Sunday, July 21, 2024

The Raven Age elevate their melodic sound on Blood Omen

RAMzine caught up with Matt James (MJ), the lead vocalist for The Raven Age, who shared insights about the band’s recent performance in London alongside Iron Maiden and their current busy summer touring Europe and playing at various festivals. During our conversation, we delved into their new album, Blood Omen, which incorporates symphony orchestra elements on select tracks. MJ elucidated that their band name, The Raven Age, holds a significant connection to the legend of ravens in the Tower of London. While not strictly a concept album, they weave this theme throughout both their music and artwork while introducing a character known as the Raven King who plays an integral role in their evolving narrative. We also touched upon several tracks from the album including ‘Serpent’s Tongue,’ praising its captivating guitar solo and its dual interpretation encompassing spiteful words or venomous speech.

The Raven Age | Photo by Benji Walker

Furthermore, we explored the popularity of ‘Grave of the Fireflies,’ a standout track from their previous album inspired by the Studio Ghibli film. MJ expressed how it has become beloved among fans and hinted at plans for an exclusive Japanese release. When asked about future albums, he confidently revealed that they have discovered their unique sound as a band and intend to persist with that distinctive style in forthcoming releases. All this and more can be read in full here on RAMzine.

RAMzine: We saw you guys play in London the other week, supporting Iron Maiden. How was that show? 

MJ: Yeah, it was a great show. It was one of those ones .. because we’ve done over half the tour so far with those guys .. but being a London show, there’s a lot on the line as a lot of family and friends and people in the industry go there. So, we’re always slightly anxious about the hometown show. But it couldn’t have gone any better, I think. People really enjoyed it and I thought the guys played really well and the crowd was fantastic. So, yeah, we were really happy. 

RAMzine: Yeah, it looked and sounded really good. You mentioned while you were playing that it was good to be back in London. So, what has your summer been like? I’m guessing you’ve not been in the UK much?

MJ: Yeah, it’s been pretty crazy. So, we’ve been all around Europe. We did a couple of warm-up shows. We did our own show in Dover, which was great just to brush off the cobwebs. And then we did another one of our own shows in Vienna, that was in May. So it’s been quite a while since we’ve been out on the road. But all the shows have been great. We played some shows with Maiden. And we played some amazing festivals over the summer all around Europe. And yeah, there’s not been a bad show so far. 

RAMzine: You recently released your new album, Blood Omen, those tracks just sounded so good at the O2 Arena. Your sound is made for stadiums, I feel. How have you found the reaction to the new tracks? 

The Raven Age | Photo by Benji Walker

MJ: Yeah, it’s been great. We’ve obviously sat on these songs for quite a while. So, it’s been nice to get them out and play them. And obviously, it’s a very different thing to hear how these songs translate live. There’s how they sound on a recording, but how they translate to a live environment, you never know. But they’ve come across really well. And I think fans that know the band when we play songs like ‘Flederlis’ or ‘Grave of the Fireflies,’ they know these songs. But also, I feel like they’re open to hearing the new material as well. They’ve been going down really, really good and I’ve enjoyed playing them.

RAMzine: You used a symphony orchestra for some of your new tracks on the album?

MJ: Yeah, we were very fortunate to work with Audrey Riley. She’s an amazing violin player. She does string arrangements for some pretty big bands. She’s worked with Foo Fighters and Muse. And we got to go down to the studio to basically hear these live strings being recorded for the album. It was an amazing experience because we’ve done strings before, but it’s always been in a digital way. Now seeing them done to the kind of level that Audrey managed to do it at… it was a real treat. I think it elevated the tracks to a new level. It was really awesome. And I’d like to explore that more in the future. 

RAMzine: Yeah, and that would be really cool live as well. 

MJ: Oh, yeah, that would be great. I mean, we did a little interim album over the lockdown period called Exile where we got to work with a string quartet. And we did a stripped-back version of some of our songs acoustically. That went down really well. 

I think because a lot of our songs are based around melody it is always the most important thing. When you take away the big electric guitars and the drums and all that, it essentially gives itself up to this kind of treatment, I think, some other forms of music, it doesn’t, but it seems to work really well with what we’re doing. 

RAMzine: Starting right at the start of your new album, ‘The Changing of The Guards,’ your intro piece to the album. For me, I thought it’s like you’re passing the baton from your last album to the new album. Or is there something more behind that intro piece? 

MJ: Well, there is a bit of a theme around The Raven Age and the story behind the band name. The Raven Age’s name comes from the legend of the Ravens in the Tower of London. So the legend goes if the Ravens ever leave then the Monarchy falls. So the whole kind of changing of the guard, it’s down to the kind of gods. It’s basically around that whole Tower of London thing, that whole theme. And it’s not a concept album, but it’s just that we’re continuing on this folklore, which goes alongside the band name and the band story. 

