RAVEN BLACK NIGHT: In the hands of the metal gods

DSC03248I was kind of surprised when the news about RAVEN BLACK NIGHT having signed for Metal Blade reached me. Don’t get me wrong, I hold Metal Blade in high regard, even though they were pushing the metal core-thing way too hard some years ago, and I also enjoyed the first RAVEN BLACK NIGHT-album a lot, but nevertheless it didn’t feel like a marriage made in heaven. Maybe because I have always felt the music of RAVEN BLACK NIGHT is too obscure and underground minded to be released on one of the bigger metal labels. Well, the band will certainly reach a lot more people with the backing of Metal Blade, proved by the fact that I hooked up with Andreas at the German office of the label who helped me get in contact with vocalist and guitarist Jim. I have no problem imagining a band sounding like RAVEN BLACK NIGHT coming through the ranks today, but what made you form a band playing this kind of music back in 1999?

– I think it was a number of factors. I had just come back from America with my other band The Loving Tongue. With that band I was starting to go in a more hard rock classic direction like Rainbow, Deep Purple etc. and wanted to start a harder, true metal band with a Black Sabbath vibe. Adelaide in the eighties and early nineties had a lot of hard rock and metal acts that never recorded. When I started, I was in the blues/rock scene and we would play with these bands. When I met Rino (Amorino, the other guitarist in the band) he was from a more punk thrash metal scene, but loved Kiss, Sabbath etc. When we started with original bass player Matt, he brought Jeremy on drums. They came from extreme death metal bands, we just did long jams and started formulating the songs. Some short, others open ended and could go on for hours ha! By time we had Joe on drums. From our first CD we were more sure of our sound basically, we missed the metal of the seventies and eighties that had guitar solos and high singing songs you could sing. That was seen as passé in our town, it wasn’t till we went to Sydney and Melbourne bigger cities we realized there were other bands doing this too. In the early days we definitely played on extreme bills and gothic type ones. We just threw ourselves out there and wanted to rock hard and kick ass!

RAVEN BLACK NIGHT is one hell of a cool band name. Was this a name you have had in the back of your heads for some time, or did it come up when you had formed the band?

-With Black Sabbath being our template musically, we wanted a name with “Black” in it. We sounded more doomy and bleaker then as well. After hundreds of suggestions we found RAVEN BLACK NIGHT, a great song from a band called Govt Mule who did rock, jams, blues rock and is led by a great guitar player, Warren Haynes. He also plays in The Allman Brothers Band. Me and Matt were fans of this band. The name described our music as well with the raven representing the earth and nature. Black the bleakness of our early sound and finally the night which is endless and and mystical.

Your first album, “Choose The Dark”, was released back in 2005. What are your thoughts on this release today?

– With RAVEN BLACK NIGHT there is always a drama. It took five years to release it. After our early demos we had tried once and abandoned the sessions. Copies of this are somewhere too. With “Choose The Dark” it was a relief to finally get it on CD to capture that period. We had played many shows all around Australia and none could understand why we didn’t have an official CD out. Me, Matt and Joe were finishing recordings of our other bands and money was tight. With the recording itself we only had a few days for beds, a few for overdubbing and mixing. I did all the vocals in one eight hour session, I felt it could have been mixed a bit better, but we just ran out of time money. In saying this, the album got reviews and sales overseas in the metal underground and got us to Germany in 2007. It did and does good things for us.

It can be a little hard to get hold of, even though I think you have done several runs of it. How many copies have you managed to sell so far?

– We did around four runs of it, so it probably sold 1000 to 1500 copies, with others being promo or given away. At a later stage, if there is a demand, it might get a rerelease or repressing. For now, we want to concentrate on the new CD. We are a slightly different band now, I think we have progressed the sound, but there always has to be a begging.

You have rerecorded three songs from the first album for the new album, “Barbarian Winter”. Why have you chosen to do this? I guess those who already own the debut would rather have wanted three brand new tracks.

