Monday 29 April 2024

Rage - Afterlifelines (2024)

Country: Germany
Style: Heavy/Power Metal
Rating: 7/10
Release Date: 29 Mar 2024
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Rage are one of the few metal bands from the eighties to survive to the present day without any blips in service, having stayed together as Rage since 1986, plus another three more years before that if we count their time as Avenger. They've always been prolific as well, this counting as their twenty-seventh studio album, but they appear to be bursting at the seams with new material, so much so that I actually missed their 2021 album, Resurrection Day, after enjoying 2020's Wings of Rage enough to give it a highly recommended 8/10. I did cover Spreading the Plague, their 2022 EP, though, and I didn't want to miss this double album, their first such, even if I'm a month late.

After a deceptively soft intro, In the Beginning, they shift instantly to full gear for End of Illusions and Under a Black Crown and we're off and running. I talked about their particular balancing act in my review of Wings of Rage, how they're often "up tempo without being thrash, heavy without being death, powerful without losing melody." That phrase applies to these openers and to many others as the album runs on, such as one of my personal highlights, Dead Man's Eyes, which also adds a little death metal crunch. There are a few hints at extreme metal here that remain hints only, especially through harsh moments in songs like Dead Man's Eyes and Lifelines.

Other songs drop the pace a little, never too much, remaining heavy but maintaining their sense of melody. Afterlife, Mortal and Toxic Waves fit that bill and they're just as tasty as the fast ones. Waterwar shifts between the two modes, mostly staying in the slower mode but punctuating the verses with a neatly fast machine gun riff, almost a call and response with vocalist Peavy Wagner. This is another highlight for me, aided by a strong guitar solo from Jean Bormann. I've liked this new Rage with two guitarists, but Stefan Weber has gone on hiatus for health reasons, so they're temporarily back to being a trio for now, with Bormann handling both lead and rhythm.

The double album is broken up into two albums with different names, Afterlife and Lifelines. The former, from In the Beginning to Life Among the Ruins eleven tracks in, that includes everything I mentioned above except Lifelines, is consistently strong with a few highlights: Dead Man's Eyes, Waterwar and a third called Justice Will Be Mine, which is a clear single with an emphasised melody that's almost Celtic in nature and a neat slow heavy section in the build up to the finalé. Not everything is up to that quality but there are no bad tracks here and I wouldn't call any average either. All are good heavy/power metal songs, with some of them merely a little better than others.

The second album continues in the same vein except that there's an extra element in play that's a tasty addition. That's made obvious in Cold Desire, which kicks it off, beginning with sassy violins and piano that don't disappear when the song launches into the usual mode, those violins happy to hang around in the background to keep playfulness in power. And they continue on throughout the rest of the album, with orchestrations woven into the sound by pianist Marco Grasshoff. That isn't a new approach for Rage, who collaborated with the Prague Symphony Orchestra on Lingua Mortis in 1996 and continued to include orchestration from the Lingua Mortis Orchestra on later albums, like XIII, Ghosts and Speak of the Dead.

I'm all for that approach, for which Rage should be credited as pioneers, and there are a host of neat touches on this second disc that are emphasised or indeed created by the violins and piano. However, I found the songs a little less effective on the whole than on Afterlife. There are obvious exceptions, like Cold Desire and the highly ambitious Lifelines itself which are highlights for me, but there are fewer of them and the lesser material isn't as strong. I should call out Dying to Live too, which is a ballad that turns into a power ballad but, shock horror, sounds good to me.

Much of the reason Dying to Live works is the vocal performance of Peavy Wagner. He's never had the best voice in rock music in the traditional sense and I'm sure a vocal coach could find all sorts of little issues to highlight, but he has a strong balance between power and melody that any band like Rage need to thrive so I've never cared. However, he sells Dying to Live by endowing it with an emotional lead vocal through plenty of nuance. He continues that into The Flood and it's there on the final track, In the End, too, Bormann joining him for good measure.

In the end, I think I have to go with a 7/10 for this and feel a little guilty about it. There's a lot here that's worthy of an 8/10 but I don't think it's quite consistent enough over nearly ninety minutes to warrant that. There's well over an album's worth of really good material here, so I'm tempted but there are enough other songs here to pull it back down. Maybe I'd have gone 8/10 for Afterlife but a 7/10 for Lifelines, the result being the sort of 7.5/10 that I don't give out. Really, though, to keep me debating that after ninety minutes ought to tell you that this is worthy.

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