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They Came, They Saw, They Dropped The Ball - 49%

GuntherTheUndying, July 15th, 2013

"Barbarian Winter" is a perfect example of a release that starts incredibly strong and then completely looses its balance and capsizes. Metal Blade Records scooped up this epic heavy/doom metal squad into their ranks and released this album after many years of spotty activity; hitherto, Raven Black Night had released an album in 2004 entitled "Choose the Dark," and that, not counting some demos, had been the band's only significant release. Raven Black Night plays a hugely bombastic style of true heavy metal—something like Black Sabbath and Virgin Steele becoming one entity. That definition is probably the best I can come up with, and since I love both of those groups, this should've been a nuclear meltdown of godly riffs, soaring vocals, and other remaining qualities that would make a Five Finger Death Punch simpleton’s empty head explode. Sound awesome? Keep your pants on; they screw it up.

Raven Black Night and “Barbarian Winter” suffer from a horrible array of inconsistencies. It's quite sad, because the group's brand of heavy/doom metal is remarkably authentic and proud. Some of the exterior qualities of the record, especially the production, are phenomenally suited for this type of thing: the guitars are raw, the drums pound with lively force, and the bass churns underneath the concoction of the gods with utmost precision. Jim the White Knight (he was born in 1674), clean vocalist and guitarist for Raven Black Night, delivers a solid vocal performance, although I've read a lot of reviews trashing his voice. He sounds like David Defeis of Virgin Steele fame and Candlemass' Messiah, hitting a lot of romantic notes and over-the-top wails that are quite warm and loveable. I consistently notice a lot of the dude's vocal patterns are just about the same for every song, however; it's quite pathetic how indistinguishable they are.

The first few songs, though, are certainly not too shabby, and one would be nuts to ignore the wonderful content they boast. The first four songs feature Raven Black Night pretty much kicking every ass in the universe with boiling, catchy-as-polio riffs and wonderful decorations everywhere. Everything is awesome. They sort of stumble a bit throughout "Black Queen" due to its lackluster chorus and dire substance, but I can't complain overall. Not long after they begin screwing it all up, as if God himself had had enough of the molten goodness and took an icy piss on Raven Black Night’s artistic capabilities. It all starts during the nine-minute title track. Everything is in order when it ignites: beating riffs, scorching vocals, and other metal-related rhetoric are found to be whole and in one collective piece.

But then, the last few minutes of the title track immediately shift from decent heavy/doom metal worship to harsh vocals and a death metal riff. Yes, death metal. I have no quarrel with death metal; I’m quite fond of it, in fact. However, Raven Black Night has no use or point bringing in these meager guitar parts and awful grunts, and they together work wonderfully in derailing what is otherwise an acceptable epic. Then, an awkward, sloppy cover of Black Sabbath's "Changes" that really has no place here—like the death metal parts on the previous anthem, it sounds misplaced and downright confusing. Then, a hard rock song with sultry lyrics and semi-forgettable musicianship. Then, ANOTHER ballad called "Nocturnal Birth," which is so stupidly similar to Black Sabbath's "Planet Caravan" that it should’ve been titled "Moon Safari." What the hell happened?

The closing "Angel with a Broken Wing" is a dirty heavy metal rocker that has its head in the right place, but it carries on for far too long and doesn't mix itself up enough to justify its length. Remember that radical paragraph about the decent songs? Well, most of them originally appeared on other endeavors and releases, so "Barbarian Winter" is pretty much a rerecording of Raven Black Night's previous material with a few extra filler numbers stuffed into the sandwich just to run up its duration. Not a good business model. This is just inanely disappointing when all is said and done. Raven Black Night does such a wonderful job showcasing authentic slabs of raw, beefy heavy metal the way it was meant to be portrayed at hindsight, but then the band begins biting off way more than it could chew with vapid songwriting and lazy musicianship. Sad.

