Steamhammer / SPV
rating icon 7 / 10

Track listing:

01. In The Beginning
02. End Of Illusions
03. Under A Black Crown
04. Afterlife
05. Dead Man's Eyes
06. Mortal
07. Toxic Waves
08. Waterwar
09. Justice Will Be Mine
10. Shadow World
11. Life Among The Ruins

01. Cold Desire
02. Root Of Our Evil
03. Curse The Night
04. One World
05. It's All Too Much
06. Dying To Live
07. The Flood
08. Lifelines
09. Interlude
10. In The End

No one could accuse RAGE of not making the effort. Beloved at home in Northern Europe, but perennially underappreciated elsewhere, the Germans have existed in one form or another since the early '80s. Initially seen as part of that decade's speed metal explosion, they have since become a permanent and adored fixture of the European metal scene, with a reputation for adventurousness and unpredictability. From soaring power metal anthems and tooth-loosening hard rock, to lavish concept albums and prolonged dalliances with classical music, RAGE have produced vast quantities of music over the last 40 years, and most of it has been fucking great.

But just to make sure that everybody has enough of the good stuff to last them for the next year or two, they have decided to make their 26th studio album a double. "Afterlifelines" arrives four years after the band's last album, "Resurrection Day", which was a showcase for a new lineup, featuring guitarists Jean Borman and (the now departed) Stefan Weber, alongside frontman Peavy Wagner and drummer Vassilios Maniatopoulos.

Back to a trio, RAGE are obviously not struggling to come up with new material. Comprising two distinct new records — "Afterlife" and "Lifelines" — and 94 minutes of new music, this either hugely indulgent, extremely generous or both.

As was more than apparent from "Resurrection Day", RAGE's latest incarnation is as powerful and creative as any in their complicated history. Although the first half of this mammoth escapade is rooted firmly in the melodic, thrash-tinged metal that has been this band's mode of expression for decades, songs like "End Of Illusions", "Mortal" and "Justice Will Be Mine" cover a huge amount of musical ground between them. Always a man with a gift for giant hooks, Wagner is on great, rasp form throughout, and showing no signs of losing an ounce of power, and he sounds as comfortable steering the borderline death metal stomp of "Waterwar" as he does amid the grand, prog metal reverie of "Toxic Waves". As an introduction to RAGE as a straight-ahead heavy metal band, this is as effective as any in their oversized catalogue.

RAGE have form when it comes to orchestras. Beginning with 1996's ground-breaking classical detour "Lingua Mortis" and then continuing at intermittent intervals with their own LINGUA MORTIS ORCHESTRA, they have more experience than most when it comes to blending the heavy with the heavenly. On "Lifelines", they give that relationship an update and a rigorous upgrade. The orchestrations are predictably slick and impactful, which is no mean feat when RAGE are in this kind of bullish, uncompromising mood. Songs like explosive opener "Cold Desire" and the melodic thuggery of "Root Of Our Evil" hold nothing back to accommodate strings or brass, and both band and orchestra have room to maneuver and shine. Again, Wagner's such a vocal pro that every tonal shift is masterfully handled, from overwrought bellowing in "Curse The Night" to endearingly flawed, folk rock crooning in "Dying To Live". Overshadowing the whole lot is "Lifelines" itself: a ten-minute symphonic prog metal colossus with gallons of melodrama, a killer chorus and enough windswept melancholy to keep all of Northern Europe happy (if not necessarily warm).

The downside to making such a lengthy record is that "Afterlifelines" demands rather a lot from the listener. Devoted fans will need no encouragement. Intrigued observers may think twice. But everything that has made RAGE such a steady and respected presence over the years is here in plentiful supply. 94 minutes may be, on balance, too much for most people to consume in one sitting, but as previously mentioned, nobody can accuse RAGE of not putting the hours in.

Author: Dom Lawson
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