Count Raven’s inability or unwillingness to conform their creative vision into a compact and accessible style may have been the bane that obstructed their success, but it is arguably more important to consider that their loose dynamics instilled something precious that has not yet faded from their charm. High On Infinity takes everything the first two albums had and elevates it with perfected grace, creating the magnum opus of Count Raven’s metallic voyage. By this point, the band’s style matured to a pretty oddball assortment of minimalism and experimentation, tracing its roots across a sonic spectrum as wide as Sweden is north of the equator.
The pummeling guitar style of Dan Fondelius is an absolute storm of distortion and octaves tastefully delivered with an ambiance that is unique to Count Raven. High On Infinity’s rhythms constantly sound like they are about to implode in on the band and become an abomination, but this tension actually embellishes each song and draws attention to the expressive tones. Even the monochromatic drumming eventually feels right at place in the maelstrom. One could in a sense compare this group to a myriad of classic doom metal bands, but no comparison would stick with absolute accuracy. Count Raven carved their own niche by unleashing something that was almost considerably atmospheric punk. Saint Vitus and The Obsessed may have been the only other bands out of the 80s doom metal scene that managed such a comparable sound, but whereas Scott ‘Wino’ Weinrich had a fondness for grooves, Fondelius was far more tuned into a wild and weird vision. The music on this album slithers and crawls, inducing a hypnotic trance upon the listener, as vocalist and guitarist Dan Fondelius croons poetic omens of ill fortune over his own bewitching riffs that inevitably explode into frantic guitar solos which are the best in his career..
Count Raven’s use of the keyboard adds an operatic ambiance on the album, which is immediately recognizable on the opening track “Jen.” The keyboard notes form a tone of melancholy over simple riffs that flow over the track, which is an example of that raw punk sound clashing with atmospheric artistry, as I mentioned earlier. This technique is frequently used over the course of the album. While sometimes the band goes into ambitious places that strike me as similar to Candlemass’s earlier work in terms of atmosphere, other times they dip into a blues folk template such as on “The Madman from Waco,” which is as much inspired by Black Sabbath’s early work as “Masters of All Evil” feels like it draws inspiration from the former.
Although at times High On Infinity does sound repetitive, Fondelius does do a good job of milking the same riffs over and over again without causing too much abarasion to the ears. Once you’ve been through the first five songs, you’ve pretty much been through the entire album, but unless you’re forced to listen to it every day for six weeks straight you probably won’t hate it. Dan Fondelius does a good job of pinpointing where the groove needs to change in a song, which certainly helps on some of the longer songs, so that it doesn’t get too monotonous and remains satisfying as all hell. If you’ve been through the ringer on the doom metal genre, you basically know what you are in for anyway, which is a tempo that your grandma can outrun on the highway and chords that you can keep up with even after powering through multiple grams of marijuana. Count Raven certainly aren’t doing anything different in that respect, just look at the song “Cosmos,” a psychadelic jazz trip that concludes the album on a cloud of bliss.
Whereas the follow up album Messiah Of Confusion felt diluted by a lack of focus and an over abundance of templates borrowed from Black Sabbath, the creative energy on High On Infinity arches into the band’s apex. At no other point in their career was the band capable of filtering so many influences into such a formidable classic. The legendary Count Raven never managed to reach the status of other golden age doom heralds, but it’s easy to see why they have held onto a respectable cult following for decades. It is only righteous that we have their early work restored and rereleased.
High On Infinity will be released for the first time ever on vinyl via Metal Blade Records on June 15th and can be purchased here.