– When we started talking with Alan from Primordial who introduced us to Metal Blade, they wanted to hear all the tracks we had and really liked a song called “If You Choose The Dark” which was of the first CD. At first the CD was to be the strongest of the older songs and new ones, but then Alan suggested I pick the songs but make sure to include the song I mentioned. At first I was hesitant to have older material on the CD, but then I realized a whole new audience would hear them for the first time, so we remastered the older songs so they are sonically much better than the versions on “Choose The Dark”.

Did you approach these songs in the same way as you did with the newer material, or did you simply just try to improve the versions that were already on the debut?

– They fit in with the newer stuff because me and Rino have kept the band running with different line ups and all the songs have grown together through time. We only got one track left of the newer recordings with some sound scapes we did .With that in mind, I carefully tried to place the older songs among the new recordings to try and create an album or a journey like the older hard rock metal records I loved. We have plenty of songs ready to go. Up until now all songs we recorded have gone through a life of their own.

You put out a demo back in 2007, called “Return Of The Metal Martyrs”. What was the purpose of this recording? To shop around for a record deal?

– The main reason for that demo was to bring it to Germany in 2007 when we played the Headbangers Open Air. We wanted to give them out and sell and get interest for the band for future festivals and recordings. It was only meant to be one song, but we ended up doing five and rushing to have it ready. It had a different rhythm section as me and Rino had stopped working with Matt and Joe from the first CD. It was to represent the new line up at that time, which of course ended when we got back to Australia. It captures a moment and we had a few offers from labels in Germany and a few from the states to release it as a official CD, but we didn’t feel it was right at that time and wanted to record a proper full length.

How did you get signed to Metal Blade? Were you surprised that an important label like Metal Blade expressed interest in the band? Big labels are very often focused on earning money, and in my opinion, RAVEN BLACK NIGHT and “commercial” don’t fit very well together…

-Through a mutual friend, Alan from Primordial expressed interest in our music. I sent him some stuff, and he introduced it and us to Metal Blade. We had done a lot of work with the first CD, playing everywhere, getting to Europe self-funded, only with help of an Arts S.A (South Australia) grant we applied for and thankfully got, sending out the music where we could so the name was slowly getting heard. There were other, more underground labels who wanted to release any new recordings we had, so when the Metal Blade opportunity came along, we were excited, nervous and estatatic that such a legendary label with major metal and rock credibility would release our music and have us on their artist rooster. It is a dream come true. Me and rino have worked hard and still are, we are honored and humbled for Metal Blade having faith in our music and will give 110 percent to make it happen. I guess these days it’s an open field. It’s very broad what is and isn’t commercial anymore. We write from our hearts and souls, so if one song is more accessible to more people while others are more album tracks, that is cool. We love all the old hard rock/metal bands some which are still kicking the ass of people half their age, and don’t want a plane like Led Zeppelin, Iron Maiden or Metallica. For now we are happy to have economy class thank you! In the end we are in the hands of the metal gods.

The material on the new album spans a long period of time. You have songs like “Morbid Gladiator” and “If You Choose the Dark” which were released on a demo back in 2002, but also songs I guess are written quite recently. Which elements make the material coherent enough to put it out on one album, even though there is a decade between some of the songs?

– All our songs have always had long lives from the rehearsal studio to performing live to the actual recording. With both our CDs, a lot of living and life happened in between and rubbed off on the songs. It might be a testament to the old songs to still stand up and be fresh with the newer material which has seen a lot of life as well. I can only say if you write from your heart and enjoy what you hear, it can be timeless if you’re lucky. All the bands me and Rino love, like Rainbow, Dio, Judas Priest, Deep Purple, Led Zeppelin, Kiss and Slayer , their songs still sound fresh and people love hearing and singing them. A good song is a good song. The two songs you mentioned always go down great live when we go interstate had people singing the words back to me. That keeps me on my toes, not to have too many beers ha!

Like most musicians I guess you also feel that your new album is a lot better than the debut. Which aspect, songwriting, performance or production, do you feel is most improved?

