The first thing folks will probably notice upon first hearing Count Raven is the fact that sole founding member/guitarist/vocalist Dan “Fodde” Fondelius sounds a hell-of-a-lot like Ozzy Osbourne, so let’s address that right here and now. To be perfectly honest, this fact has been one of the selling points for me with regard to this band’s releases over the course of the last two decades. The last Ozzy related release I actually bought and enjoyed was the Randy Rhoads tribute back in ’87, and early Count Raven records such as Storm Warning and Destruction of the Void have always done a marvelous job of reminding me just how much I miss associating that sort of voice with enjoyable heavy metal. However, if you’re the type that’s put off by “sound-alike voices,” you should probably take this opportunity to go roll around in the yard for a while.
Mammons War is the first record to come out of this camp in nearly fifteen years. Fodde and his two original co-Counts officially closed the book on the band back in ’99 because of continued personal relationship deterioration, but Fodde tried to push forward with new partners under the guise of Doomsday Govournment with little result. Not to be discouraged, he pulled his latest drummer along for the trip and recruited Witchcraft bassist Fredrik Jansson for a brand new Count Raven assimilation. The results: very familiar, and also very good.
Not much has changed in Fodde’s approach to doom after such a long hiatus. The music is still decidedly classic sounding with little regard for fresh trends, other than the trend of sounding “classic,” I suppose, and those already familiar with the band’s sound from previous releases will be happy to hear all the trademark Count Raven elements still present today.
One thing for damn sure, Fodde hasn’t spent the years just sitting on his hands – Mammons War features enough material for two albums, clocking in at 70 stretched minutes. That’s actually its biggest flaw, as far as I’m concerned. A fair bit of fat could have been trimmed for a record that’s easier to sit through from start to end, despite the many highlights on display.
Catchy rockers such as the opening “The Poltergeist” and the utterly infectious “Nashira” sound closest to the Ozzy/Sabbath years, but Fodde and crew truly shine when they bend the path closer to the grim. “Scream” still follows a relatively simple blueprint, but Fodde’s spoken word and the added lush keyboard atmospherics and moody mellowness introduced around the 2-minute mark make it one of the record’s grim stand-outs. Additionally, the distressing lyrical theme behind “To Kill A Child” (the first metal tune I’ve encountered that covers autism and filicide) is perfectly matched by the song’s dark, contagious flare, and it shifts from brooding acoustics to a crushing groove before culminating with an emotive spoken word verse damning society’s narcissistic tendency and too-quick-to-judge impulse.
The album’s peak, however, hits with the entirely surprising title track. “Mammon’s War” is devoid of anything other than 6-minutes of Fodde’s voice and multiple layers of pulsing, epic keyboards – very different than what’s expected from a typical doom band, but precisely the sort of element that helps Count Raven stand out from their many peers.
Add Count Raven to the weirdly extensive list of bands making a positive return to form in 2009 following a lengthy hiatus. Mammons War is a very enjoyable, engrossing release that should land toward the top of any doom metal aficionado’s “to investigate immediately” list. While there’s some fat that could have been trimmed, this record is packed with the sort of elements that will appeal to old and new fans alike. Score another notch in the win column for Fodde and crew.