I can still remember the cold air hitting my face after my first metal gig. Iron Maiden, 2006. It was pretty frigid anyway, but the shock after the heat from the crush of bodies inside was dizzying. Thousands of voices sang in loose harmony, all focused on the stage. I’d say it was like a religious experience, but there was no sense of obligation or fear or submission, only the joy of expression and togetherness. For that couple of hours there was nowhere else in the world I’d rather be, nothing I’d rather be doing. That was the power the music had over us. That is the power of heavy metal. And it’s dying. Not metal as a whole, but that particular brand of epic metal that somehow manages to make songs about war and death feel uplifting. The Iron Maidens of this world can still pull in the crowds, but as a whole the zeitgeist has moved onto the next big thing and it’s truly a niche now, not a movement. If you make heavy metal like that today, you don’t do it to pay your mortgage and buy a car with a vanity plate reading mid-life crisis. You do it out of love, because that is truly the music you want to make. And sometimes because you’re really bloody good at it. Happily, this is the case with Portuguese heavy metal band Ravensire. Their 2013 album We March Forward is an ideal record for anybody looking to explore heavy music, from the wide-eyed new kid with nothing but their curiosity to the grizzled vet with Maiden tattoos and a thirst for something new.
Ravensire have tapped into the essence of traditional metal on We March Forward. Tonally this could have been pulled from a nineteen-eighties time capsule.A little smoother and crisper on the production side perhaps, but carrying that same high gain tone that’s just on the edge of fuzz. Riffs sound satisfyingly meaty as the band gallop and chug their way through songs, but the production of the leads is exceptional, capturing a sound that I thought had died out on Master Of Puppets: a combination of perfect clarity with a tiny dose of reverb for solos that simultaneously pop out and feel atmospheric. Ravensire have infused the best elements of a traditional heavy metal tone into their sound, the drums punchy and doing much of the lifting in terms of keeping the dynamics diverse and interesting. The vocals lean slightly more into snarl territory than high-pitched Bruce Dickinson dramatics do, but are still highly expressive and in a way better suited to the swords ‘n warfare subject matter.
In terms of songwriting, the traditional verse chorus paradigm suits what Ravensire are doing here. There is almost a feeling of a metal form the traditional tavern ballad or rebel song to a lot of the material that really fits in the structure, many of the riffs built on simple metal building blocks and choruses designed to be chanted as a crowd, preferably with a tankard of ale in your grip. The riffs feel a little more aggressive than a lot of traditional metal, with a lot of influence from the furious chugging of thrash metal (chugging strings, not chugging ale), the added aggression again jiving nicely with the subject matter, and the fiery anger of the vocals. The overall package is a blast: catchy, furious and a whole load of fun, with plenty of lighters in the air moments.
Ravensire put together a scorcher on this one, one of the best traditional heavy metal albums I have heard in years. A stripped down, sleek and elegant distillation of everything that is good about heavy metal, it is a reminder that while heavy metal might not be the draw it was back in the eighties, it will always be there for those who need it. It’s the hero we deserve, but not the one we need right now. Or the hero we need. Maybe it’s both. I never got that speech. Ravensire are putting together their next album right now, and I look forward to seeing what else they have up their chainmail sleeves. In the meantime, Fate Is Inexorable is embedded below to get your blood and fists pumping. Should that not be enough, you can grab the entire album on Ravensire’s Bandcamp.