The Ravens return. Four years on from their last album, The Raven Age are back with their most determined and best work yet, Blood Omen.
Having established their name as one of the finest in modern British metal, thanks to two brilliant albums, 2019’s Conspiracy and Darkness Will Rise debut in 2017, The Raven Age have garnered over 75 million streams worldwide and have toured heavily across the globe.
They have performed over 400 shows internationally across 38 countries including major festival performances such as the main stage at Download Festival, Rock in Rio, Wacken, Hellfest and many more, as well as touring with the likes of Killswitch Engage, Volbeat, Shinedown, Alter Bridge and Iron Maiden.
For the Essex quintet’s “all-important third album”, as guitarist George Harris puts it, they have expanded on every level.
This motivation is written into the album’s concept. Following the theme of its two predecessors, the raven motif looms large, this time centering on the overthrowing of old masters, with the band’s Raven King character coming to prominence. Even in the artwork, things are bolder, a close up of The Raven King, says George, “taking his rightful place on the throne.”
“The name of the band is derived from the ravens in the Tower of London,” he elaborates. “On Conspiracy, we introduced that with the artwork – the Raven King character. That was a bit subtle and hinted at before. On this album, because it's the third album and we felt we needed to really establish something, we’ve gone all guns blazing and revealed it all. So Blood Omen is a foreshadowing of what's to come.”
This theme and a sense of rising up can be heard in the album’s first single, the heavy, dominant ‘Parasite’. Opening with a huge riff, it sets out The Raven Age’s intent in a wholly unambiguous manner, further bolstered with a blistering guest guitar solo from Andy James of Five Finger Death Punch.
“There’s the legend about the ravens in the Tower Of London, that if they were ever to leave, the monarchy falls,” explains MJ. “Without being too political, ‘Parasite’ is hinting at these dark notes of the hierarchy, the bottom feeders that tend to run everything and then screw everything up. Our Raven King, he's basically ascending to the throne to bring down the monarchy, bring down the establishment, weed out the parasites, as it were.”
These bold statements have been meticulously planned. With the pandemic having put bands in a holding pattern, such a strong first step back has become vital. In The Raven Age’s case, having released an EP over lockdown, Exile, which featured more restrained, quieter material, it was natural to want to put their heaviest foot forward.
“It's a heavy track, and from being away and obviously doing this ballady thing for a bit, we knew we wanted to come back with a real punch between the eyes,” says MJ. “It’s really heavy, it's the full introduction to our Raven King, and it touches on elements of everything to come. It really shows where we’re going on this album.”
Throughout its eight tracks, Blood Omen pushes everything further than ever before. The choruses are made for arenas, the riffs are taut, direct, and free of fat. It all makes for a grand musical stage on which the record’s concept plays out. ‘Forgive & Forget’ rushes in on a scalding lead guitar riff, while the epic ‘Nostradamus’ is a tale of the great prophet. The heavy, raging ‘Serpents Tongue’, meanwhile, deals with “deceit, and never knowing if you’re being told the truth,” according to George.
To capture all this on record, the band once again enlisted the help of producer Matt Hyde, a man whose CV reads like a who’s who of heavy, huge-sounding music: Slipknot, Machine Head, Bullet For My Valentine. Working out of the band’s own recording facility in Essex – which, George says, has “an amazing sweet spot for drum sounding great” – Matt helped the band lay down the album’s framework, before they set to work on their own. The final mastering was put into the treasured hands of Mika Jussila at Finnvox (Nightwish, Children of Bodom, HIM).
“Matt’s got a real knack for recording drums, they always come out sounding great,” says George. “And then, essentially, we record the rest of the album ourselves. Doing that takes that ‘red light fever‘ pressure off of being in front of a producer, and it also gives us the freedom to do what we want, and if we want to change something, we can do it and not worry about time or anything like that.”
“I'm dreadful with it, though, because I’m such a perfectionist,” laughs MJ. “Matt does have to step in and say “Stop” sometimes, because it gets to the point where you're just gonna keep trying to do something again and again and end up screwing it up!”
Blood Omen is also a record of firsts for The Raven Age. With the metal end of the operation firmly nailed down, this time around the band were finally able to realise their ambitions of using real strings, working with noted British cellist arranger Audrey Riley. You may not recognise the name, but you’ll be familiar with her work…
“Audrey’s done string arrangements for huge bands like Foo Fighters, Muse and Coldplay,” says George. “She listened to some of the stuff that we already came up with, and she was like, ‘Yeah, I like this. I'm going to feed off that, but I'm going to do something else,’ and what she came up with just added a whole new element to it. And then getting the opportunity to actually get them recorded live was amazing. Going into the ICMP [Institute of Contemporary Music Performance] studios in London and watching a quartet play along to our songs was a whole new experience. They just made everything more dramatic.”
“It was awesome to see our music in proper notation as well,” adds MJ. “The whole thing pushed the songs to a completely different dynamic. And like George was saying, because Audrey works in a classical kind of way, she did things that wouldn't ever occur to us. It helps give the songs a very different sound.”
Blood Omen also sees the recorded debut of new guitarist Tommy Gentry. Having already “stepped in” with the band back in 2015, when the position became vacant last year, the prodigiously talented axeman – whose previous work includes stints with Marco Mendoza and former Judas Priest six-stringer KK Downing – was right at the top of the list.
“Tommy was in our sights from day one,” says George. “He's, without doubt, the most talented musician I know. Not only is he an amazing guitarist, he's a grade eight pianist, he can score orchestral music, and all that brings something to the table. MJ and I made a trip up to Liverpool when he was on tour, and over quite a few drinks, we got him to join the band. And we’ve not looked back since.”
“He woke up the next day with a sore head having to do a lunchtime gig,” laughs MJ. “I remember him going, ‘Am I just insanely hung over? Or did I agree to join your band last night?’ He’s been amazing, though. With his solos, like what Audrey did with the strings, Tommy just took everything to another level.”
The third crucial first for The Raven Age on Blood Omen is that it sees them making their debut release with legendary metal label Music For Nations. Like with Tommy, when it came to looking for a home for the record, it was no contest.
“A lot of blood sweat and tears went into the making of this album, and you can see how much passion we have for it. One of the things with a label is finding someone else who’s on the same page and has that same belief,” says George. “MFN were the ones we had in our sights. And funnily enough, they were by far the most responsive and welcoming. They got it, they get the band, they were getting excited about all the little things, like the story of the band, and the meaning of the Raven story, and they’re just as into the music as we are.”
When The Raven Age talk about belief in this album, they mean it. Blood Omen is a strong, focussed and ambitious work from one of the most rapidly rising rock bands in Britain. That’s down to being able to hear the craft that’s gone into it, and how the band have built on already hard-earned musical muscles. And when a band are as rightfully proud of what they’ve done as this, it’s hard to slow their progress.
“I can't listen to previous stuff I've done, but this album, I still listen to it constantly,” beams MJ. “It is genuinely the best body of work that we as a group and us as individuals have ever done. I really feel that this is going to do something special for us as a band. I hope people feel the same way. I’m very, very excited about it.”
Now, watch this raven soar.
The Raven Age are:
Matt James, vocals
George Harris, guitar
Tommy Gentry, guitar
Matt Cox, bass
Jai Patel, drums