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Raven: Over The Top (4 disc box set)

Any band from the UK that headlined shows across the pond, where their opening acts were no less than a fledgling Metallica and Anthrax, surely went on to dominate the heavy metal scene for many years to come…. No? Well, not really, with Raven being the one band from the three on that bill, all of whom were headed for major label record deals, to falter and fade. The band had formed in 1974 and as such had already seen the era of punk come and go by the time their 1981 debut, Rock Until You Drop, exploded onto New Wave Of British Heavy Metal hungry record decks around the UK, landing at number 63 in the country’s album charts.

The buzz about the band was already strong with them having initially been raved about in the pages of Sounds by then editor Ian Ravendale when he happened upon them as they recorded a two track tape for Neat Records. The demo would bag Raven a deal with a label keen to expand upon its new found metal roster and be included on the MCA metal compilation album Brute Force. The outfit’s debut proper wouldn’t disappoint, with the mix of punk attitude, Motorhead aggression and Saxon’s dive-bombing riffs inadvertently also hinting at the speed metal sound that the full-force trio of brothers John (bass) and Mark Gallacher (guitar and vocals) and Rob Hunter (drums) seemed to somehow pre-empt. And no wonder, with the likes of the impressive “Over The Top”, frantic “Hell Patrol” (replete with Mark’s trademark elongated vocal howl), the straight for the throat assault of “Nobody’s Hero” and surprisingly effective Sweet medley of “Hellraiser/Action” proving every bit as exciting as any of the other major metal players of the day. Here on this four disc gathering of the band’s Neat label years, the album is rounded out with four bonus cuts in the shape of b’sides and compilation tracks “Wiped Out”, “Crazy World”, “Let It Rip”, and “Inquisitor”; with all four showing just how much potent material Raven immediately had at their disposal.

Of course, back in the day, if the iron was hot then striking again was expected in short order, hence it would only be a matter of months before Wiped Out would announce the second helping of Raven and for many what would be the band’s best ever album. It’s also apt that it begins with a vast explosion, for if there’s one thing that Wiped Out is not, it’s restrained. This is an album about stamping down hard and not letting up until every last breath has been squeezed from any opponent crazed enough to stand in its way. “Faster Than The Speed of Light” rips and roars by way of introduction and from there the scene is set. “Read All About It” positively crackles with its desperation to level all in its path, while “Live At The Inferno” is akin to simply wiring yourself into the mains and flicking the switch. In many ways this was a British band playing a style that would soon be seen as the preserve of the Americans. For while, obviously, the NWOBHM began in Blighty, soon the young US bands that had been so inspired by this sound would be evolving it into something even more lethally honed. Raven however, while still carrying the roughness and toughness that so encapsulated the era, were already pushing the envelope in terms of what followers of this style could expect. Another four bonuses are added in this reissue setting, with the three standalone tracks from the Crash, Bang Wallop 12” singles (the title track, “Run Them Down” and “Rock Hard”) joined by the ‘outtake’ “20/21”, which is one of those ‘funny if you were there’ moments. The main event however is undoubtedly one of the unsung highlights of the whole NWOBHM movement.

Having insisted on refining their sound, a year later Raven were back with All For One and a spangly production job from Double Trouble - better known as Michael Wagner and Udo Dirkschneider - and an attack that chiselled off some of the sharper edges the band’s early work had possessed. Ironically All For One split opinions right down the middle, many now sitting in wonder at how this full force but less frantic metal attack didn’t propel Raven into superstardom, while others felt that it completely sanitised the signature sound they’d built up. Hindsight finds it much easier to understand both points of view, with the opening pair of “Take Control” and “Mind Over Metal” bristling and bustling, while at the other end of the scale “Sledgehammer Rock” feels like big dumb, metal gone 70s UK glam. In the end what doesn’t help is that - and not surprising given the production team - the whole thing hits like a polite Accept album, but with Mark Gallacher’s vocals never having the barking authority that Udo’s always did, the effect is just a little too watered down to make the same impact Raven had before. Arguably, from the three studio albums in this set, All For One is the most accomplished, has the best production and strongest songs and yet somehow it’s the least memorable. Hence, unlike Iron Maiden (Number Of The Beast), Metallica (Master Of Puppets), Anthrax (Among The Living) or Saxon (Wheels Of Steel), the expected step up from snotty metal upstarts into mainstream act never came, and in many ways for Raven the chance was gone even before the band signed their major label deal with Atlantic. Here a further four bonus tracks are added once more, with b’sides and unused songs - “The Ballad Of Marshall Stack”, “Inquisitor” and “Power And The Glory” - rounded out by a rather ho-hum cover of “Born To Be Wild”.