The changing of the guard is basically the Beefeaters who watch over the Ravens, over the Tower of London. They’re being changed over while the Raven King character comes and takes back his Ravens. That’s the story behind that piece of music. 

RAMzine: Yeah, I was wondering about the Raven King because I hadn’t heard much about it, but then I read about it online and was interested to know a bit more about that storyline. Is the concept of the album based around that? 


MJ: So as I said, it’s not a concept album with the songs. It’s more like the cover art and the, it’s more we’re just continuing the story of the band’s name and the kind of story behind that. Instead of all the songs being written with a particular theme in mind there are loads of different themes that we touch upon on the album. You know, ‘Tears of Strife,’ there’s a Native American thing there, ‘Nostradamus,’ [a theme around predictions]. And then more mythical themes like ‘Serpent’s Tongue’. So there are loads of different kinds of concepts on the album, but with the main theme continuing throughout. 

Conspiracy (2019)
Conspiracy (2019)

We’ve hinted at the Raven King character on the first two albums. So obviously you see him in the artwork on the very first album, and you see him on the front cover of our last album, Conspiracy, but you only see his beak. It’s kind of like this cloaked figure. And we thought, you know, third album, we wanted to really present him in all his glory. And we, along with our Art Director Adam Ford thought that we want to bring this concept to life. And he really helped with that, and that’s what we essentially ended up with. And he’s going to be a big part of the Raven Ages story and our imagery going forward. 

Blood Omen (2023)

RAMzine: I wanted to ask about the track ‘Serpents Tongue’. The guitar melody on the guitar solo at just under three minutes in is epic! What’s that track about?

MJ: So it’s kind of like a double meaning, and the guitar solo on that song is probably my favourite on the album as well. When Tommy came in and showed us that piece of music, I was just pretty floored by that. It was very cool.  

‘Serpents Tongue’ is kind of like if you know people that have a spiteful tongue, people that have a venomous bite to their words. But for the video, we thought we’d try something a little bit more literal and a little bit tongue-in-cheek. So this is where we played up with a Medusa character and we brought that to life. But it still coincides with the double meaning, so we’re just kind of having a little bit of fun with that one. 

RAMzine: I wanted to talk about one of the tracks on your last album, ‘Grave of the Fireflies,’ because, well, I’m a sucker for those deeply emotive songs and obviously it’s got to be about Studio Ghibli film right?

George Harris | Photo by Benji Walker

MJ: Yeah, so that was one of George’s epics (George Harris – guitars). It’s based on when we first saw the film. I mean, I’m a big fan. I’ve been a big fan of Studio Ghibli stuff for years. It’s such a sad film. 

George had not actually watched that many of the films, but he saw this one and it spoke to him so much that it inspired him to write the song with the same title. It’s been not just a great song for us from a track perspective, but the way that it translates live. It’s been one of the big fan favourite songs on the last couple of tours. Whenever we play it, people get out the lights on their phones to create the fireflies in the arenas and it’s really quite special. 

We’ve done a special Japanese release of Blood Omen, and we’ve done something with ‘Grave of the Fireflies,’ even though it was on the last album. It’s one of those songs that people discover because of their love for the film. And then other people discover the film because of their love of the song. So it’s been really nice. 

RAMzine: Yeah, I think you managed to capture the emotion of the film really well in that song and that it makes that track stand out across your discography as something quite different. It’s a great track to hear that track live as well. Do you think that creating that track changed or developed your writing style at all? 

MJ: Well, I remember the first time George showed me the track and he showed me the lyrics first, and it’s one of those pieces, I think even if you just read it, read the lyrics from it without even listening to the music, it tells a story by itself. And it’s without a doubt one of my favourite lyrical songs that the band’s ever done and it’s also very difficult. 

It was definitely written without a singer in mind. It’s quite a difficult song to sing. I remember when we were in the studio recording it, it took a lot of work because there’s not a lot of breathing space in it. It’s got a lot of where it works melody-wise. But if I was to write something like that, it wouldn’t have come out [that way]. I would have made life a bit easier for myself. But I’m glad that it’s come out the way it has because lyrically it’s one of my favourite songs. I think that is probably one of Georges strongest writing strengths. 

So I really tried to up my game. That part of the songwriting was my favourite track going into Conspiracy, and I think it’s definitely become one of my favourite tracks to play live as well.

The Raven Age | Photo by Benji Walker

RAMzine: Yeah, it’ll be really interesting to see if you guys cover anything or write anything with the same sort of emotional depth as that track. I mean, that is probably one of the saddest films I’ve ever seen. 

