An English heavy metal band, the Raven Age were (and whisper it) heavily influenced by metal core and yet, right from the off, they developed their own style from their myriad influences, bringing in vocalist Michael Burrough whose impressive range offers up a melodic edge that captures the attention and looks set to make the band a household name. Formed initially by guitarists Dan Wright and George (son of Steve) Harris, the band quickly reached a wide audience with their eponymous debut EP, earning a signing to BMG in the process and securing high profile support slots with the likes of Maiden, Gojira and Anthrax along the way. A huge draw at Hard Rock Hell, the band played to a packed-out venue, bringing their hard riffing yet melodically memorable tunes to the sun-kissed Welsh coastline and we were lucky enough to catch up with Michael in the aftermath of that set in order to find out more about the band’s astonishing debut, ‘Darkness will rise’ (reviewed here) which dropped earlier this year.
You released an EP in 2014 which seemed to rapidly gain a following and now, 2017, you’ve got a new album…
So, when you released the EP, did you already have an album in mind?
No, a lot of the stuff was already written and ready to go. In fact, we were originally going to self-release, so the EP was going to be a teaser and then, bam! The album would have been out pretty soon after, but obviously it didn’t work out that way.
So, BMG took an interest – did you go through an A&R where they listened to your work? Did they make suggestions or did you keep fairly close creative control?
Probably the main reason we signed with BMG is that they were happy for us to keep doing what we were doing as a band, they liked us, they liked the artwork, they liked the music and they were happy with everything. So they haven’t asked us to do things differently, they haven’t tried to mould us into everything else, they just liked it and wanted us to carry on. That’s why, originally, although we had a few labels who were interested, we weren’t really prepared to go down that path until they turn up to the table with a really wicked offer that pleased everyone, so it was really good.
In terms of the band’s formation, as far as I can tell the band originally got together around a shared love of metalcore, but musically the band is much more diverse – particularly in terms of the melodic vocals (which are great, by the way). So, approaching the vocals, is there a temptation to go heavier?
Well obviously when I joined the band it was already in motion, they hadn’t played any gigs or anything because they didn’t have a singer, but they looked extensively and found me due to the fact that I did melodic vocals. We could have gone down that path and added some screaming, and obviously ‘my revenge’ on the album has got a very small amount of sort of whisper-screaming and it’s only the beginning and it’s only the intro so it doesn’t put people off and the key is there that George always wanted a melodic singer, he didn’t want to go down the scream path and there are many reasons for that. One of the main ones for me, personally, is I won’t listen to stuff that’s pure screaming. It’s not that I don’t appreciate what they do musically, in fact sometimes I find I listen to bands and think it’s awesome and then when someone starts screaming, for me it’s not… If you mix it up a bit and have something that’s mellow, so Five Finger Death Punch or maybe Lamb of God at times, then I’m good with it, but it’s nice that when I joined the idea that George had was to keep everything mellow. I think you appeal to a much broader spectrum of listeners if you do that because a lot of people are like me, especially the older generation – they listen to a bit of scream and just leave or think it’s just noise. They don’t necessarily appreciate the technique or that it’s actually quite difficult to do it well. But at the moment the music scene is swamped with bands that are screaming and I wouldn’t say all them do it well – it just is noise in some cases. But no, it was always the intention to keep it mellow and I’m happy with that and they’re happy with that.
In some senses it’s quite unusual and it’s really cool to hear a band with really chunky riffs set against melodic vocals and harmonies, but has that made it difficult to find a space sometimes, because there are those in the metal scene who like the grit and stand off a bit where it’s all clean vocals – is that something you’ve experienced?
