"Barbarian Winter" is a perfect example of a release that starts incredibly strong and then completely looses its balance and capsizes. Metal Blade Records scooped up this epic heavy/doom metal squad into their ranks and released this album after many years of spotty activity; hitherto, Raven Black Night had released an album in 2004 entitled "Choose the Dark," and that, not counting some demos, had been the band's only significant release. Raven Black Night plays a hugely bombastic style of true heavy metalsomething like Black Sabbath and Virgin Steele becoming one entity. That definition is probably the best I can come up with, and since I love both of those groups, this should've been a nuclear meltdown of godly riffs, soaring vocals, and other remaining qualities that would make a Five Finger Death Punch simpleton's empty head explode. Sound awesome? Keep your pants on; they screw it up.
Raven Black Night and "Barbarian Winter" suffer from a horrible array of inconsistencies. It's quite sad, because the group's brand of heavy/doom metal is remarkably authentic and proud. Some of the exterior qualities of the record, especially the production, are phenomenally suited for this type of thing: the guitars are raw, the drums pound with lively force, and the bass churns underneath the concoction of the gods with utmost precision. Jim the White Knight (he was born in 1674), clean vocalist and guitarist for Raven Black Night, delivers a solid vocal performance, although I've read a lot of reviews trashing his voice. He sounds like David Defeis of Virgin Steele fame and Candlemass' Messiah, hitting a lot of romantic notes and over-the-top wails that are quite warm and loveable. I consistently notice a lot of the dude's vocal patterns are just about the same for every song, however; it's quite pathetic how indistinguishable they are.
The first few songs, though, are certainly not too shabby, and one would be nuts to ignore the wonderful content they boast. The first four songs feature Raven Black Night pretty much kicking every ass in the universe with boiling, catchy-as-polio riffs and wonderful decorations everywhere. Everything is awesome. They sort of stumble a bit throughout "Black Queen" due to its lackluster chorus and dire substance, but I can't complain overall. Not long after they begin screwing it all up, as if God himself had had enough of the molten goodness and took an icy piss on Raven Black Night's artistic capabilities. It all starts during the nine-minute title track. Everything is in order when it ignites: beating riffs, scorching vocals, and other metal-related rhetoric are found to be whole and in one collective piece.
But then, the last few minutes of the title track immediately shift from decent heavy/doom metal worship to harsh vocals and a death metal riff. Yes, death metal. I have no quarrel with death metal; I'm quite fond of it, in fact. However, Raven Black Night has no use or point bringing in these meager guitar parts and awful grunts, and they together work wonderfully in derailing what is otherwise an acceptable epic. Then, an awkward, sloppy cover of Black Sabbath's "Changes" that really has no place herelike the death metal parts on the previous anthem, it sounds misplaced and downright confusing. Then, a hard rock song with sultry lyrics and semi-forgettable musicianship. Then, ANOTHER ballad called "Nocturnal Birth," which is so stupidly similar to Black Sabbath's "Planet Caravan" that it should've been titled "Moon Safari." What the hell happened?
The closing "Angel with a Broken Wing" is a dirty heavy metal rocker that has its head in the right place, but it carries on for far too long and doesn't mix itself up enough to justify its length. Remember that radical paragraph about the decent songs? Well, most of them originally appeared on other endeavors and releases, so "Barbarian Winter" is pretty much a rerecording of Raven Black Night's previous material with a few extra filler numbers stuffed into the sandwich just to run up its duration. Not a good business model. This is just inanely disappointing when all is said and done. Raven Black Night does such a wonderful job showcasing authentic slabs of raw, beefy heavy metal the way it was meant to be portrayed at hindsight, but then the band begins biting off way more than it could chew with vapid songwriting and lazy musicianship. Sad.