NWOBHM legends Raven have just released their first album in five years with Metal City, which arrived on September 18th via SPV/Steamhammer (order here). We caught up with mastermind/bassist/vocalist John Gallagher to discuss their longevity, the LP and working with Mike Heller on drums.
When did you begin the writing process for Metal City?
1900 and frozen to death. We’re constantly writing, constantly. So pretty much, to be honest, right after ExtermiNation, we started writing. You have a little period when you’re doing the record where you’re not doing that. You’ve got to recharge your batteries a bit. So it came into, I guess, late 2016, I started really putting a lot of cool stuff together and came up with maybe 30, 35 songs that I really thought were good, which is unusual. I don’t come up with that many, usually. Came up with a lot of really cool stuff. And Mark was inspired, Mark [Gallagher] came up with a lot. We really had a big pool of songs ready to go, right when Joe [Hasselvander] had his heart attack and then had to leave the band. We knew from the songs we were going to raise the bar big time on this new record, and then having Mike [Heller] come in on drums, and he just kicked it all to a totally different level again. We’ve just been well prepared on this one. We did a lot of work on ExtermiNation, and learned a lot of little tricks and ways to get to the heart of what we needed. And that helped with writing the songs on this, I think. There was a lot of stuff that didn’t need to be second or third time edited out or added to. The song was written and it was like, there, it’s good to go. The occasional little thing added to it or whatever, but pretty much came up with it the way it was supposed to be from the get go.
This is the first record you have with a significant line up change in years, what has the experience been like since recruiting Mike on drums?
Well, it’s different. He’s a younger guy, different influences. Joe was winding down, didn’t want to play live, et cetera. Mike’s full of energy, wants to do more, do more, do more. “I don’t want days off. Let’s do 20 days in a row.” This kind of stuff on the road, like crazy. It’s like, that’s all right for you, but I’m the one singing. So no, we’ll try not to do that, but we’ll still get out there, and we want to get out and do that kind of thing too, really, we’re road dogs. We like to work hard and get out there and do it. It’s just brought a lot of energy. And his technical ability is frightening. Anything we throw at him, he throws it right back at us. We have that secret weapon and now we’re able to do anything that we’ve done before. And we can also, as we’ve shown on this new record, go forward and do stuff we’ve never done before.
Were there any songs that were more challenging to write on this album?
Not really. The one or two songs had been floating around for a while. Top Of The Mountain, is something I had for quite a while, and just couldn’t get a chorus for some reason. And then when I started putting this stuff together, this kind of writing session for this record, I came across a song and though, what if we did this? And musically, I came up with a twist on the lyrics. And it was like, there it was. I tried to sing so many times that Mark was like, “This thing again? I’m not listening.” “Come on.” “Nope. I’m done.” And Mike heard and said, “No, he’s right. You’ve got to hear. It’s great.” And it really is. That song’s the perfect blend of the old and the new. It really is, which is why we started playing it long before the record was done. We just figured, new band with the three of us. Let’s go out and play something new to get a fresh reaction from people with new music that they’d never heard before. And it just shows that you’re on the right track.
The album is actually really heavy from start to finish. It reminded me, when I saw you guys live at 70000 Tons of Metal and seeing the amount of energy you guys have executed after all these years. What do you guys do to keep everything sound so fresh?
That’s just the way we approach it. It has to be that way. We plug in and we’re instantly snotty nosed 15 or 16 year old kids again. The concept of relaxing and okay, let’s bring a couple of wooden stools out front and we’ll do that, no. That’s not what we’re about at all. The bands that we loved when we were kids, we loved it when they were out to kill, and that’s what we do, but we do it with a smile on our face, which is the difference. It’s like positive energy, as opposed to dark, dour, depressing. We’re not monolithic in that way, happy, happy, happy. It’s powerful. It’s heavy. It’s dark, it’s light. There’s a variety of stuff. But the overall effect, we’re having a great time. Come and join us.
You guys have been very consistent with your material. One thing that was probably different from this recording process was the pandemic. What has it been like for you to release a new album during a pandemic?
Well, it’s a pain in the neck, isn’t it? We’re very lucky in that we planned to do this earlier in the year, but the artwork was taking too long. The tour that we set up for Europe, we couldn’t get the opening band we wanted. And we said, let’s put this back. As soon as we said that, literally a week later, all this stuff started happening. So we’re very lucky in that regard, because if we went ahead with it, it would have been, let’s start a tour and spend all your money on booking flights and equipment and one week into it, sorry, it’s all done. You go home. So we’ve avoided that. The pandemic is what it is. We’re stuck with it, but we do have a tour booked in Europe for February. And we’ll follow on from there. Personally, I think this will all blow away by the end of this year. I really hope it does.
We all hope it’s going to be over soon. That’s one thing everybody can agree on no matter what people believe about it. It’s awesome that you guys didn’t get screwed over in that sense, and didn’t go on tour and then find out that you had to cancel last minute that happened to many bands.
We weren’t going to push it, because it’s taken a long time to get to this point with this record. There were a lot of roadblocks and stuff in the way, and we’ve come so far that we weren’t going to just shake it out as fast as we could. And we couldn’t anyway, because the artwork wasn’t ready. We’re really happy that we did take the time on that because the artwork came out awesome. It really did.
Is there anything else you wanted to say or add to your fans about the new album?
We think it’s the best thing we’ve ever done and every band always says that, but we’re in a different position. This is our 46th year as a band. So take it from me. This is the best thing we’ve ever done. Everyone likes to talk about the first three albums. At the very least, this is up there with them, if not better. And for a band that’s been around the block as long as we have to come up with an album this good, this is us throwing down the gauntlet and saying, “Beat that,” because there’s a lot of bands of our age and longevity that are putting records out, and they’re okay, they’re pretty good. This isn’t pretty good, and this isn’t okay, this is a great record. We’re really proud of it. And people get to check this out and we’ll be out to play it live as soon as we can.
It is a strong record, and it took me one listen to really catch onto it. Sometimes it takes three or four listens, but this one was right off the bat.
That’s cool. Yeah, because you catch some of the hooks and then you go back. And like any good record, there’s some depth to it. You hear other things. You hear what’s going on inside of it, which that’s part of the process of the arrangements and the songwriting and getting those performances that are a little bit off the cuff and a little wacky, little bit improvised. And just giving you depth.