It does happen to a point. I mean it can be difficult, we played a couple of support slots with Gojira and, to be honest I hadn’t heard them much before we did that and I didn’t know what to expect and we got there and I was like “whoa!” because they’re just brutal, constantly heavy, technically amazing and really good guys and a really good band. But there they are doing all that and then, ten minutes before, there I am, prancing around the stage doing mellow vocals feeling like the softest guys ever to have lived. And trying to get people involved in that and behind that can sometimes be a bit difficult. But then you get… people who do take an interest, and want to know what it’s about, you hit a few high notes and they realise it’s alright, and you’ve got all the melodic guitars underneath and George and Dan listen to Parkway drive a hell of a lot and they’re pretty brutal, so it was strange for me when I joined when they wanted to keep it mellow, but it works. It’s more difficult in places, if ‘ve got a sore throat I’d rather just scream but it’s difficult to a point and it’s difficult when someone comes up to you after a gig and it’s like “I read that you’re metalcore, what the hell is this?!” So, we would describe ourselves as melodic metal because it is still metal… instrumentally, there’s no doubt about it, it’s definitely metal… we just think the softer vocal keeps the melody and, in a way for me, it’s like having an extra guitar in there. it’s just a vocal melody instead of a guitar melody and it all gels together and we’ve had a lot of success with it and a little bit of criticism here and there. But the advice we’ve been given form the off is to stick to our guns and to keep doing what we’re doing. Going back to BMG, they’ve told us to keep doing it, so we’re happy all round really.
Lyrically, one of the things I enjoyed was that there was a more story-telling approach – what influences work for the band and are they written to the music or is the music written to the lyrics?
As far as I know, and it’s all George and Dan that wrote everything and then I came along and we changed things here and there, but as far as I know they just come out with riffs, just jamming out riffs – we did it a hell of a lot on the Maiden tour for hopefully the second album, and then I think George writes lyrics and fits them around the melody which is unusual, I’m told, because a lot of people write lyrics first and the song is born around that. He’s a very competent writer, he’s well educated and he draws inspiration from books, TV, documentaries, all sorts There’s quite a few different ones on the album. There are a few that are taken literally straight out of his own experiences in life and then there are a couple that are deliberately about something. Like ‘Dying embers’, I don’t want to ruin it for anyone and tell them what it’s about because sometimes you find out what a song’s about and it takes away a bit of the personal connection with it, but ‘dying embers’ does have a subject and it is about a book George once read. It’s interesting, it keeps it interesting having vocals that are actually about something. It is fun and a lot of bands have been very successful doing that. If you’ve just got songs that are about… toffee, it’s like “OK, this song’s about Toffee…” and it detracts…
I hadn’t realised that you didn’t write the lyrics, but as a vocalist are you hoping to put your own voice in there or are you happy to continue working in this way that’s more of a Maiden partnership where you’ve got the musicians writing the lyrics as well.
Well, the thing is, George is very good at what he does, as is Dan, so it’s kind of “if it’s not broke, don’t fix it!” And I’m very happy with it. If I can contribute, now that we’re all established and know each other better and they know what I’m capable of, then I can probably contribute. I’m looking forward to at least attempting to contribute but seeing as I haven’t really ever done much lyrically in the past, I’ll have to see how it goes. But I think I can write deep enough to do some stuff. It might not be a story, it might be more life experience from my perspective, but yeah, I’m looking forward to doing it and there’s no issue with me doing it. One side of the publishing deal we signed was if any of us choose to get involved with the writing process, we don’t have to draw up a million more contracts, it allows that to happen. So, I would say I’m more than happy leaving those guys to do it, but if I can add something good I will. I certainly added a few things here and there vocally with the melodies, just doing notes that I’m more comfortable with, or in some cases add to it. When I heard ‘winds of change’ for the first time, the intro was all one octave and it built up to the song, but messing about in rehearsal once I decided to do it in the higher octave and unfortunately George loved it which now makes the song absolutely killer to play live. Luckily, we haven’t done that for a while, but yeah, little things like that and they’re very open to it which is great because it’s not a dictatorship by any means, anyone can come up with what they like. If it’s good we’ll do it.
it’s quite unusual in a band with just one EP behind them to do a record that’s effectively a double album (in vinyl terms), it’s seventy-odd minutes long, so it’s obvious there was material built up prior to the record, but then, of course, it’s a challenge to make sure the record flows and doesn’t drag – was that something you spent a lot of time on?
