A little bit more focus is required

Adelaide’s Raven Black Night have been a mainstay on the Australian metal scene for many years now and while I have always noticed their name on different line-ups over the years I’m ashamed to say I’ve never witnessed the band in all their live glory.

Nevertheless, they have made their return in 2013 with the OK but mostly forgettable Barbarian Winter. All the touring and hard work has seemed to pay off as this is their second full length record and first for prestigious US metal label Metal Blade Records. They are described as being “true heavy metal”, whatever that is. To me, Raven Black Night often sounds like a mix of doomy early Black Sabbath with a bit of Mercyful Fate. It honestly sounds like it was recorded in a tin shed in the 80s. The guitars are extremely raw-sounding which suits the production.

Their lyrical and thematic content is mostly sword and sorcery and is very much in the style of the original true metal warriors Manowar. So you can expect a lot of songs about beer drinking, spell casting and elf killing I presume.

‘Fire in your Eyes’ is undoubtedly one of the band’s best songs and is a perfect choice for opener. Recycled from 2007’sReturn of the Metal Martyrs’ demo, it kicks in with an excellent and catchy main riff and frenetic bass work. Unfortunately this will also be many people’s introduction to Jim the White Knight’s “unique” vocals. His King Diamond-esque falsetto vocals can get quite grating and he’s often doing this weird off key warbling thing with his voice that not only is distracting but highly annoying. It won’t be everyone’s cup of tea but it’s not without its charm on certain songs.

The two tracks from 2002’s ‘Morbid Gladiator’ demo are also reused here for good measure, the title track from there being a much stronger effort than the forgettable and cringeworthy ‘If You Choose the Dark’ . ‘Black Queen’ is, much like a number of songs on the album, just a tad too long and patience wearing but it is an enjoyable song and features some awesome guitar soloing at the end.

The epic nine minute title track is an intriguing beast of a song with everything you would expect and/or want from the band and then suddenly at the crescendo, a chugging death metal riff and growled vocals come from nowhere and I honestly thought I was listening to Dismember or Bloodbath. I wouldn’t say it ruined the song – I quite enjoyed it – but it was quite unexpected and it never makes an appearance thereafter. Quite confusing.

This is immediately followed up by an excruciatingly bad cover of Sabbath’s ‘Changes’ that feels massively out of place. It sounds like a rejected outtake they decided to throw on there as a filler track. ‘Nocturnal Birth’ is a slow-burner that gently builds towards yet another epic guitar solo before dialling it all back in again.

With a passionate cry of “rock and roll!”, Jim and the band belt into the final track ‘Angel with a Broken wing’, easily the fastest and rockiest cut on the album. Another enjoyable one which could’ve had a few minutes shaved off its length.

Raven Black Night are obviously not going to please everyone but they have done something right to be signed by and release an album through Metal Blade Records. The main problem of Barbarian Winter is its disjointedness. Several successful tracks of the past are reworked and shine brighter than ever but are brought down by a bit of sloppiness and long-windedness. A little bit more focus is required for the band’s next effort but having said that there are elements of greatness in all the muddle.

1. Fire in Your Eyes
2. Morbid Gladiator
3. Mystery Woman
4. Fallen Angel
5. Black Queen
6. If You Choose the Dark
7. Warriors Call
8. Barbarian Winter
9. Changes
10. Lips of Desire
11. Nocturnal Birth
12. Angel With a Broken Wing