RAGE Seasons Of Black

By Daniel Höhr, European Correspondent
Thursday, August 17, 2017 @ 2:25 PM

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Seasons Of Black

Metalville/Nuclear Blast, 2017

RAGE has been a household name in German metal, at home as well as abroad. The veteran heavy metal/power metal trio around founder, vocalist and bass player Peter “Peavy” Wagner started as AVENGER back in the town of Herne, North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany back in 1984 and, along with BLIND GUARDIAN, GRAVE DIGGER, HELLOWEEN, and RUNNING WILD, soon became one of the German bands that, in the mid to late 1980s, dominated the German heavy metal, speed and power metal scene. After the release of the first studio album, Prayers Of Steel, the band was renamed RAGE in 1986. The history of RAGE has been marked by high productivity – “Peavy” Wagner and his various bandmates have put out 24 studio albums, 10 EPs, and four live albums – as well as collaborations with symphony orchestras, most notably with the Prague Symphony Orchestra on the Lingua Mortis album in 1996. The band has also changed line-up-wise a few times and has numbered musicians such as guitar maestro and composer Victor Smolski and drummer Mike Terrana (GAMMA RAY, SAVAGE CIRCUS, AXEL RUDI PELL, ROLAND GRAPOW, MASTERPLAN, etc) among its ranks.

The new incarnation of RAGE has been around since 2015 and is composed of Peter “Peavy” Wagner on lead vocals and bass, Marcos Rodriguez on guitars and vocals as well as Vassilios "Lucky" Maniatopoulos on drums and vocals. Seasons Of The Black is the second album of this line-up and comes out only 14 months after the 2016 release The Devil Strikes Again.

The sounds of howling winds, thunder and growling demons are sinister enough to give you foreboding of evil before the opening riff of the title track cuts in at a neckbreaking speed and “Season Of The Black” comes storming along in true and vintage RAGE fashion, setting the tone for most parts of the album: relentless riffing, pounding drum and bass onslaughts and a virtuosity of the guitar work that may not be exactly in the same league as Smolski's but that is nevertheless captivating and stunning and, above all, that brings back the traditional heaviness that was somewhat lost during RAGE's symphonic and neoclassical period. On top of that, there's Peavy's signature voice varnished with smoke and whisky – at least that's what it sounds like: guttural but melodic, sometimes growling (e.g. in the verses of the opener/title track), sometimes soaring (e.g. in the chorus of “Blackened Karma”) but always straight in your face.

At the end of the day, it is a question of taste whether you like this style of singing. I find listening to it for the duration of an entire album a bit challenging but I also find it eventually sort of grows on you. The intro riff of the second song, “Serpents In Disguise”, sounds very much like that of DIO's “We Rock” but this is where the similarity ends. The fans will delight in this song with its catchy chorus, which is so wonderfully RAGE. The outro is reduced to acoustic guitars, a marching band style snare drum and harmony vocals – a nice and quiet afterthought to an energetic up-tempo rocker. Peavy's thumping bass opens the third track, “Blackened Karma”, otherwise one of the more melodic songs on Seasons Of The Black, while the sixth track, “Walk Among The Dead”, is an extremely fast number, which encompasses a black metal style intro and an ultra-melodic chorus that, but for the thundering riffs, could almost have been borrowed from Irish folk. Track eight, the one-minute long “Gaia” finally gives you a short but at this stage badly needed moment of quiet to catch a breath, at least as far as I'm concerned.

The sound of birds, the acoustic guitar and the almost fragile vocal line take you to a completely different world but the short piece of music only serves as an intro to the next track, the mighty and epic “Justify”, musically one of the highlights on Seasons Of The Black. Next is . Not only is the title reminiscent of OZZY OSBOURNE's “Bloodbath In Paradise” but RAGE, just like Ozzy, also give their song a sinister sounding intro, which, in this case, mainly consists of minor chords played on the acoustic guitar and the first lines of the Latin “Dies irae” plainchant, which describes the last judgment and is traditionally sung in Catholic masses for the deceased. This particular piece of medieval music has fascinated musicians of all eras and has been quoted all over the place – by classical composers as well as various metal acts, most prominently by QUEENSRYCHE on “Suite Sister Mary” from Operation: Mindcrime. As effective as the “Dies irae” quotation may be, it's not terribly original but kind of serves the purpose here. “Blodshed In Paradise” would still be an astonishing track without it though. And finally, the balladesque and in places symphonic seven-and-a-half-minute-long “Farewell” features an anthemic chorus and is bound to send shivers down the spine of the toughest metalhead, especially when its outro brings back the acoustic guitars and the birds from “Gaia”.

Seasons Of The Black has all the qualities that are associated with the German three-piece around Peter “Peavy” Wagner. The new RAGE album sounds fresh, energetic and contains some breathtakingly superb playing and RAGE fans will be delighted that the band has regained its heaviness of former times. The album might not be the most innovative approach to power metal but maybe that's not the point here anyway. It is a solid piece of raging heavy metal made in Germany and is definitely recommended.

4.3 Out Of 5.0

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