It's the year 1986 and the relatively unknown power metal band Rage
, formerly called Avenger, release their first album under their new name - Reign Of Fear
. Two years later, their third album Perfect Man
is considered an essential listen for the metal community. More successful albums follow, namely The Missing Link
and Black In Mind
. Towards the end of the century Rage change their style and come up with the experimental XIII
, featuring (again) a new lineup. Seemingly nothing can surprise us after that. But Rage prove the world wrong by releasing Welcome To The Other Side
, almost traditional power metal records with just a touch of prog, which culminated in Speak Of The Dead
, that blended all their previous styles together into an amazing album. Their next child, Carved In Stone
, sees the band settling down comfortably in the dead end called power metal zone. It's the year 2010 and the band embark on their 19th (!) journey - Strings To A Web
, marking almost a quarter of a century long contribution to the music world. Does the band still have something to offer?
It must cost a great deal of effort to conceive a good album, but it takes and even greater deal of talent and devotion to keep up the good work for several decades. Rage's career is marked by numerous line-up changes. The only original member of the band, bassist & vocalist Peter 'Peavy' Wagner, had only one aim - to always come up with something new and fresh. With his latest additions - the Belarusian guitar virtuoso Victor Smolski, who has been in the band for 10 years now, and drummer André Hilgers, one can be assured it isn't just empty words.
The guitarwork of Victor Smolski is, yet again, refreshing and full of energy. He has lost nothing of his enormous talent (with his father being a music composer that's pretty much a given) and widens his arsenal with an array of technical, galloping and heavy-hitting riffs. Furthermore, this guy is a perfect example that even an old dog can learn new tricks. As a result Smolski tries to pull of his best Michael Romero imitation, while adapting it to his own style - needles to say the results are truly excellent. Riffs in songs like Empty Hollow
or Hunter And Prey
would have easily fitted anywhere on Paradise Lost & The Odyssey. It goes without saying that Rage have always been thrashier than most of their counterparts, Hunter And Prey
being probably the thrashiest song on here. In the solos department, Smolski spices things up with his usual wailing and sweeping solos so typical for the genre, but his unique neo-classical technique adds a distinctive edge to the music.
The vocal duties are once again handled by Peavy and the old and tested formula works brilliantly - verses are pumped by aggressive vocals, while the choruses are pretty much all cleans and extremely melodic. You will be hooked onto them for days. Those who have followed the band's career since the beginning know that there hasn't been many experiments in the singing territory throughout the band's lifespan, but some exceptions, like the harsh and sometimes downright guttural growls in Saviour Of The Dead
, are to be found here and there.
Let's not also forget Peavy's role as a bassist. In the past many have struggled to hear his instrument properly, and while this time the bass isn't in the forefront either, there are some improvements. Steady rhythm background is provided flawlessly and we can even hear occasional glimpses of Peavy's talent (intros to Saviour Of The Dead
, the proggy middle-part riff in The Edge Of Darkness
On Carved In Stone
, Mike Terrana was replaced by André Hilgers behind the kit. While Hilgers is certainly a competent drummer and as such fits among other drummers of the genre very well, he's nowhere near as good as Terrana was. The rhythm section, thanks to his steady double-bass, is pretty solid and his fills are not completely unoriginal or rigid in any way. The only thing that bothered me though was his constant abuse of the china cymbals and I was expecting an August Burns Red breakdown any minute. It just feels like if Terrana had been still in the band and had the chance to contribute to Smolski's complex playing, the results would have been truly mind-boggling.
The quality of the songs themselves has significantly increased from their previous outing. Don't get me wrong, there are still some songs that would easily fit on there as well, but the tracks are less predictable and poppy, and more varied (well, for a Rage record, that is), so it doesn't get old quickly. The opener The Edge Of Darkness
is a traditional power metal fare though (except for the middle part of the song which has a Dream Theater feel to it). Purified
and Into The Light
are very similar too, with Purified
being an almost perfect Rage song, complete with heavy riffing and infectious chorus.
I don't live here
I'm just like a stranger
And my mind is
So full of hate and anger
I can tell you
My life is just an empty hollow
Orchestral arrangement is another thing Rage have tried to implement into their music (during the XIII - Ghosts
period) and which they've abandoned, a few exceptions aside (first half of Speak of the Dead
comes to mind), for the following 10 years. In STAW the Lingua Mortis Orchestra is back in the game and defines the magnum opus of this album, the 16-minute long Empty Hollow
, which alternates between various tempos signalled by the mere change of track number. It's composed of 5 songs and each of them gives the individual band members the chance to shine at which they're best at. Again, the orchestra serves to augment, rather than create, proof of this being nice harmonies between the strings and guitar in the first song of the quintet - Empty Hollow
, as well as an awesome chorus. In the follow-up Strings To A Web
, the orchestra takes a backseat to Smolski's tour de force, shifting between light power melodies to balls out heavy chugging, and from wailing solos to a crazy shredfest, whereas the third part of the epic is devoid of any of his marvels, if we don't count the minimalistic playing. Connected
gives Peavy the opportunity to shine as a vocalist, and then we're quickly thrust to the end of the whole thing, fittingly titled Reprise
, which basically sums up the ideas of the first song(s) and squeezes them under 2 minutes.
It travels in your mind
Through ages you'll find
Your dark past is alive
Through ages you'll find your love
There are two more tracks that break the traditional Rage formula. Saviour Of The Dead
is one of the most experimental songs in the Rage catalogue. Containing no clean vocals apart from the chorus and opening with a menacing bass riff, which is subsequently imitated by Smolski's guitar, the song itself is extremely groovy and noticeably slower, a side of Rage we've never heard of until now. It would've surely make Hammet proud back in the 90s. Through Ages
, the obligatory Rage ballad, is the exact opposite. Smolski lays down some beautiful and emotional playing and Peavy's voice is at its sweetest and most soothing, bringing back memories of such simple yet beautiful songs like Beauty
off Speak Of The Dead
. It's also very similar to Metallica's bittersweet Nothing Else Matters (only much better).
I didn't expect such a return to form after the lackluster Carved In Stone
, but the truth is that this may be the their best release in their new lineup (yes, even better than Unity
). If you enjoy power metal or prog rock in any form, this album is for you. If you enjoy metal in general, these guys have been working for 25 years now to deliver what you want.
Final score -> 4/5
The Edge Of Darkness
Into The Light
Hunter And Prey