THE RAVEN AGE: Conspiracy (2019)
In early March, I came across a new band while browsing iTunes’ preorders and found the song “The Day the World Stood Still”. The following week upon the album’s release, I quickly I had discovered one of the best metal albums in years. The Raven Age is a British band formed in 2009 by guitarist George Harris, son of Iron Maiden’s bassist, Steve Harris. Following a self-titled EP in 2014, a full album Darkness Will Rise in 2017 and a lineup change, the band released Conspiracy, named for the term for a group of ravens. Conspiracy is a very different album for the band and shows a vast improvement in song writing, technique, and recording. The album was released by the band’s own label, Corvid Records. If finding a new band wasn’t enough, I also happened to be in the UK during their tour and fortuitously was able to make it to their concert in Leeds on March 26, learning they are just as good live. More on that later.
After a short instrumental track, “Bloom of the Poison Seed”, Conspiracy opens with the pounding “Betrayal of the Mind”. This song is impressive, and a great concert opener, with a raging beat in 6/8 that changes halfway through the song, a time signature move that only a handful of bands do, namely Avenged Sevenfold. The extended bridge in 4/4 is slower and follows the acoustic guitar melody introduced in “Bloom of the Poison Seed”. Also like Avenged Sevenfold, the band features dueling guitars, such as in “Tomb of the Unknown Soldier”, but both guitarists, Harris and Tony Maue, switch out playing lead and rhythm and taking turns on solos, making for a broader sound between songs. Watching Harris play (see video below), it is apparent he’s had a guitar in his hands probably since before he could walk, but Maue is excellent as well and can handle his own solos with ease and energy, especially in “The Day the World Stood Still”. They even split the solo in “The Face that Launched a Thousand Ships”, Harris beginning it and Maue taking it over; Harris’ style is flowing and intricate while Maue’s is more punctuated and rhythmic, and they work really well together.
I had the chance to discuss the album and songwriting process with Harris via email:
“This album has been more of a collaboration than the first one as before it was [former guitarist] Dan [Wright] and I writing everything. Having Tony and [vocalist] MJ join the band has brought a lot more ideas to the table which is great, the more the better. We still generally write the same way, it starts around guitar riffs and branches out from there, I always tend to get the music together then write vocal melodies and finish with the lyrics. Sometimes the sound of the music will give off ideas of what the lyrical content might be based on what type of picture it paints when listening back. Guitar solo wise, it’s been pretty simple we just both had some ideas and thought it would be cool to take some lead parts each and also get some twin lead in there.”
During the songwriting process, much had already been written before MJ joined the band, but it was centered around his vocal range (which I’ll say is an impressive one, although Maue’s backing vocals hit an even higher range in parts). The chorus of “Forgotten World” was something MJ brought in, and “The Face that Launched a Thousand Ships” was a collaboration between everyone, and the one song where MJ also plays guitar. Structure-wise, a handful of the songs have a second chorus, almost a second song tacked onto the end. “Seventh Heaven”, “Grave of the Fireflies” and “Tomb of the Unknown Soldier” do this, all adding to the variety of sounds on the album, which never gets dull. One excellent lyric in the latter ends the song with: “Will you remember my name?/ Please tell me that I have not died in vain/We’ve been fighting for what seems a lifetime alone/Now I join the tomb of the unknown”.
Lyrically, while Conspiracy is not a concept album in the traditional sense, many of the songs are based on history, and expand the depth and dynamics of the record. Like the recent albums by Ice Nine Kills that based their songs on literature and horror films, these songs make for a consistent theme yet still a broad subject canvas. “Fleur de Lis” tells the story of Joan of Arc, “Forgotten World” was written based on a memoir about Auschwitz, and “Scimitar” is based on the Crusades with lyrics including “our holy war” and “converging on the path to heaven”. One of the lyrical highlights is “The Face that Launched a Thousand Ships”, which tells the story of Helen of Troy and the Trojan War from the point of view of Paris watching out over the burning city after it’s fallen: “I stare out on the horizon and see what we’ve done/Fires burning in all our eyes”. The lyrics highlight that the war was fought over Paris’ theft of Helen from the Spartan king Menelaus and how Paris feels in the aftermath: “The blood we’ve spilled is on both our hands/But it’s all over now/These walls break down and cave in/A promise that I will keep/This fire burning in me/I’ll face a war before I give in”. It is one of the slower songs on the album yet powerful and featuring the dual guitar solo mentioned above.
The highlight of the album, however, is the epic finale song, “Grave of the Fireflies” which is based on the Japanese anime film of the same name about the firebombing of Kobe during World War II. The song features a variety of melodies and tones, beginning with an acoustic guitar melody that is matched perfectly to the lyrics introducing the story: “Quiet the drone in the distance approaches/We hide and hope they pass us by/Waiting in silence praying they don’t find us/And maybe they’ll spare us our lives/Desolate village of sorrow and anguish/I stare upon what once was home/Explosions and flashes leave embers and ashes/And now we’ve got nowhere to go”. The guitars and drums then erupt into a chugging rhythmic pattern that introduces the second melody of the first chorus. The second chorus brings in the most powerful lyric: “As the flame begins/The blackened rain turns out a beautiful display of hatred/Nothing left/Beneath the flames of where my love was laid to rest”. Following these impactful words, Harris breaks into the most moving guitar solo of the album (see the video) and leads into the coda chorus, closing out the album.
As I mentioned before, the unbelievable circumstance that I happened to be in the UK when they were on their tour led me to experience the band firsthand. Sertraline and Defences were two British bands that opened before The Raven Age took the stage. I want to thank them for an incredible performance and also to Harris for taking the time to respond to my questions about the album. Conspiracy is one of the best metal albums in the past few years and I am very excited to see where this band goes from here.