41 years, sheesh, it's hard to believe where the time goes. RAVEN often gets left off the radar, especially when discussing both the NWOBHM and thrash, but here's a trio equally deserving of the celebratory comeuppance ANVIL enjoyed a few years ago following their film documentary. While RAVEN's "Rock Until You Drop" DVD from a few years back didn't blow up VH1 in similar fashion, it did bring a little awareness back to one of the metal underground's finest. Recently opening for METALLICA before 70,000 fans in Sao Paulo sure didn't hurt, either.
So here we are in 2015 with the Gallagher brothers and their trusty kit smasher Joe Hasselvander (also of PENTAGRAM and SAVOY BROWN), who has all but made Rob "Wacko" Hunter a fleeting memory. RAVEN's long been forgiven for their Atlantic Records misfires "Stay Hard" and "The Pack is Back". At least the "Mad" EP and "Life's a Bitch" put RAVEN back on a fast and rowdy course from which they've seldom deviated.
Now comes "ExtermiNation", arriving six years following RAVEN's last outing, "Walk Through Fire". Of course, that album came nine years after "One for All", so consider it when you see "ExtermiNation" (like "Everything Louder" and "Walk Through Fire") gives its listeners much to digest with fifteen songs, including the "bonus" track "Malice in Geordieland".
Opening with the six minute "Destroy All Monsters", partially in salute to the Godzilla film of the same name, RAVEN wastes no time pounding away. John Gallagher still has the vocal chops to go with his drubbing bass and while there's a notable wear to his mid-tempo range, he still swings those high altos and falsettos with ease. A guitar wailed and double-kicked outro augments "Destroy All Monsters"' earthshaking cause.
The choruses are equally good on "Tomorrow", a song meandering in mid-tempo but hits fast tramps on those choruses and even tosses in a hip shaking groove during Mark Gallagher's first solo. An awesome metal march ushers "Tomorrow" toward a hefty finish. RAVEN goes for another shot of melodic hard rock on "It's Not What You Got", hoisting a touch of that "athletic rock" punch from the mid-Eighties, but fret not; the band has learned from its past and this song actually bangs away with a pretty memorable chorus and a barbell-pumping groove. Afterwards comes "Fight", which should be self-explanatory as the band goes back into battering mode and John Gallagher utters the chorus like a raving (pun intended) mantra. He and Mark wield terrific lines all over the song, in particular the first solo section and the slowed-up breakdown. Joe Hasselvander taps his hammers like he does double kicks in his sleep.
"Battle March/Tank Treads (The Blood Runs Red)" is as much of a mouthful as its title and despite some badass blasts on the transitions, the song is a bit of a slog to get through. "Feeding the Monster", however, picks the pace back up and rings like a rowdy RAVEN standard. Ditto for "No Surrender" later in the album. From here, the album trades between slower and faster numbers with a heavy lean upon the slower. The AC/DC-trudging "Fire Burns Within" (another AC/DC salute comes on "Thunder Down Under") represents one extreme and the stop-go bursts and the blustery bridges of the freaking massive "Scream" demonstrates the other. "Scream" is a shit ton of fun and the song is ridiculously irresistible. Along the way comes Mark Gallagher's sedate (for these guys anyway) 53-second acoustic instrumental, "Golden Dawn" and the relatively surprising power prog number "River of No Return". At least the bonus track "Malice in Geordieland", played for a jibe more than anything else, sends the album off with a proper RAVEN kick.
Thrash hounds are going to perhaps be a little disappointed by "ExtermiNation", and while it limps in a few spots, the playing is just too damned good to pass it up. The Gallaghers and Joe Hasselvander are not only enacting their best talents; they're in a freakin' zone. There's only so much thrash any band other than SLAYER can muster from themselves, thus "ExtermiNation"'s scant shortcomings are forgivable, considering it's played with passion.