This review was written for:

Brilliant First Half Ruined by a Weak second - 54%

Evil_Wicked_Twisted_Mind, April 2nd, 2013

When you talk about Australia and metal, the first bands that come to mind are Destroyer 666, Disembowelment, Abramelin, and the likes, but in actuality the said country has quite a budding doom scene as well and has churned out class acts like Murkrat and Misery’s Omen in the past and unleashed upon us with great force is Raven Black Night as well.

Veterans in the Australian doom scene, Raven Black Night formed back in 1999. In the Australian scene, Raven Black Night has built up quite a cult underground following because of their passionate, energy-filled live performances and now after a gap of 9 years they have given us their sophomore effort entitled ‘Barbarian Winter’, which has been produced by the mighty ‘Metal Blade Records’. A look at the cover, a muscled beast of a warrior with spiked shoulder pads dragging his boat to the shore, is a visual showcase of the music contained within. It’s strong, epic, and heavy.

The bands’ music can be described as a concoction of the epicness of Solitude Aeturnus, the songwriting skills of early Candlemass played with the sensibility of early Manilla Road, and touched off with a flair for hard rock and a perfect heavy metal attitude. As the first track, ‘Fire In Your Eyes’, starts off with an acoustic intro, Jim the White Knight (the vocalist) screams out “rock and roll” with such innate authority that you are thrown back to early power metal days. There is no looking back and you feel a musical treat; a journey back to the olden days awaits.

As the vocals, which are a bit reminiscent of Mark Shelton’s distinct vibrato and Messiah Marcolin's deep operatic enlightenment, plow the band's aural assault of killer grooves and enthusiasm-fueled solos forward, you notice the female operatic vocals buried deep in the background, which add a bit of dimension to the sound. And as the band goes forward with its humongous riffs and extremely well-crafted and towering solos, you feel that the extremely raw production nourishes Raven Black Night, who have been well informed in '80s metal with a burst of power.

Apart from the band's penchant for longer tracks, there are all-out rockers like ‘Fallen Angel’ and ‘Morbid Gladiator, which with its raw production and heavy dosage of wah wah pedals, creates a sort of primitive screeching sound that I have never really heard before, embodying the innate sludge of power encapsulated by a band like Brocas Helm. As the band soars forward in all its manly glory with raging guitar solos on a track like ‘Fallen Angel’, the band's true power is showcased on the brilliant ‘Black Queen’, where the band spreads its gargantuan wings with its absolutely titanic riffs, aberrant number of tempo changes, authoritative vocals lines, an infectious chorus, and sweeping solos, which is backed with brilliant pacing and songwriting and has produced one of the best doom metal songs ever written. As the band demonstrates textural adventurousness with variations in guitar sound and alternating between different tempos and attitudes, they resist the urge to overload their listener with fake sugarcoated keyboards and overtly melodic leads and instead take delight in their own hefty aura.

Sadly, midway through the title track the band just seems to lose control over the mighty ship they have been driving and falls into a whirlpool of chaos that completely wrecks the husky skeletal frame they built and in the process lose direction. As the title track suddenly descends into shades of their debut where the band used to surprise the listener by breaking into the death metal realm that seemed to completely break the flow and seem out of place, the band further decide to derail themselves by doing a bad cover of a Black Sabbath ballad, then doing the unthinkable by giving us three more back to back ballads where the band decides to shun its heavy metal tendencies and instead embrace a more radio-friendly approach with hues of early glam.

As powerful as the vocals are on the band's up-tempo, doom-laced tracks, on slower tracks they seem way out of place and a pain to hear. As compared to their debut, this has better songwriting, better songs, and by almost completely abandoning their random jigs in the death metal realm in between tracks the band has gained fluidity and control. Though the band throughout the release permeates and reeks of a congregation of guys that are highly passionate about what they do and with their band page stating under the interest bar ‘Drinking beer, chasing women and driving people insane with our music’, you know that they are the chosen few that, in today’s modern era, still proudly fly the ‘Heavy Metal Is The Law’ banner. However, all throughout this album, even on the latter ballads, the band has a plethora of masterfully-crafted guitar solos and an extremely powerful first half that is well worth repeated listens.

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