REVIEW: RAGE – “Seasons Of The Black”
There is something in the waters of Germany. Literally hundreds of Teutonic bands have been blessed with the ability to play awesome heavy metal and kick serious ass, a gift that seems to be given by Odin himself to his European children in abundance. Rage, one of the pioneers of the European speed metal movement and one of the few to rack up more than 30 years of activity are definitely one of those gifted by the gods of metal, having played anything from heavy to full-on speed metal and even symphonic and orchestrated music (they obviously did it before Metallica, don’t worry).
Peter “Peavy” Wagner (vocals, bass) started Rage as Avenger with the highly acclaimed ‘Prayers of Steel’ back in the 1980’s, and never once stopped for air since then. Counting on the help of monsters of the metal world like Jörg Michael (ex-Stratovarius, ex-Running Wild, ex-Saxon, ex-Grave Digger and a ton of other bands), Manni Schmidt (ex-Grave Digger), Mike Terrana (Avalanch, Tarja, ex-Axel Rudi Pell, ex-Squealer, ex- Yngwie Malmsteen and also a ton of others) and Viktor Smolski (Almanac, Mind Odyssey) and many others, Peavy stacks up the impressive amount of twenty two studio albums (twenty three if you count the Avenger one) and shows no sign of slowing down, as ‘Seasons of the Black’ is set to be released in july 28th via Nuclear Blast. So, after more than 250 songs composed, does Peavy and his new brothers Marcos Rodriguez (guitars) and Vassilios Maniatopoulos (drums) have what it takes to remain relevant in the overwhelming metal industry?
Before ‘The Devil Strikes Again’ was released, Peavy stated out that he wanted to rescue that 1990’s vibe so beloved by us fans with more speed and power than before, but the album – albeit actually having a glimpse or two of Rage’s golden era – came out somewhat as lackluster for the hardcore listener (let me get something out of the way: I am a REALLY hardcore Rage fan. I own every album, almost every EP, have been to 8 Rage concerts in my life and I have the album cover of ‘Soundchaser’ tattooed on my left arm, so believe me, I know what the hell I’m talking about). This time around, though, I can safely say that ‘Seasons of the Black’ could – heresy apart – be called “End of All Days Part II”.
The title track starts out with a small chaotic intro and bursts into a ripping riff that tears your ears apart. The chorus borrows from the catchy and sticky side of Peavy’s songwriting abilities to form a really cool sing-along part, while the drum stays consistent and Marcos does a wonderful job with the lone guitar work. “Serpents In Disguise” continues the assault reminiscent to ‘End of All Days’s “Let the Bight Begin” in the lead guitars, while offering a similar experience in the chorus, with competent backing vocals and melodic lines.
“Blackened Karma” makes things a little bit heavier and slower with chugging riffs and a surprisingly good performance by Peavy in the chorus; for a 52 year-old bassist who’s vocal ability is not his best quality, the guy really delivers with some high-pitched screams and ever-melodic passages. “Time Will Tell” yet again reminds us of some select parts of Rage’s 1996 classic album and offers an awesome mid-tempo, upbeat track that’s easily likeable and – truth be told – is the best song to have nostalgia chills from. Great tune.
Another nostalgic experience comes with “Septic Bite”. Marcos’s riffs and style of play in this one is almost identical to what Manni Schmidt masterfully does in ‘The Missing Link’, with crunchy and powerful leads and great support by Peavy’s bass lines. “Walk Among the Dead”, despite being yet another good effort, doesn’t quite hooks the listener like it supposed to. The melodies are there, the lyrics are fine and the execution is good, but it feels like something’s missing in this one. “All We Know is Not” suffers from the same problems as the last one, but being a little more melodic.
The four remaining tracks are part of “The Tragedy of Man” suite. “Gaia” begins with a soothing, beautiful acoustic guitar intro accompanied by some nature sounds and Peavy singing in ballad-like tone, and when “Justify” begins it feels somewhat disconnected from this intro, but stabilizes into a cool and laid-back atmosphere. Allying melody with groove, Peavy, Marco and Vassilios manage to strike gold again and achieve an aura not seen since the ‘Welcome to the Other Side’ album by being sorrowful, yet fun and relatable. “Bloodshed in Paradise” comes next and borrows yet again from the more epic parts of the band’s discography. With some changes of pace and decent verses, the song doesn’t quite reach the high level of quality of its predecessor, but holds it well in the whole concept. “Farewell” fittingly ends the suite and the album; being the only track that uses symphonic elements, the association with ‘Speak of the Dead’ and ‘XIII’ is inevitable. It’s the slower song in here and does externalize the message of its lyrics well, but could have been better constructed.
The production and mixing values are decent but not mind-blowing, and the cover art is exactly what you can expect from a Rage album, with Peavy’s unique interest for skulls illustrated in it. The album will come with a bonus CD containing re-recorded songs from the Avenger classic ‘Prayers of Steel’ and the EP ‘Depraved to Black’ from 1985, so this is definitely a treat for the fans.
This is an improvement from the band’s previous entry and a good album overall, while my fan side is happy to see that Peavy is achieving his goals music-wise as rescuing Rage’s golden era, more so than ever, thanks (in a substantial way) to Marco’s veneration of those works, which translates in his playing. Filled with nostalgia and fan-service, the trio is on the right track once again and delivered a pleasing and approachable album for fans and casual listeners alike. Rage on!