DSC03271– Well with “Choose The Dark”, it represented the journey, struggles and joys from the first five years recording and touring Australia. The songs held up well. After that me and Rino got frustrated at the pace new stuff was coming and maybe felt the principals and organic nature of how we started was being a bit lost, whether from peoples other projects commitments or in the lineup changes. I feel our songwriting has got stronger and we are always growing, our performance has more aspects to what we did at the beginning, and we are stronger live. Of course the production has improved because we spent some more time on the new songs. With the first one, our budget was tight so overall I think we have grown in all areas from life’s experiences and scars ha! We still have a long way before we peak.

Phil and yourself are also members of The Loving Tongue, who has existed longer than RAVEN BLACK NIGHT, and released their last album I 2012. The band also involves a couple of ex-members of RAVEN BLACK NIGHT. Why are there what seems to be very close bonds between The Loving Tongue and RAVEN BLACK NIGHT?

– That is an interesting question. When I met Rino, RAVEN BLACK NIGHT was a separate band to The Loving Tongue. Before RAVEN BLACK NIGHT started playing, The Loving Tongue played on heavier bills and with the original bass players bands. This time, Joe Toscano, who had been in The Loving Tongue for a year, joined RAVEN BLACK NIGHT as the drummer. So both bands existed separately, sometimes playing on the same bill which isn’t ideal when you sing and play in both. Even though both are heavy rock, there is a different style with The Loving Tongue being a three piece and adding some keyboards in the studio. RAVEN BLACK NIGTH having Rino on guitar as well is a twin guitar attack. After things with Matt and Joe came to an end, we had a Melbourne gig we wanted to do so Big Tom (Jim’s brother) from The Loving Tongue filled in on bass and still does live when needed to this day. We got an older drummer back in, with a new bass player and came to Germany to play. Before I left, me and Tom started jamming with Phil for The Loving Tongue, when we came back and it didn’t work out with the new guys in RAVEN BLACK NIGHT, I asked Phil to come and play drums in RAVEN BLACK NIGHT, he has since done a few stints with both bands. I also asked Chris Dorian who was living here with his brother for a time, to help on bass for live shows which he did with my bro Tom. I had done some recording for him, some demos we did of his songs, I guess we needed people we could trust and rely on after the turmoil of the years before that with members. Chris’ brother Dimitrios also helped me with two RAVEN BLACK NIGHT shows, Hell’s Pleasure and Hard And Heavy Summer Nights, which the others couldn’t do. Chris and Dimitrios have both relocated to Europe at present. In between, Rino and I have had a few members come and go as we say in the band, for five minutes, ha!

A little bit confusing, to be honest, but according to Jim, it’s quite common for musicians in his hometown to be involved in more than one band.

– Adelaide is a small city with many metal bands, a lot of people play in five different projects at once. I have concentrated on The Loving Tongue and RAVEN BLACK NIGHT all along and me and Rino have done this for many years. He only recently did something outside of RAVEN BLACK NIGHT, I guess we have become a collective in a way both bands have their own personality though.

Would you say that the fact that Phil and yourself are involved in The Loving Tongue, and Chris of course with Agatus and Zemial, has slowed down the career of RAVEN BLACK NIGHT, or are there other reasons why it has taken such a long time to get the follow up to “Choose The Dark” out?

– Chris and Phil came along after 2007 and helped RAVEN BLACK NIGHT live and in the studio. With regards to the future recordings tours, we will see how it pans out, who is willing and available. I am in constant contact with Chris, my bro for this time holds the fort back here. The Loving Tongue took a bit more of a back seat but this was also due to the last two CDs The Loving Tongue did which is anther long story all together. Some like both bands, others prefer one or the other. Playing in my blues rock band and a Jimi Hendrix tribute over the years, I enjoy performing in front of a crowd that doesn’t come to the original bands’ concerts. I think the main factors why the follow up to “Choose The Dark” took so long, was me and Rino who kept pumping the band, doing shows and gigs back home or around Australia. Throw in some lineup changes, people who joined with different agendas, and going overseas. We finally took a year off playing live and just recorded. The engineer Andy let us pay him when we got the money, and eventually we mixed mastered it and paid it off. Then we were blessed and grateful the Metal Blade deal came. RAVEN BLACK NIGHT is a priority for me and Rino and we will push it as far as we can. With our other projects and bands I am sure we can fit things in to satisfy everyone’s creative outlets and of course Chris has bands and projects he does that are established in Europe. Look at people like Mike Patton and Shane Embury, they play in multiple projects and bands and make it work.

