soon become musically unhappy...