Raven – Still Exterminating Part I

Sunday, 19th April 2015

Legacy metal acts are retiring or falling like flies. It’s not easy to keep rolling out quality studio albums that rival the energy, spunk, and exuberance of your teenage or early 20’s days. As much as we hope, there will be an end to the careers of Black Sabbath, Judas Priest, and Iron Maiden probably over the next decade. So take heart that a power trio originally out of Newcastle, England (relocated for many years to the United States) called Raven keep churning out their steady brand of high energy, kick ass metal today.

Their 13th studio album ExtermiNation is more than a play on words – it’s vibrant, melodic, chock full off strong hooks, heaviness, and that one of a kind manic vocal delivery from bassist John Gallagher that is legendary. So it was obvious that given the chance to speak to John, we would have a delightful conversation regarding the band and his views on metal in general. A fountain of wisdom and information, prepare to learn about not only the band’s history, but the Hells Angels, earthquakes in Columbia, touring life, and why quality matters over quantity in today’s fast paced society.

Dead Rhetoric: 41 years and still going strong as Raven – where do you see the major differences between the struggle to gain respect in the early days when punk was all the rage and now?

John Gallagher: It’s always been a struggle- I mean we thrive on it! (laughs) I would say it was a struggle against punk when we were kids, and then it was a struggle to get into the clubs and pubs around Newcastle, and then it was a struggle to play with other bands while we got our first single out, all the way down the line. Pretty much being up to us to make things happen. We’ve had people work for us for years but by and large it’s never really worked out for us- so we end up falling back on ourselves. At our advanced age we are trying to get some decent people to work for us, but that takes time. A lot of people out there are suspicious character-wise, unfortunately it is the music business after all. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Dead Rhetoric: You recently completed a lengthy North American tour with California’s Night Demon – how do you feel things went overall, as I’m sure there were a number of trials and tribulations you had to go through in terms of vehicle breakdowns, late fall/early winter weather events, and low turnouts at some of the venues…?

Gallagher: Yeah, overall the turnout was very good. The major cities that we played: New York, Chicago, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Portland, Vancouver, Toronto, Houston – those were all great. Because of the geography of the United States you have to get from point a to b – and point b can take 900 miles, so you have to play god knows where USA in the middle on a Tuesday night. You can either end up getting a hotel room or you roll the dice and play a gig – sometimes it works out and sometimes it doesn’t. This was definitely a trial because we had an unsatisfactory experience with a booking agent on a previous tour so we decided to book this tour ourselves, and I still have the grey hair to prove it.

We kind of almost overreached – we played 43 dates and most people don’t play that many dates, but we really felt it was time that we went out and played a lot of places that we haven’t played in many, many years. Overall, there were problems – we had our tour bus die a number of times, there was an occasion where we would have to rent a van, throw the gear in and drive like the devil to get to the next gig. We only had one gig where it actually fell apart and couldn’t physically make it – after a six hour drive we hit the border and the time change was an hour which completely screwed us in Boise, Idaho. We will try to make it up to those guys the next time around. Overall it was good for us because we were playing a couple of new songs on the tour, and seeing the reaction from people unheard before and sight unseen, that was very gratifying to see people shaking their fists, getting into it and singing the choruses the second time around. That was always a good thing to have that happen.

Dead Rhetoric: The last time I remember seeing you play New England was 7 or 8 years ago. I also remember that you opened for U.D.O. at the Station nightclub in West Warwick, RI back in 2000…

Gallagher: I remember that show. It was really spooky because the drive up to the Station, Joe (Hasselvander – drummer) jumps out, heads into the club and goes ‘man, this place is a complete firetrap!’ Which meant nothing until 6 or 7 months later when of course it was a complete firetrap, so we kind of freaked out when we heard about that after the fact. There were a lot of good people that went down as a result of that fire. There is a good community of metal fans, really cool people and it was a horrible thing.

Dead Rhetoric: Recently a Kickstarter campaign raised over $27,000 to help with the recording costs of your latest album ExtermiNation – do you enjoy this new crowd funding model and direct to fan appeal approach thanks to social media and modern technology endeavors?

Gallagher: Yes, I think it’s a really nice thing. Previously the old model was always the bands, the fans, and in between was the record company aiding and abetting and more often abetting the process. Our fans love the band and want to hear a new record, they want to invest in this and be a part of this. Here’s my money- bring it on. It’s a different world, and there’s a lot of crap music out there – so when they find a band that they like, people want to support it and they will put their hands in their pockets to support this. Consequently, we went ahead and recorded a whole album of cover songs which is exclusively for the backers of the Kickstarter campaign, which was a lot of fun to do. It also gives them a little insight into our roots, if they weren’t sure about it, and now they are! (laughs) It’s basically all early 70’s stuff, the bands we grew up on and still love: Slade, Sweet, Status Quo, Deep Purple, Nazareth- all that good stuff. If you want to get into it more, then you’ll check out those bands and where they got it from. Layers and layers of really cool music that sometimes these people don’t get the opportunity to check out, so if we can kick start that, that is great.

Dead Rhetoric: Concerning the new album, the opening track “Destroy All Monsters” has to be one of the best starters in quite some time for Raven. Did you know right away when this song was created it would be the ideal beginning song for ExtermiNation?

Gallagher: Oh yeah, right from the start. It’s a particular thing we’ve done only a couple of times before. A fast double kick song, and it’s in D, which is a very bright, pristine key, at least it starts in D. “Faster than the Speed of Light” starts in D, so does “Speed of the Reflex”, it’s just a little more manic. Right off the bat when we heard it we were like ‘yeah, this is got to be the lead off track’. We did a live album in Japan in the 1990’s called Destroy All Monsters – Live in Japan. We thought about using that song title sometime, and put it on the backburner. Finally with this, Mark said he had a song for “Destroy All Monsters”. He played it and we knew it would kill.

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