The Cycle Never Ends fulfills the title of Ravensire’s debut LP by marching forward (although, technically the debut was entitled We March Forward). This is not only a more mature album than the band’s debut LP with regard to songwriting, but it also contains superior production and more captivating, cohesive storytelling. So, come with me across the Atlantic Ocean and into the castle-filled hills of Portugal where armies of good and evil prepare for battle. Be advised: for the adventure you will need to don your armor and boiled leather, stock your satchel and strap on your double-sided battle axe. It is only then that you can accompany Ravensire as they gallop forth to wage tradtional metal war upon the mute masses.
Having played in various other bands in the various metal veins, the boys in Ravensire are no strangers to straight-ahead, fast-paced, gritty metal. But Ravensire represents the sole outlet for this quartet to hone their epic metal skills and pay homage to the musical warriors of old (and by “old” here, we mean the early 1980s), as well as artistic warriors like John Buscema (specifically his artwork for the 1970s Conan comic-book). As with such contemporaries as Grand Magus, Ironsword and Visigoth, older influences like Manowar, Cirith Ungol and Manilla Road are clearly audible throughout. Ravensire even cite Omen and Brocas Helm as their main influences, and there’s enough Maiden dolloped throughout make everyone happy. Vocalist Rick Thor channels his innermost true grit by harnessing a combination of JB Christofferson and Lemmy, yet he delivers his vocals nonchalantly, almost conversationally, as if he’s making them up on the spot. The result is a galloping work of majestic folklore covering ocean, land and the sandy shores of conquest.
Though The Cycle Never Ends never gets back to the umph and gallop of the opener “Cromlech Revelations,” the album remains upbeat and frollicky throughout, with the crunch of the guitars being exactly what you expect from a band that sounds as if they are pumping Marshal 800 stacks with the gain bolted down at a solid 7/10. “Crosshaven” is a great example of classic heavy metal guitar playing, from the opening riff to the melodic, pentatonic-laced, pop-blues influenced solo. While the lead guitarist may have difficulty keeping his fingers up to speed with his thinking, there is precision and skill aplenty in the rhythm guitar work. (The lead guitarist, Zé Rockhard, has since been replaced by Mário Figueira). For example, “Trapped in Dreams,” one of the few songs that doesn’t focus on a swinging rhythm, showcases the band’s love of methodical, slowly building arpeggios and linear riffing — the same kind of riffing and chromatic arpeggios that feature throughout the album’s main riffs, loquacious bridges and methodical soloing.
The final three tracks, the “White Pillars Trilogy,” open with Pallbearer-style doom influences. The guitars enter with mournful, almost arabesque lead lines before the characteristically Ravensire sound descends. The trilogy is meant to be the band’s opus–a singular work spanning 16 minutes and telling loosely factual histories of Sintra, Portugal. Just short of five minutes, it’s “Blood and Gold” (Part II of the trilogy) that stands out as the most successful of the three. Rhythms alternate between straight forward and swinging; the guitars bounce from harmonizing to very precise triplets in time with the drums; the alternating rhythms, from the fastest on the album to an Alla Breve, or cut-time, rhythmically reinforce the lyrical story of King Sigurd sailing to quell the Moorish settlements on the shores of Portugal. It’s tracks like “Blood and Gold” that will hopefully anchor Ravensire stylistically on their next work.
If there is a critique to be made, it’s that the album itself is a bit “one-note” in its pacing. The inclusion of a ballad might serve to break up the flow and re-establish the surging rhythms, rather than allowing them to drone on and grow weary like the bobbing of a small ship in the open ocean. While they come closest on both “Procession of the Dead” and their final track, “Temple at the End of the World,” it’s too little too late to break up the monotony.
But, if you’re looking for an upbeat, swing-paced album, you won’t be disappointed. Ravensire is, for all intents and purposes, another of the many 80s revival bands, but their songs put them a step above, with the vocals adding a leather-clad, biker gang-type vibe to the music. It’s almost as if Bob Seger and his Silver Bullet Band were on a vision quest to seek the Holy Grail of prophecy stones at the altar of the Sun Gods. And, like Bob Seger, who sings very clearly about alcohol, sadness, visions of soaring eagles, motorcycle rides and being uplifted, Ravensire provide a clear picture and storyline for the listener to follow. Stock up your saddlebags, hop on your steed, be it iron or thoroughbred, and gallop off into the mountains with Ravensire blasting.