A series of wrong choices surely prevented Raven from becoming a much bigger band than they did. Those halcyon days when they were supported by Metallica in 1983, the signing to Atlantic Records, and front covers on Kerrang! seem a long way off now. But the Geordies have never stopped with their unique brand of Heavy Metal. To me, they are the UK equivalent of Anvil, with a little more quality than the Canadian trio and even more fight.
Raven – The Patriot, Crumlin
10 March 2023
Words and Photography: Paul Hutchings
Celebrating the 40th anniversary of their third release, All For One, Raven have not embarked on such an extensive UK tour for some time. The crowd which gathers at The Patriot is a mixed bag. Diehard fans who were there when Raven spearheaded the NOWBHM movement in the 1980s, the curious punter who had heard about this band that caught Metallica’s ear but know little more, and those who know the band’s music but have never had the opportunity to see them live.
It’s a triumphant entrance for the Gallagher brothers and drummer Mike Heller. The audience whoops with delight as Raven launch into Destroy All Monsters, the first of 18 songs that the band barrel through in their 90-minute show.
It’s hard, fast, and furious. Raven play at a pace that barely allows the drawing of breath. It really is crash, bang, wallop. Propelled by the human drum machine Heller (He has a list of credits as long as your arm and counts Fear Factory amongst his current employers), this is an intensely powerful display.
The Gallaghers may be carrying a bit more timber than those early days and are fast approaching pensionable age, but there isn’t any slowing down. They show stamina and energy that few of their peers can even consider without medication.
It’s easy to see why Raven were credited as pioneers of Thrash and Speed Metal. They have pace, crunch, and riffs aplenty. They drop in a couple from their excellent last album Metal City before drawing deep with oldies Rock Til You Drop and a raging Faster Than the Speed of Light.
John Gallagher’s unique vocal delivery is still as challenging as it was in 1983. The combination of lower range littered with high-pitched screams is surely one of the reasons why Raven didn’t attract mainstream attention but full credit to John for sticking with his style. It’s now a trademark, and one couldn’t listen to Raven without this.
He’s a bit of a wag with the banter as well, chattering away between songs on his headphone mic, sometimes with a bit of comedy, other times more focused on the true Heavy Metal that has always been a part of him and the band. You can’t argue with anything he says.
Gallagher’s bass playing isn’t half bad either, especially when he swaps to 12-string later in the set to heavy things up. Alongside him, brother Mark is a blur of shredding motion. He’s also less svelte than he was, and his hair isn’t as thick as his brother’s, but his guitar work remains blistering. His lengthy solo early in the set seems a bit over the top, but the crowd seemed to enjoy it. He rarely stops either, gurning away as he adds frantic runs up and down the frets.
We get to All For One after seven songs. The next 40 minutes are fantastic. To hear Raven play this seminal album in full is just brilliant. Take Control sees the room head banging furiously; there’s the stomping power of Mind Over Metal and the title track. They still stand the test of time with ease.
The deeper cuts don’t fail, either. Run Silent Run Deep and Hung, Drawn, and Quartered remain choice selections. We’re over 70 minutes in, but there’s no sign of exhaustion on stage. Heller looks in complete control, and his precision work a thing of beauty as he batters seven shades out of his kit, almost with disinterest. Such is the ease he demonstrates. The sign of a true master of his craft.
But it’s the Gallagher brothers who continue to amaze the most. By the time we get to Seek And Destroy, and album closer Athletic Rock, Mark is bathed in sweat.
One final flourish is forthcoming, but only after the Crumlin roar is summoned and Chain Saw buzzes around the venue, which is somehow still standing.
It’s a deserved ovation for the band, smiles all around, and another fine evening at The Patriot closes with ears ringing and the old school once more proving that there’s plenty of life in these dogs yet.