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Album Review: Count Raven – Messiah of Confusion

Count Raven’s Messiah of Confusion was the last album of the band’s original run; however, by no means did it lack all the strength of its predecessors. On Messiah of Confusion, Count Raven lyrically twists through jaded diatribes that poke at the establishment, existential crises, and moments of euphoric enlightenment paradoxically occurring in the midst of despair. If you have a particular interest in theology, you’re going to get it a lot on Messiah of Confusion, although that’s par for the course on any Count Raven release.

It may sound redundant to say that the strongest attributes of Count Raven are the strongest features of this album, but with no other Count Raven album would saying so be more true. Messiah of Confusion exists at odds with itself, sounding sometimes like a strained and tired last resort before surrender, but not without a handful of powerful punches. With only a string of releases that found no commercial success, it’s easy to see why the group vanished after this album, but despite never planting anything in the ground that shook the charts, the band unleashed an anima that became something of a spectacle in the underground. It’s little wonder why the classic albums have all been scheduled for re-release on vinyl.

The opening track “Prediction” may signal some immediate Islamophobic red flags, but the lyrical content also serves as an ominous warning about Europe’s fate during the peak of the Bosnian genocide. In order to appreciate the song fully, I had to step back and observe it as a product of its time. Not content to sit and write about comical themes of misanthropy and self pity, Count Raven took daring steps into a very real social problem and constructed a crusher nearly eight minutes long. From this window back into 1996, it’s also easy to see the roots of so much paranoia and bigotry that spread and festered into Europe’s problems today. Not a bad way to start an album in my opinion, especially when it’s going to be the last album that the band made between then and 2009.

The immediate influence of Black Sabbath is clear, but the striking guitar tone of Dan Fondelius is a tight sound that resonates powerfully and offers a unique twist on the Iommi format. The essence that drives Count Raven as a necessary chapter in the doom tomes is the artistry with which they use the foundation of old school doom and weave it in with their own vision. If you want a perfect example of this, check out the song “Shine,” which basically starts off as a Black Sabbath cover until it grows into a legitimate ass kicker worthy of observing on its own merits about 70 seconds in. The bonus track that immediately follows is an ingeniously added compilation of several Black Sabbath songs rolled over into one 10 minute long jam.

What I found lacking on Messiah of Confusion wasn’t creative fidelity, but a sense of general cohesion and structure on the album. Some of the songs feel like extra weight, such as “Shadow Box,” and the instrumental “Mountains Spirit” (sic) could have easily been the outro of “Fallen Angels.” There are moments sometimes throughout the album where Fondelius has something to say that feels brilliant, but it’s lost in the wild sound of Count Raven’s often manic song structures. Although I find the band’s labyrinthine writing to be endearing, similar to the rich evolutions of psychedelic inspired groups like Uriah Heep and Manilla Road, sometimes it just helps to carry something meaningful with a simple and pointed rhythm.

Count Raven gets a B from me for Messiah of Confusion. It hit in many of the right places and ends itself as a fit farewell for the outfit in that time period, but it doesn’t pose quite the impact of its predecessor High on Infinity. The musical themes sometimes add a sense of  altruism in spite of daunting and entrenched grief, and at times Count Raven’s experimental dabs at space rock and psychedelic befit the subjects of wayward bewilderment. When it comes down to it, Count Raven is an aptly named band; they may never have the prestige of doom metal monarchs, but they legitimized themselves in the aristocracy forever by closing out with a well defined run of albums during this classic run between 1989 and 1996.

Messiah of Confusion will be released on vinyl for the first time ever on June 15th through Metal Blade Records.

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