Spreading the Plague is an EP rather than a full length studio album, but then Rage knocked out a solid 8/10 album in 2020 with Wings of Rage and and very possibly another one in Resurrection Day last year, but I somehow managed to miss it. That one certainly did well commercially, with a shift to two guitarists, Marcos Rodriguez being replaced by both Jean Bormann and Stefan Weber. The three opening tracks here were recorded during the sessions for that album but kept back, not for quality reasons or even space reasons but because Peavy Wagner wanted, during COVID, "to have something special up our sleeve for our fans when we'll be able to tour again at last".
The something special for me is the third of these songs, The King Has Lost His Crown, but I'm not going to put the other two down. To Live and to Die is a punchy opener with some excellent solos in the second half from one or both of those new guitarists. I should mention here that Weber used to play lead guitar in Axxis and is currently also in Scanner, so Rage should be a comfortable fit for him. The title track serves as an almost laid back follow-up but it's catchier and it also features a top notch guitar solo. These are good openers.
However, it's the next track that speaks to me and that's The King Has Lost His Crown. It's a faster song and a more urgent one. The tempo is close to thrash speed from the outset and, while it does slow down, it initially slows down to a fast power metal speed and, after slower sections, it ramps back up to top gear again. Yet again, the guitars are highlights, but Wagner seems to be having a lot more fun singing this one too, with its hooks not reserved exclusively for the chorus, and Lucky Maniatopoulos has a lot more to do on drums too. Everything stands out here.
The good news is that the EP is only halfway done at this point, but the second half isn't remotely as strong as the first. I can't say that I dislike the acoustic version of A New Land, a track from the Resurrection Day album, because it has its merits, but it mostly serves as one more reminder that I should check out the album I missed. Sure, Wagner throws himself into this version and there's a neat electric solo behind the acoustic riffs, but this isn't ever going to be the focus of this release.
Neither is The Price of War 2.0, which was a single in 2020 right after Wings of Rage, so it has little purpose here except to fill a gap for any fan who didn't get round to buying it separately, even if it is a good song. Straight to Hell is even older, dating back to the 2001 album, Welcome to the Other Side, but this version is subtitled Live from the Cave, which isn't a concert venue but what must be a home studio, ironically given that it seems better produced than the original. It's a grungy song that often feels like groove metal, as did the original. This version feels less rough, as rough as it still feels, and it adds conversational callouts to fans across the world.
And so this is definitely one for the fans. The three new tracks are solid with The King Has Lost His Crown the highlight for me, but the other three are best placed exactly where they are, on the B-side of an EP where the die hard fans will enjoy them but the rest of the world won't ever notice. If you're interested in Rage but haven't heard them before, this isn't the best starting point and it's probably fair for you to drop a point off my rating because the second half won't interest you. You would be much be better off starting with a full album.
For fans, I have to say, a year late because I'm still kicking myself for missing Resurrection Day, I do like their new twin guitar approach. They haven't always been a trio—in fact, there were a pair of guitarists when I first heard them back in the mid eighties and again in the late nineties—but they have spent most of their career with just one guitar but I'm enjoying the benefits that two have to bring.