Halfway through Metal City’s titanic opening track The Power, you’ll realise that Raven bassist/vocalist John Gallagher wasn’t wrong. It’s quite obvious that both he and guitar playing brother Mark have taken their trusty old warhorse, caparisoned it in gleaming new battle colours and just gone for broke. Joined by new drummer Mike Heller, the Gallagher brothers have easily outshone their recent (and very decent) latterday works with Metal City, creating a crazed sound that mainlines deep into their early eighties heyday. It’s quite shocking to hear the ferocity displayed on numbers like the cranked-up Human Race (with it’s jagged guitar figures recalling the fury and madness of Wiped Out in places) and then reflect on just how long these blokes have been around.
Age shall not wither them indeed. The pure energy of Top of The Mountain, where Van Halen meets old school Brit metal with staggering results, eclipses the output of bands a quarter of the age of the Gallagher brothers. Central to all of this, of course, is the new man behind the kit; Heller puts in a man of the match performance all over the album, helping his co-combatants to maintain seemingly inhuman levels of intensity. He swings, too – listen to his work on the title track where he reins in the insanity and proves just what a great drummer he really is.
But it’s not just piss, vinegar and screaming for vengeance (although John does unleash some truly inhuman throatwork in places!) – Raven pull out all the stops in the songwriting department too. The title track slides easily into it’s place at the top table of Raven tuneage, and throughout the band display a keen ear for melody; When most bands decide to go hell bent for leather in the craziness stakes they necessarily ditch a little listenability. But that just doesn’t happen here. Battlescarred, for instance, may carry a little hint of Ozzy’s I Don’t Know, but it stands as one of the best gonzoid sing-it-shout-it heavy metal anthems of the last ten years anyway. Classy songwriting and balls out heaviness? Count me in!
And then there’s the playing of the Gallagher brothers. Of course we know that neither of these blokes are backwards in coming forwards in displaying their chops; But on Metal City some of the playing is, to use a disgustingly modern phrase, off the chain. Mark in particular plays some absolutely staggering leads (it’s senseless to single one out when everything is so good but his solo on Cybertron is brilliant), whilst John hammers that flying-V bass like there’s no tomorrow in fine style.
Not content with simply banging heads (and in the breakneck Motorheadin’ the band supply the ultimate in neck-testing madness), the band throw in a little whiff of prog on closer When Worlds Collide (and that’s ‘proper’ prog in the vein of King Crimson, you understand, not the modern variety), rounding things out with a glimpse of the band’s more thoughtful side.
That’s not to say it isn’t a big bastard of a rock song at the same time, of course, with the upshot being that, in the course of trying to raise the bar one more time, Raven have created just about the perfect modern-day traditional heavy metal album. Magnificent.
Metal City releases on September 18th. Get the neck braces ready!