Ravenheart - Valley of the damned 3/5
1. Valley of the damned
2. Heaven and back
4. Lords of power
5. Fly away
7. Watcher in the sky
8. Mirror of the lands
10. Walk of the warriors
11. Cry for tomorrow
12. Timeless knights
13. In memory
14. Fly away II
It's funny how some bands seem to find themselves with a recording contract before they even know each others names (see Alestorm), while others slog away endlessly with that ticket to stardom always another couple of more times over the horizon. Meet Ravenheart – formed in Zurich all the way back in 1997, they have finally found a label to release their self-financed debut a whopping 11 years down the line. The result is something of a mixed bag, with some outstanding songs tripped up by a few lapses that stop the CD from being a smooth journey from start to finish.
As is often the case with a debut, particularly when the band releasing it have had so long to write, it feels as though Ravenheart have just thrown everything they've got at it, with little thought to cohesiveness and pacing. Of the 14 tracks, there are no less than 4 ballads (one of which being a reprise of another) and 2 interlude tracks that slow things down considerably and also lower the quality. Ballads are a tricky thing to pull off when you're in a metal band, as the line between inspiring and just plain tawdry is a tough one to negotiate. Ravenheart have unfortunately failed at every attempt and it dents the CD quite badly. I feel obliged to point out though that "In memory" is a tribute to a former member of the band named Luca who died at a young age only a couple of years ago, and they are certainly entitled to committing their farewell to record.
Having stated the criticisms, almost all the other songs are examples of upbeat power metal, and are all at the very least above average. With 'Valley of the damned' for a title, it goes without saying that this isn't exactly original stuff, but power metal has never been about that anyway. The biggest influence on Ravenheart though is actually, and very obviously, Freedom Call rather than the London band that released a debut of the same name only 5 years ago. The choir arrangements are full of bombast and the melodies are relentlessly cheerful.
The only real curveball comes as early as the 3rd track, in the form of the twisting 9-minute "Reborn". With shades of Uli Jon Roth around the classical-influenced lead guitar parts, it stand out a mile from the rest of the CD which tends to fall exclusively into either the uptempo Eurometal or cheddary ballad camps. What it's doing so early in the track list when it makes for such a perfect closer is anyone's guess though, and it is symptomatic of the CD's off-balance layout.
Things at least get off to a storming start with the title track, which has an unbelievably infectious chorus that has vintage Freedom Call stamped all over it. "Lords of power" is the song most strikingly similar to the style of the German maestros, and Ravenheart seem well aware of this with the line "we cry the call of freedom" chanted loud and proud in the chorus. And to really tie it all together, it is Chris Bay himself (unless I'm very much mistaken) who sings the opening verse in one of a few high-profile guest appearances on 'Valley of the damned'.
There are a couple of lesser songs that don't quite match these dizzying heights – "Mirror of the lands" feels short and unfinished, cutting off just as it seems like it is about to explode into life – but Ravenheart have certainly shown that they know how to write enjoyable melodic power metal. The CD sadly skids to a halt at the end as the aforementioned "In memory" is the 2nd last song before the needless "Fly away II" – identical in every way to "Fly away" apart from the chorus - rounds thing sup. It is typical of the sloppy track layout to close on 2 ballads in a row, and perfectly sums up the frustrating nature of what could have been an excellent debut. With a little trimming here and there the score for this CD would most definitely have been higher, but at least Ravenheart have shown what they can do. Better things are definitely to be expected of them.
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