Album review by William Dibble, Images provided by Raven Black and Cruella Photography
Death and extreme metal have always been somewhat of a niche genre in metal. It has nonetheless managed to attract a huge following over the years, with some of the biggest names becoming global brands. California-based Raven Black is a more recent entrant into the maturing genre with their new album 13.
13 opens with “Sticks N Stones”. Two things that are worth noticing within the first minute of the album. First, this song is heavy. It’s the type of song that opens concerts with an immediate push pit. The second thing is that you never lose the vocals in the music. A problem with some bands in the genre is that whispered vocals can be rendered incomprehensible by the mix, and screamed vocals are nearly impossible to understand. Raven Black sidesteps both of these problems in “Sticks N Stones”. While the song had a ‘softer’ (if you can call it that) intro leading into the song, “Monster” has no such thing. It launches straight into body-rocking headbanging and screaming. It breaks up a near constant tempo with quieter parts where the vocals are the central part of the experience at several points, giving the listener a few moments rest between the walls of sound.
Blasting drums, pinch harmonics, and a feral scream open “Nothing”. This song could almost be called softer than its predecessors, but make no mistake, it is still brutally heavy. It also marks the first appearance of melodic vocals on the album. They appear in the latter half of the track, sliding perfectly into one of the song’s breaks. “Spider”, the next track, has a very whimsical feel to it. It starts off with a brutal drum and guitar combo before slipping into a section that is almost made of clean vocals and a rhythm suggestive of a carnival. This section repeats itself several times between heavier, screamed sections. It is also notable for being perhaps the album’s shortest song. It certainly stands out as the album’s precise midpoint, as “Dollhouse” returns to a more traditionally metal sound. “Dollhouse” feels very dark and foreboding. It borrows elements from slower death metal songs, which gives it a unique feel, while also still feeling distinctly like Raven Black.
“Break The Box” feels like a big return to the first two songs on the album. It opens with a blistering riff and a scream, not dissimilar to “Monster”. It also marks itself as a distinctly ‘second half’ song, featuring far more melodic vocals than the first three songs. These vocals are paired with a strong drum beat and not-quite-clean guitars. Despite the speed of the intro, the song itself isn’t that fast. It is, nonetheless, a strong offering from Raven Black. The chorus is catchy, with repeat screams of “Break the box” alternated with “everybody wake up”. It almost begs for a call-and-response section with the audience, eventually closing out the song as well. “The Nobodies” ends the album with a cover song. It is also the song with possibly the lowest consistent tempo on the album. This manages to give it a distinct feeling of ending, which makes it an excellent choice to close out the album.
Raven Black has crafted a fine album with speedy highs and booming lows. While parts of the first half of the album start to feel like they blur together, the second half makes sure that you know Raven Black will not repeat themselves. Closing with the vocals “We know just who we are” feels extremely appropriate. The entirety of 13 shows its death metal roots while also establishing a personality of its own. It pays homage to genre greats while not emulating them. Even their cover of Marilyn Manson manages to sound more like Raven Black than its parent material. Make sure you pick this one up, available today from their website!