RAGE – “21”

Metal Church - The Present Wasteland

Germany has for many years been the “breeding ground” for some of the most impressive Metal bands around and even though naming the most important Teutonic Extreme Metal band of all time may well be a matter of personal choice, only a fool would doubt the fact that Rage, the Power/Thrash trio with Herr Peter “Peavy” Wagner at the helm for the last twenty years, may well be the most prolific of them all! Why? Simply because there are not many bands that I know from this part of the world who are about to release the 20th studio album of their career! Riding on the success of last year’s truly impressive “Strings To A Web”, the power trio prepared yet another album full of passion and raw energy – an eleven track opus entitled “21”.

One of the things that has made Rage such a unique and special band over the years is their ability to create compositions which combine orchestral and Heavy Metal elements in spectacular equilibrium so I was quite baffled by their announcement to separate these two musical worlds. “21” is to be the first album after a very long time that would be completely dependant on heavy riffs and catchy vocal melodies – something that all of a sudden felt quite difficult to achieve, or so I thought. Well, that might well be the case, had the band not featured guitarist Victor Smolski in its line up, but the six-string ‘wizard’ from Belarus, with the help of founding member Peavy Wagner and drummer extraordinaire Andre Hilgers, manage to create an album full of solid head banging riffs, catchy sing-along melodies and flamboyant guitar solos – an album that fans of both Heavy and Power/Thrash Metal will have no problem falling for!

The signs of “21” being a spectacular album were audible quite early on as, following the fairly entertaining short intro “House Wins”, I was totally blown away by the intensity and sheer craftsmanship of “Twenty One” – one of the first of many head banging tunes of the album. If you find yourself surprised by the low chorded guitar sound and the brutal vocals in “Forever Dead” then wait until you come in contact with the Accept-sounding riffs and the flamboyant solos of “Feel My Pain” – a classic Rage composition. “Serial Killer” is a song with an unusual rhythmical structure but which many interesting things to say and which cleverly paves the way for “Psycho Terror” – a seven minute track full of commanding riffs and breathtaking lead guitar parts that easily holds the title of “best composition” of the album. More catchy melodies and band vocal refrains can be found in the equally impressive “Destiny”, while “Death Romantic” comes across as a more stripped-down and straight-forward composition by comparison. In “Black And White”, Andre Hilgers proves why he was the perfect man to fill the shoes of Mike Terrana behind the drums, while “Concrete Wall” finds the band looking towards Megadeth for inspiration and the harmonic tunes of “Eternally” (what could be described as the power ballad of the album) allows enough room for this trio to impress you with their skills.

Last time I wrote a review for a Rage album was back in 2006 for “Speak Of The Dead” – an album that had great moments but which I believed was somewhat lacking balance and direction. On paper, “21” could easily have suffered a similar fate but this trio have managed to pull out all the aces from their collective sleeves and create what I believe is one of the best records in the band’s career! Getting hooked on these eleven compositions will not take long, courtesy of Victor Smolski’s sublime work on the six string, and the equally impressive contribution from the amazingly tight rhythmical section of Wagner/Hilgers. It may be quite early in year but I somehow doubt that we will get a better Power/Thrash Metal record in 2012!

John Stefanis

Rating: ****1/2 (4.5/5.0)