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A uniquely traditional experience. - 91%

hells_unicorn, March 21st, 2011

Among the big names that brought a somewhat revamped, but largely conservative take on the Sabbath’s pioneering style of dark, depressive rock with murky, metallic guitar sounds is the underrated Swedish fold Count Raven. In contrast to the more auspicious and mystically inclined Candlemass, their brand is less involved in archaic remembrances of historical religion, but with the subject in its current day, socio-political applications. One could almost go as far as to say that this band is doom metal’s version of a protest band, and even go so far as to provide an 80s answer to the 60s psychedelic intrigues of Sabbath with an array of ambient keyboard passages that are, for lack of a better term, quite haunting. In fact, the only real way in which Candlemass and Count Raven are comparable is that each respective band is better known for their second vocalist than their first, and thus comes the question of the latter’s debut album.

As with any first album, “Storm Warning” is a couple years behind in terms of its sound, and is heavily reminiscent of a couple different eras of Black Sabbath, the biggest ones being mid 70s Ozzy era material and the brief stint with Ian Gillian on “Born Again”. The riff work has a strong affinity with the slowed down but more mid-tempo tendencies of “Master Of Reality”, but with a lighter feel more typical to that of “Sabotage”, and interpreted through the template of the 80s where bellbottoms stepped aside to make room for leather jackets and a more pessimistic view of the world. Perhaps one could even go so far as to make analogies to “Headless Cross” with some of the material on here, though more so the darker numbers like “When Death Calls”, and with a much heavier guitar tone and a more cynical lyrical approach that delves into the realm of the hypocrisy of politics and religion. And much like the Black Sabbath critiques of the olden days, the critiques put forth are far more nuanced rather than dismissive and iconoclastic for the mere sake of it.

With respect to the rest of Count Raven’s body of work, this album is fairly different from what followed in that the focus is not quite as particular both musically and lyrically. A good part of this could be chalked up to the presence of Christian Linderson, who is far different sounding than the Ozzy-like nasally bellows of Dan Fondelius. A comparison between them can be made on this very album as the latter takes lead vocal duties on “Sometimes A Great Nation”, which also happens to be musically closer to the consistently mid-paced rocking doom style heard on “Destruction Of The Void” and what came after. Linderson’s is a bit more traditional sounding, almost like a cleaner version of Scott Reagers and generally carrying a more consonant tune. It all fits in perfectly with this style, but it makes for a sound that is a little less menacing and almost crooning at times, rather than agitated and rebellious. Likewise, Linderson’s lyrics tend to be more ambiguous on the topic of Christianity, sounding more like an outsider criticizing the movement as a whole rather than an insider criticizing the conduct of those who might claim fellowship with him.

But putting aside the societal relevance to the themes contained on here, this is also a fine album that displays a band that is fairly versatile within their strictly defined style. After going through the motions of a creeping ambient intro carrying the band’s very own name, “Inam Naudemina” kicks in with a nasty, mid paced groove that is almost like a slowed down version of a thrash song with a bluesy tinge to the riff work. “True Revelation” and “Within The Garden Of Mirrors” really play up the Sabbath influences in the riff work, keeping things minimalistic and the introduction of new sections gradual. The vocal assault is emotionally charged, but for the most part clean and straightforward, letting the melodies speak for themselves. One aspect of this band that thankfully differs from Sabbath a little bit is that both Christian and Dan don’t make a regular habit of simply following the riffs with their vocal lines. Likewise, the guitar solo work on here, which makes up the lone area where this band exhibits virtuosic tendencies, is free of the blues box tendencies of older outfits and encompasses that 80s shred spirit in line with Candlemass’ sound.

In terms of this band’s relevance and who their audience is, their sound is very much orthodox and stylized, but in such a way that they stand alone among even fully Sabbath oriented doom and stoner bands. Perhaps the closest target group would be the Candlemass and Solitude Aeturnus side of things, though the vocal style at work here is not nearly as operatic and tends closer to the model of Saint Vitus. Ultimately most fans of straight up heavy metal and doom metal should be receptive to this; particularly those who might wonder what Sabbath would have sounded like had Ozzy stayed in the band during the Ian Gillian and Tony Martin eras. But no matter what area of the metal spectrum is in question, this is definitely a band that needs some more love from as much of the scene as possible, and this album holds an equal footing with the ones that followed and are more regularly associated with this band’s core sound.