It’s important for many reviewers, but also for labels and bands to name the right bands as references. Obscure acts like Manilla Road and especially Cirith Ungol are often mentioned when people speak or write about RAVEN BLACK NIGHT.

– That is an interesting thing, it was the same with Candlemass. When we first started, we weren’t that aware of their work, but of course had heard of them. Then we discovered what a fantastic band they are, with a rich recorded history. Same with Manilla Road and Cirith Ungol that some friends and fans have sent me from Europe and the US . Both bands also have a great recorded history.DSC03284

Would you say that you are influenced by these bands, or is it more of a comparison that the press has come up with?

– Maybe the comparison comes from the fact that we have been underground and active for a while now? It could also be that we share some of their influences such as Black Sabbath and other proto metal/rock acts. The original bass player loved Sleep, High On Fire and tried to put that influence in, I guess me and Rino have a vast appreciation of music and somehow mix it in the RAVEN BLACK NIGHT sound. As Lemmy says: It’s all rock and roll. Let me add that being compared to Manilla Road, Cirith Ungol or Candlemass is flattening. Maybe the connection is we all forge our own path even in the face of adversity at times. When the musical climate changes or people are looking for the next sound or big thing, we stick to our hearts and grow naturally and organically. I used to be embarrassed because I wasn’t well versed in some of the bands we get compared to, Chris even before he worked with us, told me to be true to what influenced me. even if was the Sabbath, Purple Rainbow or Dio, that I love . I have had a life time of music coming through me from when I first heard AC/DC at ten, Jim Hendrix blowing my mind, Led Zeppelin inspiring me, all the blues rock greats, and finally really getting into vocals being inspired by Dio, Gillian, Halford, Dickinson andDavid Byron. A band is a living entity. We can only be who we are the music style we play demands honesty.

While I like your album a lot, it got an average review from one of our reviewers in the new issue of Scream magazine. I guess all bands create mixed feelings, but do you have any thoughts of what it is about RAVEN BLACK NIGHT that appeals to some and puts others off?

– Ha ha! What is the address? We will fix it. No, in all honesty it is all open to one’s taste and ears what they grew up with what they like. A lot of publications or some street press in Australia won’t even acknowledge our or other metal bands existence, let a lot review us. It is the fans who spread the word with community radio here and metal bands sometimes pull better than the other styles, so any review is good and appreciated and as we know in Europe there are far more opportunities and an amazing network of festivals and metal magazines. Getting back to the question, we stand for what we believe in. You take us or leave us, but we will try hard to get you. When we play live, it’s 110 per cent or go home. We make many fans who get it when they see us live. Even the great bands have total devoted fans like myself, and of course there those who can’t stand there music. We might be a bit clique or simple to some, but dig a bit deeper and we might surprise you. Those who like us are very dedicated and amazing. You want to do your best not to let them down, but in the end we can only be true with heart and soul the rest will follow.

With the band now being signed to Metal Blade, I guess we don’t have to wait six or seven years for the next album?

– That is one thing we really hope will happen. Me and Rino are always rehearsing and jamming new songs. In fact tomorrow we have rehearsals for the new material we are very excited about. At present, we want to get the new CD, “Barbarian Winter” out far and wide, and hit the road to come to Europe, whoever might want us and play some festivals or tours. I am sure by this time there will be new songs, life experiences and journeys that will enhance or form our new material. The raven never sleeps to long, it always has to fly. We hold on its wings for its journey.

Jim, thanks a lot for this in depth look into the universe of RAVEN BLACK NIGHT!

– My pleasure. Stay metal and free!


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