Ravening Iron is one of the seriously big metal albums of the year: balls-out, denim and leather-clad pure heavy metal like grandma used to make
In 2016, you couldn’t swing a cat without hitting a glowing review of Eternal Champion’s exceptionally exciting debut album, the chest-beating The Armor Of Ire. The Texas band had released an epic heavy metal record for the ages, packed to the brim with all the hallmarks of the genre and songs that sat in the ears for weeks at a time, which is no mean feat in this modern age. The term ‘modern classic’ gets bandied about a little too easily these days, yet very few acts are actually putting out music that can rival the legends – Eternal Champion (not to mention Visigoth, Sumerlands, and a handful of others) had all the chops and ambition to get it right though.
That was four years ago, and, outside of a mostly overlooked EP in 2017, the wait for new material has been driving fans around the bend. When the announcement was made that they would be putting out a new album in 2020, the response was enormous, not least because we all need a little extra happiness in this mental year. As soon as the cover artwork for Ravening Iron was released, anticipation hit fever pitch – Ken Kelly, the man who gave us some of the best sword-and-sorcery covers for Kiss, Manowar, and Rainbow had come up with what has to be one of the most tasty covers in years. And the crazy thing is, the music contained within is even more colourful and exciting.
There is no divergence from the ‘Champion sonic template laid down by The Armor Of Ire – they continue on their quest to be a more focused, consistent, and better version of USPM heroes such as Manilla Road and Omen, but with their own unique vision.
Songs like “Coward’s Keep”, “A Face In The Glare”, “Banners Of Arhai”, and the mighty title track are mid-paced heavy metal of the highest order, with riffs, solos, driving rhythms, and hooks for miles. Jason Tarpey returns with his signature ethereal vocals and the man shows once again how a passionate throat can take a good song to ludicrous heights. His similarity to the vocals of the late, great Mark Shelton is definitely deliberate, but he uses it as an artistic springboard for his own talents rather than aping the Manilla Road legend. The atmosphere he creates lends at least 50 per cent of the overall epic vibe of the proceedings, and he deserves major kudos for his work here. Plus, he’s also credited with using instruments like a war horn, hammer and anvil, and that’s serious metal street cred.
Guitarists Arthur Rizk and John Powers bring huge chops to the table; their interweaving melodies and riffs reaching celestial heights and their leads and solos meticulous and tasteful where others might have gone overboard in a similar situation. On top of that, they are both credited with handling the synth work – this is not cheesy synth that hampers heaviness and credibility, but rather additional mood-setting that straddles gothic shades and (oddly enough) synthwave fluidity, and it adds incredible definition and vibrancy. The rhythm section of Brad Raub on bass and Rizk (the man wears many hats in this band!) are tight, elastic, and understated in their professional handling of the foundation for the music, exactly what is needed in epic heavy metal. A band with chops in abundance, this lot.
One can only begin to fathom where they will go from here after two albums of undeniable quality, but you can be assured that they are a band to keep an eye on. This is a band that is carrying the flag of balls-out, denim and leather-clad pure heavy metal like grandma used to make, and they make it sound as fresh as it did back in the day. Ravening Iron is one of the seriously big metal albums of the year and the hope is they get the recognition they deserve for it, because records this special deserve all the accolades possible.
FFO: Manilla Road, Sumerlands, Visigoth