It’s difficult to talk about music in an objective way. By nature, music is incredibly subjective, but as a reviewer and editor here I try my best to remove my inherent biases and look at music from a more objective lens. However, I will attempt to do no such thing today. I love Eternal Champion. In fact, simply saying that I love Eternal Champion is an understatement. I’ve been enamored with the band from the earliest days of the Last King of Pictdom demo and I’ve covered them multiple times over the years including an interview with vocalist and lyricist Jason Tarpey. It’s been incredible watching the band grow and release their debut album Armor of Ire, a record that I easily consider one of the best albums of the past decade. After four long years the band is ready to release their carefully crafted and highly anticipated sophomore follow up – Ravening Iron.
Upon my first listen of Ravening Iron, I was so excited that I could barely contain myself. By the time I finished the album I was stunned and not for the reason you might expect – I wasn’t in awe, but rather disbelief and disappointment. I closed my music player for the day and decided I needed to just try again tomorrow. Ravening Iron wasn’t at all what I expected. This wasn’t Armor of Ire pt.II. Eternal Champion have grown and evolved from release to release, so in reality I should have expected another change, but that just wasn’t the case. Armor of Ire is a staple of my listening rotation – and while I didn’t exactly realize it at the time – I really just wanted more of the same.
On my second listen of Ravening Iron, I realized just how absurd I was being. The album has only grown on me with each subsequent listen. The debut is a mystical and relatively fast paced epic. Ravening Iron by contrast is a decidedly more mid-paced and hard-hitting album. The riffs are slower and Eternal Champion make a point to bring in and highlight a number of new influences – you’ll hear quite a bit of thrash/crossover as well as bits of epic doom metal mixed in with the typical Eternal Champion sound that we’ve come to expect. It’s pretty clear that they were intentionally trying to expand the variety of sounds on Ravening Iron. Nothing demonstrates this better than the albums massive, doom laden closer “Banners of Arhai”.
This massive closer is a perfect representation of what makes this band so special. “Banners of Arhai” kicks off with a slow, serpentine Middle Eastern sounding main riff and it’s immediately apparent that this is Eternal Champion’s doomiest moment. The song marches along until about 4 minutes in at which point we hear Jason let out a blood curling “NOW DIE!” and a very familiar melody starts playing. The main melody from “Shade Gate” returns, but this time it’s slowed down and set to an epic doom metal backdrop. “Shade Gate” was the closer for Armor of Ire and it’s this type of thoughtful songwriting and construction that really set Eternal Champion apart from the sea of traditional heavy metal bands.
This thoughtfulness goes well beyond just the songwriting itself. Thematically, 7 out of the 8 tracks on the album feature lyrics that take place in Jason Tarpey’s own fictional universe. The lyrics of Ravening Iron are meant to be paired with Tarpey’s new book The Godblade, which was recently published by DMR Books. The only track not taking place in Jason’s universe is “Worms of the Earth” which is a reference to a short story by the great Robert E. Howard, who himself is a strong influence on Eternal Champion’s aesthetic. The lyrics on Ravening Iron are just as fantastic as they have ever been and this is only further highlighted by the new production style. The production here is less mystifying, but it’s clearer and punchier than on the debut album. Jason’s vocals are less buried than before and it’s clear to me that he’s improved as a vocalist in these last four years so the end result is simply anthem worthy vocal lines.
With these improved and clearer vocals, it shows that Eternal Champion were really listening to the criticisms that folks had for Armor of Ire. One of my personal main criticisms of the debut was the fact that it had one too many interludes and it was a bit too short. This time around, there’s just a single, 2 minute, brilliantly executed interlude – “The Godblade”. This dungeon synth track tastefully leads into “Banners of Arhai” and given the album’s run time of 37 minutes, it makes for a perfect, compact listen.
Of course while Ravening Iron is an excellent album in all regards it isn’t without its faults. The B side of the album flows perfectly and features a strong selection of tracks. The A side is strong as well, but it’s much more disjointed stylistically. Tracks 1 and 3 are mid-paced and chunky songs while tracks 2 and 4 are eloquent and epic. They’re all great songs in their own right, but the ordering doesn’t make sense to me from a musical perspective. This is a relatively small complaint given how well done the album is as a whole.
Don’t make the same mistake I did – Ravening Iron is not a rehash of Armor of Ire and more importantly, I strongly feel that this is an album that needs due time for its impact to become apparent. However, I can still safely say that Ravening Iron is primed to be my album of the year. Eternal Champion are one of the best active bands in traditional metal right now and this is simply another testament why.
Favorite track: Banners of Arhai