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Nothing Ravishes Like Raven - 82%

CHAIRTHROWER, August 12th, 2017
Written based on this version: 1988, 12" vinyl, Combat Records

I've been meaning for some time now to review Raven's seventh full-length, Nothing Exceeds Like Excess - released in 1988 on 12" vinyl under Combat Records - seeing as it was somehow overlooked by fellow Raven-ites. Therefore, I'm glad to see this is still the case since it looks like I'll be the one to finally do the honours.

Long-time drummer Rob "Wacko" Hunter's been replaced for good by heavy/ doom metal journeyman Joe Hasselvander (ex- Black Manta, Pentagram and his fronted The Hounds Of Hasselvander among many others) further propelling the Newcastle originating NWOBHM/ "athletic rock" power trio, which, as always is fronted by front man/ bassist John Gallagher who, alongside his brother Mark, continues to provide the revved-up, jangling thrills Raven's famous for. A quick glance at its extensive discography reveals a slight dip in the quality (and reception) of its overall output, but if you've never sampled NELE's ten (discounting "Behemoth", a so-so, minute long apocalyptic preamble) fiercely woven tracks, you're in for a heck of a treat, as you can expect an explosive return to form harking back to the early 80s glory days of Rock Until You Drop, Wiped Out and All For One.

"Die For Allah", the first track proper, sounds a lot like Metallica's "Phantom Lord" from its Kill 'Em All debut (strange coincidence, considering it's the name of one of Hasselvander's previous bands). If anything, it does a decent job of getting the blood flowing; so does the rockabilly-ish/ uber-jangler "Gimme A Break" which could very well be Raven's return to "Hard Ride", definitely a highlight thanks to Joe's tight, cataleptic drumming and Mark's sizzling, twanging solos. To wit, when I saw Raven play this last in Vancouver a few years back, Mark was in top shape as his leads literally made my ears pop! (It was such a good show, all I remember is the crowd - myself included - feeling robbed once main act Diamond Head - sans Sean Harris - took the stage). This brings us to the truly memorable "Into The Jaws Of Death", with its ominous build-up followed by John's super sardonic and foreboding chorus:

"Calling calling
Power sent from heaven hell on earth
Screaming life is slipping through your fingers
Into the jaws
Into the jaws of death!

Into the jaws
Into the jaws of death!"

This track's slower, doom-like pace definitely makes one feel like they've summersaulting straight into the lion's maw. As well, it parallels DC doomsters Pentagram's style of down-toned and swaying brooding of the times (namely, its pre-millenial releases featuring Victor Griffin as well as Hasselvander's all encompassing instrumental contributions to 1999's Review Your Choices and 2001's Sub-Basement). I remember this track making a huge impression on me in my younger metal discovery days; hearing it again brings back fond memories to say the least. As a whole, this release isn't defined by sheer "excess" as were Raven's early, studio-blasting fare (the cover to Rock Until You Drop is, simply put, awesome!) - it's tamer, yes, but retains a unique appeal and flair compared to supposed stronger and/or weaker offerings.

Now, I confess "In The Name Of The Lord" mimics RUYD's "Don't Need Your Money", both lyrically and to a certain extent, musically as well. Nowadays, its sarcastic and cynical take on unscrupulous religious leaders/ figures makes me think of Wolf's "False Preacher" and Cast Iron's "Preacher Of Evil", which followed many years later: "Give me your cash/ All we need is your money/ In the name of the Lord/ Give me your stash!" One could say Raven was "ahead of the pack" in this regards. However, asides from Mark's usual blazing soloing this track is sort of humdrum/ doesn't stick out much compared to what comes next, essentially the spastic "Stick It" (where the sun don't shine! - pure Raven sass!) and a couple mind-jarring grippers, "Lay The Law Down" and "You've Got A Screw Loose".

The former's up there with timeless, highly elaborate Raven classics such as "Inquisitor" and "Tyrant Of The Airwaves" from Raven's most excellent, all-out gleeful 1981 debut, the aforementioned Rock Until You Drop. I can't get enough of Mark's intricate, neo-classical intro and mosh-pit inducing speed metal riffs alongside John's climatic "johnny law" roasting:

"Lay the law down
Gonna lay down the law
Lay the law down on you!
Lay the law down
I'm gonna lay down the law
Lay the law down on you!!"

This track's sure to stick around your mind for as long it takes; before long, it had me avidly digging up this "edacious" trio's flurry of Neat recordings. The bridge does a wicked job-up of presenting Mark's feral and fandanglin' leads before a crushing return to form with John's face-pummeling bass line and intense vocal delivery. A nice, song capping solo gives way to "You've Got A Screw Loose", which sees Mark waxing eloquent, sort of in Dave Mustaine meets Joey Belladonna fashion. While not the strongest cut - its predecessor is hard to beat! -, it upholds NELE's ferocious "get outta my way" momentum and also features a nifty little bass solo, followed by some of Hasselvander's heaviest hitting beats, which make me feel like my face is one of those small punching bags boxers in training repeatedly jab at the Y. Good stuff.

"Thunderlord" has a distinctly sinister riff which is followed by a freedom-instilling break down and more of Mark's high flying guitar gizmos and a bona fide "Running Wild" pirate metal shuffle. The epic solo raises the bar too, making this yet another highlight to look out for while sounding like a throwback to Raven's early glory days. "The King" (of Rock N' Roll!) is another jocose number worth pumping your fist to; the riffs here stand apart from Raven's usual hyperactive kinetics - this is like a nod to Michael J. Fox's rooftop blowing stage performance in Back To The Future if you will, 50s style closing solo and all. You'll know what I mean upon hearing it. Finale "Hard As Nails" reverts back to total "athletic rock" chutzpah and all-around ire and hair-rasing mayhem. The long of the short of it is if you've yet to scope out Raven's Nothing Exceeds Like Excess, you're missing out. Besides, the hysterical cover alone should be enough to draw you in! (Be sure to check out the Japanese version as it includes another fun romp & stomper, the super snarky and Megadeth-y "Kick Your Ass").