Eternal Champion - Ravening Iron review
|Release date:||November 2020|
01. A Face in the Glare
02. Ravening Iron
04. War at the Edge of the End
05. Coward's Keep
06. Worms of the Earth
07. The Godblade
08. Banners of Arhai
It has boobs on the cover art. It is fantasy-themed and Michael Moorcock-influenced. It has vocals drenched in reverb. It begins with hammer and anvil sounds.
I could have finished the review right here but I had to write another 1000 words to explain why, even though I do like Ravening Iron, I cannot agree with it being on almost every year-end list I have seen.
Those who go nuts over traditional metal (you know I am one of them) received one of the last decade's greatest treats in the form of Eternal Champion's debut album. We are talking about another '80s revivalist band but a clever one at that because they take their sweet time between releases instead of trying to milk the cow of this particular trend, and they opt for shorter albums rather than filler-filled (now that's a new word) ones. Not a problem for me, since I have always believed that it is better for an album to leave you wanting more rather than to make you look all the time at the tracklist to see how many songs are left before it's over.
Ravening Iron is an amalgam of epic heavy metal, U.S. power metal, and epic doom metal, showing distinguishable preference to the first two. Not that the gap between these is abyssal or anything; sometimes it all just depends on how fast or slow the riffs are. And what better example than the intro of this record's opening track, "A Face In The Glare": its first few seconds boast a fast, epic, and heavy riff and after a few seconds the exact same riff is played a couple of notches slower, thus manifesting a doomier perspective. The song also features a great bridge section and an equally great solo and acts as a strong opener of a strong album. And this album also features the re-recorded version of "War At The Edge Of The End", which first appeared in 2013 in the band's The Last King Of Pictdom demo, and it is the catchiest and arguably their best song ever. The mistake of not including it in The Armor Of Ire is now corrected.
There are many positives about Eternal Champion that can also be seen as negatives depending on how one wants to examine things. They clearly love Manilla Road and early Manowar and you can hear these influences in the entire album. But the influences don't stop there. The lead guitar of "Coward's Keep" - which features Jake Rogers of Visigoth on guest vocals - brings to mind Thin Lizzy's "Whiskey In The Jar" a lot, and the riff that comes after the solo and at the outro of this track is nicked from the opening (and closing) of Bathory's "Baptised In Fire And Ice". Then, "Worms Of The Earth" reminisces Fates Warning from Night On Bröcken (and that album reminisced in turn Iron Maiden because everything always comes down to Iron Maiden in the end when we talk about heavy metal).
At the same time, and if you are familiar with The Armor Of Ire, you will hear them ripping off themselves. The title track of Ravening Iron is a fast piece that is the absolute spitting image of the title track from The Armor Of Ire. The outro of the album's Candlemass-ive closer, "Banners Of Arhai", is using the exact same theme of "Shade Gate", which was the last instrumental song on The Armor Of Ire. "Skullseeker" is for Ravening Iron what "I Am The Hammer" was for The Armor Of Ire. The point I am trying to make is that what we have here is something that is not original at all, and that this doesn't have to do solely with the band's influences but also with the band repeating themselves.
All that said, I would expect that the album would tire me very soon and that I would give it up. I have had it for a couple of months now, I have given it surprisingly many listens, and I do enjoy it every time. The production by the renowned Arthur Rizk, who is also a band member, helps a lot because it makes everything sound better. The riffs are beefier, the leads more succinct, the drums more punishing, and the reverb on the vocals provides an even more retro atmosphere. When you turn the volume up, it doesn't sound like a sound salad but really heavy and grand, and I rarely get that aural satisfaction in contemporary releases. Moreover, this band and album live and breathe old-school metal; from the music to Ken Kelly's artwork to the lyrics to the fact that vocalist Jason Tarpey is a blacksmith; yes, that's his day job, how metal is that? However, his voice is bizarre-sounding and far from perfect, and all the reverb that is apparently used to hide his flaws makes the lyrics (based on the stories that Tarpey himself writes) almost indecipherable, which is frustrating for this kind of music.
Now, the lyrics of many of the songs on Ravening Iron, as well as the cover art, were based on characters from the fantasy world of Arginor. These stories are fully detailed in Jason Tarpey's novella The Godblade. "Skullseeker" for example, according to the writer, is "about a fearless, armor-less, nameless warrior who goes by the word carved in his axe, 'Skullseeker'... During battle he is killing with such prowess, such ferocity, that the female general on the opposing side who should be fighting him becomes attracted to him instead, and at the end of the song they have sex on a pile of dead bodies in the middle of battle". You can call me a sick fuck all you want but I had an erection just by reading this description. I mean, if this sort of stuff doesn't make your sword harder and pointier (*feel free to suggest similar-themed, non-phallic metaphors in the comment section below), why do you bother with an album like this in the first place?
I certainly don't think that Eternal Champion have released something better than their debut and I believe we have yet to hear the best of them but this one is good nonetheless. During these four years in between albums, there has been an absurd amount of this traditional style of metal by so many new (and mostly mediocre) bands. The style may give the impression that it is a simple one to follow because it sounds cliché and entirely unoriginal but it is not easy at all to recapture that glory and Eternal Champion deserve praise for largely succeeding in it.
"Brandish the hardblade,
Tempered in the blood of fallen foes
I will ride again
To the fountain
To the blackened stones"
||Written on 12.12.2020 by|
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