Rage has been around for fucking ever. If you consider that this is the band’s 21st record (I’ll bet you could’ve never told from the name), that means that these guys have been one of the most productive bands in the history of metal. Where other bands seemingly get to the point in their career where they’re putting out an album every four or five years, these guys have just continued being productive. However, just because they’re productive doesn’t mean that everything they’re putting out was golden. One can think about the drop off from 2006’s Speak of the Dead to 2008’s less than stellar Carved in Stone. But, of course, the band recouped and put out Strings to a Web with all the gumption a band of their caliber should have. So now here we have it, the band’s 21st record, named for the event, and coming out in just a few days.
While I’m not an expert on the band’s discography, I feel like there are basically two variations on Rage that you get. First, there’s the base of it all. At their very root, Rage is a German melodic thrash/power metal band with everything that entails. The songs are crunchy and riffy, but they ooze with hockey rink sing-a-long choruses and burst with NWoBHM melodic guitar duals and gruff, working class German vocals. You know what I’m talking about, don’t you? Like Udo Dirkschneider and Hansi Kursch’s bastard child, swilling whiskey playing bass and braiding his goatee “Peavy” Wagner is like my image of the German melothrash vocalist. And, honestly, he kicks ass. But then, beyond that base, there’s a choice: either you get balls to the walls thrashy, straight forward rocking tracks that have as much subtlety as a German telling a joke or you get a progressive, forward thinking and fascinating band whose writing is as good as its musicianship (which is ridiculous).
In my opinion, it is this contradiction that leads to a band that can put out records that are so different in quality. Unfortunately, 21 is much more the former than its forerunner was. From the opening casino themed clip, the band knocks out hockey rock anthem after hockey rock anthem with various levels of cheesy lyrics. From the more serious (and better) “Black and White” and morose closer “Eternally,” the guys nod towards the more nuanced side. But tracks like “Serial Killer” (with the winning lyrics “I am killing in serial…” which just makes me think of Green Jellö) and “Death Romantic” which are good musically, just get to be too much at times, even for this Angry Metal Guy who likes him some ESL power metal.
That’s not to say, though, that the album isn’t loaded with good songs. These songs all have fat choruses (the one in “Psycho Terror” will be stuck in your head for a fucking week), fantastic guitar parts—the solo in “Death Romantic” is a perfect example of this juxtaposition—and enough giddyup to make a listener nod his head in silent approval (and I suspect rage live). But what I miss from a record like Strings to a Web or Speak to the Dead is when Rage goes into Rush mode and breaks out a little bit of progressive goodness on our asses, which 21 never really does. It’s obvious that these guys can knock out catchy choruses and ballsy riffs in their sleep, but what I want is to be wowed by Hr. Smolski’s Mad Guitar Skillz™ and the band’s fantastic songwriting—but 21 is just feels a bit like String to a Web‘s b-sides. Good, sure. But could be better, too.