What came next was the full throttle live album, titled Live At The Inferno after the track from the band’s second album. Ironically as Raven made the break from Neat Records and signed a deal in the US with Megaforce to issue their first live outing, so the album was leased back to Neat to put out in the UK. Recorded at New York’s Roseland Theater in August 1984 - the band having spent much of their recent time in the US - the double vinyl release unequivocally reassesses All For One, with tracks like “Break The Chain”, “Run Silent Run Deep” and “Take Control” suddenly hitting just as hard as “Crash Bang Wallop”, “Let It Rip” or indeed, “Live At The Inferno” and leaving little doubt that Raven were a ferocious beast on stage. However, with the album limping out in the UK during 1985, there was a feeling that it had missed the NWOBHM zeitgeist and that Raven’s Atlantic album debut would be key. Unfortunately Stay Hard proved all too limp, with the impression that Atlantic had asked the band to tone things down borne out by its follow up The Pack Is Back, by which time the trio looked ridiculous (imagine Wrathchild crossed with Manowar, but kitted out from your Gran’s closet) and sounded more like chart chasing melodic hard rock.

Raven continue on until this day and have released a number of albums that have come close to recapturing former glories along the way. However, the band’s early Neat years are where the real nuggets lie, with the first two albums and Live At The Inferno utterly indispensable for anyone with even a passing interest in the NWOBHM - while All For One isn’t that far behind. Unfortunately, like Diamond Head, Raven will be remembered as scene makers and vital sound influencers, rather than as a hugely successful band in their own right, but with liner notes courtesy of John Tucker and coming packaged with the care and attention you’d expect from Cherry Red/HNE, Over The Top is an excellent way to experience them at their peak.


Track Listing
DISC ONE: CD ROCK UNTIL YOU DROP
1. HARD RIDE
2. HELL PATROL
3. DON’T NEED YOUR MONEY
4. OVER THE TOP
5. 39-40
6. FOR THE FUTURE
7. ROCK UNTIL YOU DROP
8. NOBODY’S HERO
9. HELLRAISER/ACTION
10. LAMBS TO THE SLAUGHTER
11. TYRANT OF THE AIRWAYS
BONUS TRACKS
12. WIPED OUT
13. CRAZY WORLD
14. INQUISITOR
15. LET IT RIP


DISC TWO: CD WIPED OUT
1. FASTER THAN THE SPEED OF LIGHT
2. BRING THE HAMMER DOWN
3. FIRE POWER
4. READ ALL ABOUT IT
5. TO THE LIMIT/TO THE TOP
6. BATTLE ZONE
7. LIVE AT THE INFERNO
8. STAR WAR
9. UXB
10. 20/21
11. HOLD BACK THE FIRE
12. CHAIN SAW
BONUS TRACKS CRASH BANG WALLOP EP
13. CRASH BANG WALLOP
14. RUN THEM DOWN
15. ROCK HARD
16. 20/21 (OUTTAKE)


DISC THREE: CD ALL FOR ONE
1. TAKE CONTROL
2. MIND OVER METAL
3. SLEDGEHAMMER ROCK
4. ALL FOR ONE
5. RUN SILENT RUN DEEP
6. HUNG DRAWN & QUARTERED
7. BREAK THE CHAIN
8. TAKE IT AWAY
9. SEEK & DESTROY
10. ATHLETIC ROCK
BONUS TRACKS
11. BORN TO BE WILD (Featuring Udo Dirkschneider)
12. THE BALLAD OF MARSHALL STACK
13. INQUISITOR
14. POWER AND THE GLORY


DISC FOUR: CD LIVE AT THE INFERNO
1. INTRO/LIVE AT THE INFERNO
2. TAKE CONTROL
3. MIND OVER METAL
4. CRASH BANG WALLOP
5. ROCK UNTIL YOU DROP
6. FASTER THAN SPEED OF LIGHT
7. ALL FOR ONE
8. FORBIDDEN PLANET
9. STAR WAR
10. TYRANT OF THE AIRWAY/RUN SILENT RUN DEEP
11. CRAZY WORLD
12. LET IT RIP
13. I.G.A.R.B.O.
14. WIPED OUT
15. FIRE POWER
16. I DON’T NEED YOUR MONEY
17. BREAK THE CHAIN
18. HELL PATROL
19. LIVE AT THE INFERNO

Added: June 27th 2019
Reviewer: Steven Reid
Score:
Related Link: Over The Top at Cherry Red
Hits: 507
Language: english

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