|Release Date||4 Apr 2019|
If folk metal was a thing in the 80s, it would have sounded exactly like this album; its production quality, dramatic warrior anthems, and dual guitar riffs are reminiscent of early Iron Maiden and Saxon. Honestly, Atorc could easily be considered straight heavy metal if it weren’t for the exaggerated use of violin and the occasional shanty. As their second full-length release, there are both great things and not-so-great things about Under the Raven Banner that make it, when everything is considered, a pretty fun album.
Let’s get the bad stuff out of the way first. The foremost complaint that I have with Under the Raven Banner (an all-encompassing complaint, actually) is with the blatant sloppiness that’s all too present in most of the tracks. This sloppiness refers to the out of sync mixing/playing, especially prevalent between the violin and the band ‘Maidens of the Shield’, as well as the iffy quality of playing. In a classic metal band, it’s normal to have a looser and less refined sound, but there’s a limit to how loose it can be before it becomes apparent that the band is either inexperienced or just plain bad. I believe that the former is the issue here, because there’s a fair amount of inconsistency among the songs. I wouldn’t say that the songs are shit, because they’re not. My issue is that most of the songs have a select amount of shit within them, which is completely different. Otherwise, with the exception of the uninspired ‘Down at the Mead Hall’, they’re all solid heavy metal bangers.
On the flip side, there are a couple entirely fucking awesome tracks on this record. ‘Voice of the Storm’ is a great ‘Fear of the Dark’-esque tune. The build in the intro is really well done, the drums kick away like crazy, and the guitar solo is a true facemelter. The backing female vocals are a miss for me (as they are in the rest of the album) but it’s otherwise an excellent song. ‘Sheildwall’ is super epic, namely in its chanting chorus, and ends the album with a huge bang. The fact that Atorc have managed to produce songs that are un-sloppy almost pisses me off because, clearly, they know full well what good music sounds like, but they decided to ride with some lazily refined tunes anyway.
When all is said and done, Under the Raven Banner is far from perfect. However, Atorc’s charismatic enthusiasm is contagious and their old school-fuled folk metal will get you moving despite their flaws. A little more time in the forge is all these guys need to produce something worthy of glory.
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