TO REMAIN RAW and untamed is as important to heavy metal as denim, leather, and Ronnie James Dio. Unfortunately, every once in a while a slobbering, greedy beast of a major label comes along and sinks their claws into an unsuspecting band. Suddenly these heavy metal soldiers see visions of dollar signs that tempt even the most ferocious of warriors. Next thing you know, they're transformed into weak, sniveling, shorthaired, designer-clothes-wearing marionettes. (Metallica, anyone?) While some bands' descent into the pit of commercialization is slightly gradual, the devolution for England's Raven was both rapid and tragic.
At the beginning of the 1980s, Raven was the frothing mad dog of the new wave of British heavy metal. Their maniacal rock and roll and high-energy stage shows made them an important player in the burgeoning scene, and they were building a following in the US as well, touring with the likes of Anthrax and (still long-haired and respectable) Metallica.
Then, in '84, the band signed with Atlantic Records, and within two releases, Raven's once unbridled intensity and momentum was destroyed. The Pack Is Back, the band's second release under Atlantic's boot, is an embarrassment on an epic scale. The record sleeve depicts the boys bursting from lockers in athletic gear while sporting the omnipresent look of the era: feathered hair and spandex. The album is an overflowing vomitorium of cheesy melodies and overly-slick production, a change to sound and style so drastic it's almost as if Atlantic kidnapped the real Raven and replaced them with manufactured evil robots resembling the once iconic band. (Yes, this is the exact plot of Bill and Ted's Bogus Journey.)
After three records and an EP, Atlantic got tired of playing with their puppet and cut the strings, but not before Raven's credibility was completely shredded. Subsequent releases found the band returning to their hyperactive style of yore, but the damage had already been done. Raven was forced to flee to the one locale where their popularity would never wane: Japan.
Fast forward a couple decades, and Raven is back on domestic soil touring in support of their latest, Walk Through Fire. A welcome return to the sheer ass-kickery of their earliest recordings, the band is making up for lost time and attempting to forever bury the memory of The Pack Is Back. Raven have clearly realized the error of their ways; let us no longer punish them for their past sins.