Raven - Over The Top!- The Neat Albums 1981- 1984 [HNE Recordings/ Cherry Red - 2019]Of all the bands to appear out of the 1970ís/ 1980ís NWOBHM scene Newcastle's Raven were the most punchy, energetic, and at times unforgiving- the bandís early work was labelled Ďathletic rockí, and went onto influence a host of bands from the then up & coming thrash movement- with projects such as Slayer, Metallica, Megadeth, Anthrax, Kreator, & many more quoting the band. Here from Cherry Red's metal sub-label HNE Recordings- is a four-CD box set bringing together the band first four albums that were released of the cult UK Neat- who put out classic records from the likes of Venom, Cloven Hoof, Wishbone Ash, Tygers of Pan Tang.
The four albums presented here are Rock until You Drop from 1981, Wiped Out from 1982, All For One from 1983, and Live At The Inferno from 1984. The set is presented in a flip side card box- with each album coming in its own mini slip-sleeve, with the final live album coming in a double mini gatefold. The set also takes in a color mini fold inlay- this features on one side a write up about the band, these early albums, and the beginnings of their career- also we get ltd credits and track listing of the four albums. On the flip side, we a colorful collage taking in on stage pictures, drunken larking about, moody line up pics, etc.
Raven were formed in Newcastle upon Tyne in 1974- bringing together the powerhouse trio of John Gallagher- bass & lead Vocals, Mark Gallagher-Guitar & backing vocals, and Rob Hunter- Drums & backing vocals. As with many bands of the time, the trio played local pubs & working man's clubs- to begin with, the band focused on British rock, with subtle hints of prog- later in their early career, the band moved towards more metallic & at times decidedly speedy & searing sound. In early 1980 the band signed to the then up & coming northern rock/ metal label Neat- with the band releasing the sixth single on the label "Don't Need Your Money" / "Wiped Out".
The first CD in the set takes in the band's debut album Rock Until You Drop- this was originally released in October 1981, and featured eleven tracks. As debuts go, itís decidedly youthful & energetic, though times a little unfocused selection of tracks- with the albums cover picture of the youthful band under a pile of kit been most apt. Rock Until You Drop sees the band blending together gutsy pub rock, chugging proto punk metal guitars, hints at early US hair metal, and fare bit of speeding Judas Priest like worship. From time-to-time, the group drops into more melodic & slower moments that nod towards guitar-based prog, R'n'B, and classical guitar flourishes. But mostly itís a decidedly fist punching & at times slight messy album- with John Gallagher often scorching, and falsetto rising high over his bothers rapid & riff guitar work, and Hunters bounding Ďn crashing drum work. The whole album rushing by in itís just over 48-minute runtime- through the bands later higher speeds & keen memorability is not yet present. This first CDís take four bonus tracks- these are seemingly B sides, bringing the first CDís runtime of fifty-nine minutes.
Moving onto the second disc, and we have Wiped Out- this originally appeared in June of 1982, and has a very apt title- as the twelve track affair really amps up the bands speeding & chug loving side, making for one of the first examples of speed metal/ proto trash metal. Also, this follow-up sees the bands' sonic identity firming & focusing up too- blending together their influences into a more original, organic & fresh manner. The album kicks off with "Take Control"- which sees rapid & gunning riff craft been topped by face roasting high vocals & searing guitar leads- itís a great urgent opener that grabs & rips you into speeding metal nirvana. As we move through the album we come to the raw chugging-meets- sassy strutting fist punchy glory of "Fire Power". Onto the scorching high vocals & meaty gallop of "Live The Inferno"- which brings to mind a more lead guitar wailing Ďní screaming take of early Dickson Maiden. Through to down & dirty chug Ďní grind riffing of "Star Wars"- which moves between more upbeat dooming proto trash, and lead guitar flamed speeding metal. With the original album been topped off with choppy & balls out high energy 80ís head-banger "Chainsaw- which nicely ends in hotel room smashing pile-up. This CD takes in a four bonus track- this is B sides, Ep tracks & different takes on album tracks.
Going onto disc three & we have the bands third album All For One- this appeared in August of 1983, and the ten track release saw the band making their chugging & at times speeding metal craft meatier & more ground-shaking. The album was jointly produced by German metal legends Michael Wagener & Udo Dirkschneider, and the tracks here feel a lot muscular & thick in their riff presentation- with John Gallagher sailing & scorching over the top of the tracks riff buildings like twisting phoenix. I guess this album is more focused towards a general fist-pumping & head banging 1980ís metal / energetic rock sound, with meaty riff based verses & often chant along with metallic chorus. The speeding moments still occur, but they seem more controlled & managed- and one does rather miss the more wild & studded collar grabbing urgency of the previous album. Though the band's ability to write more memorable stick-in-your-head chorus & general riff recognisability has grown. Once again you get four extra/ bonus tracks- these go from a manic joint UDO cover of Stepping Wolfs "Born To Wild", B sides, an early version of a track that would appear on the big label debut 1985ís Stay Hard.
The fourth & final disc here takes in 1984 Live At The Inferno, as its title suggests this was a live album- taking nineteen tracks, and originally four sides of vinyl. And on the whole is a well enough recorded live album, which finds the band going further towards the more formal & polished 1980ís metal sound. Sure there is still some speed & chug present, and the whole band really put their all into the performance- it just doesnít feel as dangerous, reckless, or manic as the finer moments on Wiped Out, or All For One- been a bit more textbook, and cookie cutting though still energetic metal- which I guess is why the band got signed to a big label. The reissue is presented in a nice mini gatefold following on the original double vinyl release- with the double album now fitted onto a single CD. This is certainly one of the better recorded & captured live metal albums of the early 1980s, itís just a pity a lot of is rather formulaic, and lacks the risk & punch the band hadÖbut you can understand that the band wanting to make it, so their sound had to become more streamlined & instant.
In conclusion itís great to have these four early Raven albums in one place- and they certainly track the bands birth, growth, and shift in sound- personally Iím more partial to the bands more speeding & proto trash side, but I do certainly appreciate their later ability to craft more mainstream metal thatís still fiery & urgent. At present this set has a ticket price of around £20.00, which isnít bad for the four albums offered here- so certainly worth a look, if youíre a fan of the late 70ís/ early 80ís metal, and the origins of speed metal & thrash.Roger Batty