Yeah, well thank you as a start but yeah George and Dan did have a lot to do with that and they did discuss. They sat down listening to things, we changed the names of a couple of tracks here and there and also the order, but I’m glad you said that we got it right because it felt like we did. It takes work and we had to distance ourselves from the band and try to pretend that you’re listening as if you’ve never heard it before. But yeah, you’re right, I think one of the strong pints of the album is the diversity, there are a lot of different dynamics going on and there are slow songs, heavy songs, mellow bits in heavy songs and it all comes together and I think, originally, we were going to put ‘dying embers’ as the last track, and then there was a discussion and we ended up putting ‘behind the mask’ which, for me, finalises that chapter of the band. It was a good choice.
It is a bit of a struggle to get people to buy physical albums now, so getting the artwork right is a big deal, and your album has a great cover – how much control did you take in getting the artwork together.
that’s an interesting one. We had pretty much all the control up to a point. If you ask an artist to do something then it’s their own interpretation so there’s not a thousand percent control but most of it. We asked this guy called Gus who did the majority of the inlay stuff and the internal artwork but, because it got delayed (we went on tour with Maiden), we met a guy called Adam Ford who did… something on the Maiden tour… but he is an artist and I was blown away because I saw him and he was just using an iPad drawing on it like it was a bit of paper. I thought it was unbelievable and he sprung an idea on us and without really saying anything he just bought this thing that he’d drawn and asked us what we thought and we all thought it was fantastic so we had a few more talks and he came up with the idea of the… well we had the idea, but he put it into practice where there’s a raven skull on the front with armour on it and then you open it up and there’s a raven skull without the armour. He did all that on an iPad and we just thought it was brilliant. It was better than the original cover we were going for so we went for that.
As a band, you’ve had considerable success with high profile support slots, so what are the plans? Can we expect a headline tour?
Well, that’s always the endgame. We always want to be doing a headline tour, but as it happens we have been very lucky with whom we’ve been supporting. There’s the connection there and you’d be stupid not to make use of that where possible and for us it’s just proven that we can stand on our own two feet and there are a couple of these tours that have come out of us bot having any of that world already known to us. We’ve seen people going out on tour, put ourselves forward and we’ve got it and, really, it’s a difficult question… especially when the rest of the band have shown up and totally thrown me off!!!! I can’t remember where I was…
Touring and headlining vs support slots
Yes, so obviously, the support slots we’ve had have been fantastic but we need to make that dive into the headline stuff. Ideally, we need to do the festival, get that done and then potentially maybe one more support slot, and hopefully high profile, and then it’ll be time to really press the album and get on a headline… that’s the end goal, the dream. Everything starts getting even more serious, but once you’ve supported Maiden, it’s very difficult to see anything that seriously ever again. It’s such a monumental thing to have done – to play 71 shows with them over six months is ridiculous. I know people who would chew off their own arms to be in that position and we’ve just done it! Hopefully everything’s going well and the world’s our oyster.
With so many dates has the band become a full-time job?
Yeah pretty much before the Maiden tour we all quit our day jobs and I was in a good position because I work for my parents doing plumbing and heating, so I can do the occasional bit of work for them, but it’s kind of weird – you’ve just got off a six month tour, you’ve played to sixty thousand people in Chile and then all of a sudden you’re fitting a gas fire… it’s just the weirdest thing ever, but yeah money has to come from somewhere and at this stage it’s very difficult because a lot of the cash flow has to be reinvested, so it’s tricky. Dan got made redundant when we left for the Maiden tour, but it’s been difficult, but we’ve had a lot of support from family and friends, you get through those moments and it’s been good.
Any final words?
Yeah, buy the album! Even if you don’t like metal, buy the album! We’ve shown it to a lot of people who aren’t into metal and they still like it, so go buy it! It’s got a lot of melodic vocals, and not quite Miley Cyrus but we’ll get there… no, we will never get there! Playing Hammerfest today was really cool, I was surprised how good the crowd were for a 3PM slot… Cheers!