It’s an odd fact that out of the many styles and subgenres of heavy metal, doom metal is the least commercially successful stylistic branch, despite being a subgenre founded by Black Sabbath – one of the most successful bands in metal, and indeed, metal itself’s ostensible creators. Doom, however, does retain a loyal and dedicated fanbase – and amongst the circle of folks who spend their time headbanging ever so slowly to the likes of Cirith Ungol, Pentagram and their ilk, Swedish trad doom metal band Count Raven are a highly respected name. Formed in 1987, the band released 4 classic doom albums from 1990 to 1996, before disbanding in 1999. There was a brief reunion in 2004 where the band resumed touring activities, but despite fans holding their breaths for new recorded material, none was forthcoming.
Now, singer/guitarist/keyboard player Dan Fondelius has put together a new line-up, and released Count Raven‘s first album since 1996′s Messiah Of Confusion. And it’s gratifying to report that after a thirteen year wait, Count Raven are still worthy of all the respect that is given to them. The first thing anyone unfamiliar with Count Raven‘s output will notice upon spinning Mammons War and hearing first track, ‘The Poltergeist’, will be the uncanny similarity between Fondelius’ vocals and Ozzy’s. However initially apt the comparison may seem, it doesn’t tell the whole story – Fondelius’ singing is closer to the 80s Ozzy, rather than the shambling wreck of his former self Ozzy was to become, and Fondelius’ vocal melodies have a more mournful bent and a stronger baritone foundation than Ozzy’s. The Sabbath comparisons don’t stop there, however – the riffage, too, has a strongly Iommian bent – imagine Sabbath circa Master Of Reality and Vol. 4 – or ‘Sabbath at their best’, to put it another way.
Once again, however, such a description is reductive – Fondelius adds interest and colour to the compositions, whether it be through the tasteful application of Candlemass-esque keyboards adding to the despondent atmosphere throughout (‘Scream”s chorus is beautifully enhanced by tolling bells, for instance), or through the occasional deployment of acoustic guitars, such as on doom metal ballad ‘To Love, Wherever You Are’. The title track, too, is a huge departure from Sabbathian tropes, consisting as it does solely of Fondelius’ vocals over layers of pulsing, swirling synths.
It’s not just Fondelius’ show, however – bassist Fredrick Janssen’s combination of throaty, growling tone and Leif Edling-esque noodling adds a welcome layer to the compositions (check out the proggy, yet tasteful embellishments during ‘Nashiri’), while Jens Bock’s steady, rock-solid percussive foundation grounds the material perfectly. The production, too, is ideal for the sound that Count Raven have gone for – full-bodied, roaring guitar tones, organic, weighty drums and a pulsing, rumbling bass tone combine with the warm synths for a smoky, classic sound tinged with modern heaviness.
Overall, then, this is an album that deserves pride of place in any fan of old-school, bluesy doom metal in the Sabbathian vibe’s CD collection. Let’s hope they stick around a bit longer this time.