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The Raven King : Red

The Raven King's debut EP is pleasing to the ear, but lacks a complete sense of focus.

For a self-released demo package, The Raven King have done a nice job with their debut EP 'Red'. The dark-brown printing on textured cardboard looks stylish and uncluttered, adorned with miniature images reflecting themes connected with Edgar Allan Poe, on whose short story 'The Masque Of The Red Death' this work is based. Details like that make a difference: perhaps not to the actual music, but to the expectation of it - and it's a good start that it looks elegantly enigmatic enough to be worth picking up.

Detail obviously matters to the band, too: according to our introductory interview with founder Ignacio González, the first thing his soon-to-be-bandmate Eduardo Salazar wanted him to do with the original demo cuts was to record them again with decent sound quality! This was duly done, with vocals supplied by Eduardo Rodríguez (Witches' Sabbath, The Hole), using pro studio recording and mastering. It shows: in no way would you consider this demo-quality work, but a far more polished release, with a pleasing degree of clarity and depth to it. Occasional, light crackles do surface in places, but without becoming a serious distraction.

Musically, The Raven King describe themselves as Doom/Post-Metal, which is certainly accurate to an extent, and reflects the band's major self-cited influences - Anathema, Cult Of Luna and Shape Of Despair - elements of which are present in roughly equal quantities. The instrumental sound leans heavily on melodic, slow-paced Sludge/Stoner-influenced riffing, alternating with Post-Rock guitar atmospherics and leads. Providing the Doom side of the equation are distinct and quite mellifluous Death growl/whisper vocals, along with sections constructed from the leisurely pace and repetitious incremental development of Funeral Doom. The guitars crunch or swirl with satisfying proficiency throughout, enhanced by some subtle but effective keys and backed with acceptable, if a little unvaried, drum programming. Overall, it conveys a spaciousness and easy, unstressful mood in which heaviness and brooding play only sporadic parts.

In one sense, this means that 'Red' should be extremely accessible by stepping from any of the aforementioned genres, and has enough kinship to all of them for that to be a satisfying experience. Whether that is true in practice, though, is rather more complex, for the resultant sound is not so much triangulated somewhere between those influences, but more a combination of separate segments of each in turn. Each of the three long vocal tracks follows a similar pattern: setting the scene with ambient effects that lead into a section leaning slightly more towards one or other influence, then bridging into a textural instrumental part, which builds to a pacier reprise and crescendo. So, opener, 'I, Bringer Of Death' aims to develop a Sludge/Stoner groove, 'Walls Of Flesh' nods more towards fast Funeral hypnotics, 'Black Light, Red Death' draws most strongly on a Post-Rock tapestry. (Short instrumental closer 'The World In His Eyes' is a simple, largely unornamented, mournful acoustic melody that doesn't swing the balance of the album one way or another). It's an approach which works best on the first track, but feels rather fragmented elsewhere.

The other factor which comes in to play is that 'Red' falls somewhat foul of the more-typically 'Lovecraft syndrome' to my ears: it doesn't conjure any particular or consistent feeling of the incipient madness pervading Poe's disturbingly claustrophobic gothic-horror writing, nor even the less subtle Poe-based canon of films that followed. Instead, it conveys a comparatively airy and upbeat mood that, without the menacing vocals and effects, wouldn't have too much of an anchor in darkness at all - a tendency compounded by the relaxed, sometimes frustratingly over-tranquil, instrumental portions within each track.

It's not that there's any shortage of ideas displayed here. If anything, there's a few too many to properly explore in an EP-length release, effectively preventing The Raven King from showing full commitment either to a distinct direction or to the source material. In the end, that leaves it somewhat adrift: a pleasant and dreamy sprawl of musical episodes sliding past without ever quite gelling into anything more than the sum of those parts. I certainly give it credit for being a worthy effort, especially for a debut: being undeniably well-presented, well-executed, ambitious and possessed of several moments that really hit sweet spots (my favourite being the almost ritualistic closing section of 'Walls Of Flesh', with its insistently rising rhythm and piping keyboard melody). In the end, though, it falls just a little short of turning not-yet-completely focused potential into a fully-realised vision. Given the band's proven willingness to concentrate on detail and improvement, I strongly expect the latter to emerge sooner rather than later.

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Reviewer's rating: 6.5/10


Tracklist :
1. I, Bringer Of Death
2. Walls Of Flesh
3. Black Light, Red Death
4. The World In His Eyes

Duration : Approx. 30 minutes

Visit the The Raven King bandpage.

Reviewed on 2015-04-14 by Mike Liassides
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