Sound — 8
Hailing from Germany, formed in 1984, Rage have been one of the metal scene's best kept secrets. Covering thrash, speed, power and even progressive and symphonic metal in their 30+ year career, they've reached a very wide audience, and this new album should cement their place as one of the best classic German metal bands.
This album has no lack of epic thrash-inspired riffs, right from the opening paces of the title track, which sound like they could have been ripped straight from the best albums of Metallica or Megadeth in the '80s. These riffs are matched by powerful and catchy choruses, like the ones in "My Way" and "Deaf, Dumb and Blind." There are progressive elements in songs like "War," which rocks a verse that almost sounds a bit like early Dream Theater (maybe even harking back to their Majesty days), or the closing track "The Dark Side of the Sun," with its slinky verse riff and powerful vocals. There are throwbacks to nearly every possible '80s metal trope in the book, whether its references to glam-metal bands, Randy Rhoads-esque riffs and solos, Maiden-style harmony guitars, Blind Guardian-esque gruff vocals, big drum fills... It's an album that really takes you back to a very classic time for heavy metal.
Peter "Peavy" Wagner remains the band's only original member, and its only constant over the past 32 years. Joining him are guitarist Marcos Rodrigues and drummer Vassilios "Lucky" Maniatopolous, new members as of 2015, after a bit of a lineup shuffle (though strangely, one of the classic lineups recently reunited as the band "Refuge," playing material from their early '90s era), and they very ably handle the classic callbacks of the album's sound. Marcos is an incredible guitarist, whose solos in the title track and "Spirits of the Night" are definite highlights. Vassilios' drumming is powerful and exact, giving the classic metal style a lot of punchiness. Strangely, it's Peavy's vocals that are kind of the weak point of the album. While he is a very capable vocalist, there are some moments that seem a little overly pitchy, but I won't complain too much about this as it shows the band really went for an approach that forsook pitch-correction, but it can be a little odd if you've been listening to a lot of pitch-perfect vocals. And sometimes, his choice of singing voices may seem a little misplaced (I know I certainly wouldn't have sung the cover of Rush's "Bravado," one of the bonus tracks, the same way). His bass playing, while far from virtuosic, gets the job done, but he has a great bass sound, and it's captured quite well on the album. The production is very similar to those of his '80s contemporaries, very heavy without being too overpowering, and it's always a real treat when you can actually hear the bass guitar on a metal album!
I will say that the first half of the album is definitely the stronger half, with a lot of faster-paced songs and a bit more musical variety, while I feel the second half tends to plod on a little more with more slow tempos and kind of samey-sounding songs. Not to say that there aren't any good songs in the second half, with strong contenders in "Spirits of the Night" and "The Dark Side of the Sun," but there definitely does seem to be more headbanging going on in the first half.
Lyrics — 8
Many of the lyrics on the album come from Peter "Peavy" Wagner's own perceptions of the world, and his dark, morbid mentality. Death, spirits, anger and pain are common themes throughout the album, though there's sometimes a ray of hope in the lyrical themes at play. That said, many of the lyrics on the album take on a very dark, negative view of life in general. Take the lyrics from the song "Spirits of the Night": "Like a cancer that's in the flesh/It's eating up my brain/Just a spiral downwards bound/All hatred turns to pain/Waking to the light/Perception makes me scream/'Cause reality/Is worse than I could dream." Or the chorus from the title track: "Now the devil strikes again/Faster than light/Back into my life/Devil will strike back again." These are very typical of the lyrical themes throughout the album.
As mentioned, Peavy's vocal style ranges from a gruff, almost quasi-harsh vocal grunt to soaring melodic vocals. Unlike many modern metal vocalists, he opts out of using pitch correction and post-production trickery on his vocals, leading to an all-too-rare honest approach to a vocal performance. Once in a while, though, it shows a little bit more than I would like it to, but I really have to commend Peavy's performance for still being very commanding after all these years. There are times where his vocal style might remind one of James Hetfield (even leading to him having a VERY authentic Papa Het-style "yeah-ah!" in "Deaf, Dumb and Blind"!), and at others he might remind you of Blind Guardian's Hansi Kursch (check out the bonus track "Into the Fire" for a great example of this), but his voice seems well-suited to both the band's thrash and power metal approaches.
Overall Impression — 8
Presenting an album chock full of throwbacks to the heyday of heavy metal might seem like a bit of a risky venture, with metal fans in this day and age being divided on whether the genre should progress or stick to what it does best. And while this album isn't a very progressive release, being firmly planted in its 1980s roots, it does a very fine job of sounding fresh and classic all at the same time. Strangely enough, this album never truly felt dated or "retro" to me, or at least not in an over-the-top and cheesy way. It's a very honest record, musically, and the band's power-trio lineup really distills the sound of the band's style to its most basic elements. There aren't a lot of keyboards or ambient guitar filigrees to be found on the record, just a lot of solid thrash riffs and pounding drums glued together with solid bass playing and honest, unaltered vocal performances, and that is becoming a rarer and rarer set of ingredients in metal these days. I could go on mentioning even more about what bands this will remind you of, and if you long for a band that brings back that kind of raw, badass approach to metal without any of the real modern trappings of it, this is an album made just for you. And if you're looking for something that still sounds fresh and epic, there's still a lot to love about this record. Rage did a wonderful job on this album, using only the most basic sonic ingredients, a lot of dark lyrical content, and their honest skills as musicians. I'd say the only real missteps on this album were the pacing of the track list (with too many of the slower songs in the middle and close to the end), and their decision to cover Rush's "Bravado" (from their "Roll the Bones" record) in the bonus tracks. Besides these minor issues, this is a great metal album for people who are still yearning for the sounds of classic metal.