Rage – “Seasons Of The Black” (Nuclear Blast)
30 years in the passing, 22 albums on, more than 5 million records sold with over 40 chart entries, and it seems almost unbearable that this iconic heavy speed metal band aren’t a bigger name outside their native Germany. Despite branching out into the neoclassical towards the mid 90s with the Lingua Mortis Orchestra that granted them greater recognition, the mega stardom nut was never cracked – and perhaps never meant to be? Now in his 50s, founder bassist guitarist Peter ‘Peavy’ Wagner has spoken of this desire to take the band back to its harder, more straightforward style pre-LMO, and with the departure of longtime guitarist Victor Smolski, along with his neoclassical warblings and orchestrations, this has been achieved by the recent recruitment of Venezuelan guitarist Marcos Rodriguez and drummer Vassilios ‘Lucky’ Maniatopoulos (a former drum tech and apprentice of famed Rage drummer Chris Efthimiadis). Rechristening Rage with the release of last year’s “The Devil Strikes Again”, typical mixed reactions ensued from those favoring the different era sounds of the band, but undaunted, ‘Peavy’ has quickly followed up with this release, which pretty much continues in the same stride. Right off, I’ll say that despite the return to the straight up heavy style in no small measure owed to ‘Lucky’s pounding speed drumming, it’s the astounding melodies from Rodriguez that really make the difference here. For those old enough like me to remember that heavy metal comfortably embraced both power and passion, then its in abundance all over the 11 tracks of “Seasons Of The Black”. From the ferocious double bass drum propelled ‘Walk Among The Dead’, the catchy melodies flick out amid the tornado riffing before an uplifting power metal chorus adds the balance, while on ‘Time Will Tell’ it’s more of a hard stomper with piston firing drumming before a hugely catchy chorus hits along with subtle harmonies very much in the NWOBHM style of Praying Mantis. Despite the speed in many places, there are equally more mid tempo arrangements and longer, drawn out solo passages allowing Rodriguez to show off his clearly brilliant technical prowess, but equally the huge passion inherent in his guitar work that has resulted in these great songs. An undoubted example of this is ‘Justify’, with its rich atmospheric opening sequence giving way to another catchy (along with Lucky’s heavy drums) riff that even hints of punk pop tones before another singalong chorus sends your heart – and your jaw dropping just in time for some chainsaw riffing! And if you wanted to know if Rage could do a ballad, then prepare for the touching ‘Farewell’ which mixes an ELO chorus complete with orchestral backings along with some impassioned vocals from ‘Peavy’ himself – quite a contrast to that grim cover ha ha. Definitely different, indeed he has wanted to take his band further with shows in Australia now being arranged and with this surprising album, new style and some very savvy band mates, it may just do it for him.