Each week on ‘Throwback Thursday’ we dust off a crucial but underrated album, without which heavy metal’s evolution would have turned out quite differently.
This week we’re smashed, banged and walloped by the seminal New Wave of British Heavy Metal trio, Raven: self-proclaimed creators of “Athletic Rock” and twisted uncles to thrash.
Band Name: Raven
Origins: Newcastle, England
Album Title: Rock Until You Drop
Release Date: January, 1981
Why is it so damn important?
As one of the most important, yet unheralded bands involved with the N.W.O.B.H.M., Raven helped revitalize heavy metal for the 1980s with three albums that became crucial building blocks for the emergence of thrash metal. Like Iron Maiden, Saxon and a few other contemporaries, Raven's origins actually date back to the mid-1970s, and brothers John (bass, vocals) and Mark Gallagher (guitar) labored for years before finally breaking through with the help of drummer Rob 'Wacko' Hunter and 1981 Rock Until You Drop debut through Neat Records’ (the label’s first LP release, incidentally). Within a couple of years, Raven would be regulars on the U.K. charts and find themselves touring the U.S. with an unknown opening band named Metallica.
So what does it sound like, exactly?
Raw! Really raw. In fact, the random bits of dialog separating some cuts on 'Rock Until You Drop' suggest Raven may have recorded the entire thing in one take – even given the astonishing musicianship of all involved. Indeed, while label mates Venom concealed their general instrumental ineptitude behind their publicity-generating satanic shtick, Raven let the music speak for itself – both via manically infectious tunes like "Hard Ride" and "Don't Need Your Money" and the elaborate epic, "Tyrant of the Airwaves" (not to mention classical guitar interlude "39/40"). A few dated choices, such as the title track, "For the Future" and twin Sweet covers, "Hellraiser"/"Action," revealed the band's '70s roots; but with John's high-pitched shrieks consistently cutting through the glorious clatter like a chainsaw through butter, proto-thrashing nuggets like "Hell Patrol," "Nobody's Hero" and "Lambs to the Slaughter" delivered eye-popping displays of frantic instrumental interplay.
In other words…
Raven in many ways epitomized the best qualities of the N.W.O.B.H.M. as we remember it today: hardworking, blue-collar values and a refreshing lack of pretense, contrasted against an over-the-top blend of top musicianship and boundless energy. In other words, thrash metal as it would later be defined, at its best.
Key Song: "Lambs to the Slaughter"
"Don't Need Your Money" is the timeless single and John Gallagher's blood-curdling screech towards the end of "Hell Patrol" simply must be heard to be believed, but when it comes to Raven's vital impact on thrash, "Lambs to the Slaughter" (later covered by Kreator) arguably proved Rock Until You Drop's most influential number.
Final Thoughts:After unleashing another pair of devastating LPs (1982's Wiped Out and '83's All for One) Raven signed with major label Atlantic Records and appeared poised for heavy metal immortality. But subsequent albums unwisely saw them donning makeup and ridiculous glam costumes while simultaneously catering to idiot American consumers (already listening with eyes, more so than ears, thanks to MTV) by watering down their sound; a failed bid for commercial acceptance that sadly derailed Raven's formidable momentum and confined their lasting legacy to these first few releases.