MJ: Yeah, me too. I don’t think you can get sadder than that one. And it’s the animation as well. The animation is so unbelievable. I mean we really wanted to work with a Japanese animator for the film. Just the time that it would have taken to do that kind of level of music video for it ended up becoming the fifth or sixth release or something on the Conspiracy album, because it’s such a long track, it’s like eight minutes long. We never thought about releasing it as a single. We just thought, you know, keeping it as an album track. But it’s become such a fan favourite. I actually think that was the last track we released on the Conspiracy album cycle. It came on quite late. So in terms of doing that scale of music video, we would love to. Maybe we can still do it one day, do a separate kind of thing. But that was the plan originally. 

RAMzine: Yeah, I mean, I think people will definitely be interested in a new style video for ‘Grave of the Fireflies’. I wanted to talk about your track ‘Nostradamus’

MJ: Yes, so there are tracks which are written and cloaked in metaphor and ‘Nostradamus’ is a very literal one, and sometimes they can be the hardest ones to come about. The music came about very quickly for me for that one and I kind of had some melodies. That’s usually how I write a melody comes first and then I fit the lyrics in and the story around it later, usually anyway. And I have a little book where I write down concepts, things that I would like to write about in the future when it comes round to doing. So I have a little book and then I read, I think I watched a documentary about it during the pandemic and a lot of people said, that this was one of the things that was predicted. Anyway, it just got me interested in that again. And so the music came about first and I thought this would work to [some of the] melodic themes I was working with, it seemed to lend itself to finally [being able to] do it, and the difficulty I had with it was that I only hint at certain prophecies in it, like the very first intro. I hint at the fires of London that were, apparently predicted by him. And I went on more of a personal journey with it, of what it would maybe be like to be someone like him from a firsthand perspective. And that’s how the song went about. 

It’s not a very long song, and it’s more of a commercial song, usually a subject like that would be better for the eight/nine-minute tracks. But it seemed to work. And I remember coming up with the hooks for the chorus first and it all just seemed to work quite quickly. It was then I worked with George on the verses, lyrically, he helped me out with how we can continue the story, and keep it relevant to the theme in the verses. It’s one of my favourite tracks on the album, actually. 

RAMzine: Yeah, I really like that track as well. And I wanted to ask, what is your prediction for 20 years from now? 

MJ: I’ve got no idea. I’d usually just take each day as it comes. No point in predicting too much at the moment. I hope that we’ll still be here… we’ll still be around as a band. That would be nice. You know, having a lustrous career after 20 years, that’d be pretty cool. Yeah. Hopefully just positive stuff. That’s my mindset anyway. 

RAMzine: When you said I hope we’re still here, I immediately thought you meant the human race. 

MJ: Yeah, right now you could quite comfortably put that in any way you like. But yeah, hopefully we are and the human race. 

The Raven Age | Photo by Benji Walker

RAMzine: Yeah, fingers crossed for both! So Blood Omen really has stood out for me. It’s clear that you’ve upped your game in almost every element. But it just leaves me wondering, what is the next album going to sound like? Have you got any thoughts or anything in that direction yet? 

MJ: Well, I feel like the sound that we are, including the members that make up The Raven Age, I feel like we’ve finally come to discovering what The Raven Age sound is in its totality. Sometimes it does take a couple of albums, considering the first album, there were different members, even the addition of Tommy on the guitars for this album. It’s finally landed us in a state where [the direction] we are going, this is what we want to be as a band. And this is the refinement of our sound, whatever that is. 

But in regards to the album after that, I think just a continuation of this sound that we seem to have. And we do a lot of writing, the way that we work and our management works, we’ve already got plans for what the album after Blood Omen can potentially look like. So, yeah, more of a continuum of this. 

It was at the very beginning of 2019 that Conspiracy was released. So for a band nowadays to go that long without releasing another body of work is quite a long time and obviously, the pandemic and the fact that we couldn’t tour it was one of the main reasons why it’s taken us this long to release. But we certainly are not going to be taking that long to release a follow-up for Blood Omen.

RAMzine: OK, sounds great. And what else is next for the Raven Age? 
MJ: We’ve got a few more dates on this tour. We’ve got we’re playing in Dortmund tomorrow night. We’ve got a few more shows made and then we’re doing MetalDays Festival, which should be great. And then we’re finishing off the summer tour in Wacken, which is one of my favourite festivals in Europe. So that’s going to be the last date for us this summer. But then we head back out in October to do our own Blood Omen headlines tour, which we’re also really, really looking forward to. The shows are selling really well. We’re looking forward to doing that in October, November.

Editor of RAMzine - Creator of content. Chaser of Dreams. Lover of cats, metal, and anthemic sounds. \m/

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