Rage - The Devil Strikes AgainRage had a unique contribution to metal and was a throwback to the golden age of melodic heavy metal in the best possible sense of that word. These guys carried the torch proudly and […] they did it with a creative, idiosyncratic flare that made them as big as they did become,” wrote AMG himself in a premature and not-dead-yet type of eulogy in February 2015. A year and some change after the attempted disbandment, Rage, or rather mastermind Peter “Peavy” Wagner and two of his fresh henchmen, are back with new material along with grand ideas of a reinvigorated, back-to-the-roots energy and a rediscovered heaviness. Ominous promises that have in the end proven true for The Devil Strikes Again.

Because Rage’s 22nd album really does have more in common with their earlier recordings, such as The Missing Link and Black in Mind, than with anything they’ve made in the meantime, for better or for worse. The Devil Strikes Again is a raw, speedy, and unashamedly simple record built around crunchy, aggressive riffs, and a thrashy take on power/heavy metal that traverses straightforward structures born from a chorus-based formula. Gone are the neoclassical and progressive traits, gone are the orchestrations and any semblances of romanticism in the songwriting. While many might not agree, those elements more often than not enriched Rage’s style and helped them craft an intriguing sound (e.g. String to a Web). As a result, The Devil Strikes Again sounds like a flatter, inferior attempt that also lacks the exuberant, pleasantly catchy, and jump-inducing spices introduced during the Smolski/Terrana era (Unity, Soundchaser, Speak of the Dead). Rather, it opts for a darker, tormented theme that seems to exist in a curious dichotomy with the mood of the music.

To make matters worse and unlike Rage’s releases from the eighties and nineties, the simplicity in songwriting isn’t supported by a required, inversely proportional level of inspiration and instead becomes a burden. Having expunged the problematic element named “Smolski” from the band—Wagner doesn’t seem to joke as he rasps “My way or the highway, it’s heaven or hell” on the unbearably cheesy “My Way”— the band’s path has been reset and remodeled. But there’s an unfilled hole where Smolski’s guitar and influences lay. In hindsight, these circumstances might help explain how the ten solid but disappointing tracks on The Devil Strikes Again came to be. All of them very similar, of almost metronomic, short length, and left without room for progressions or developments. Few songs are worth mentioning among this bunch. “War” and the title track are presented as hardened arena rockers, “Ocean Full of Tears” would be a top-notch scorcher were it not for the furiously over the top chorusing, and “Times of Darkness” proves that Wagner can still write a good near-ballad. The eastern melodies infused in “The Dark Side of the Sun” show what a long way a little variation can take you and as such stands opposite to the mediocre mess that is “Back on Track” that not even a charming, if somewhat uninspired guitar solo can salvage. In all of these songs, heaviness makes a comeback but it can’t escape feeling hollow and strained, as if without a proper framework.

Rage 2016Musicianship-wise, Rage are still an impressive band. Wagner’s vocals are as pleasant as ever in their imperfections, and while guitarist Marcos Rodríguez and drummer Vassilios “Lucky” Maniatopoulos lack some of the finesse or flamboyancy of musicians such as Smolski, Terrana, and Hilgers, they fit their roles and simplified structural positions effectively, churning out relatively interesting riffs and direct, uncomplicated rhythmical patterns. It would be quite unfair to blame either of them of holding the band back. Finally, the production, mixing and mastering (courtesy of Dan Swanö) are reminiscent of the band’s previous record, 21, with Wagner’s bass pushed to the back, but with a generally pleasant, full, and well-defined sound that gives priority to the riffing without overwriting vocals and drums.

In the end, The Devil Strikes Again makes for a solid, yet frustrating release built on almost arena rock propositions but lacking catchy, memorable songs. While some fans will be happy to hear their favorite metallers going back to basics, AMG’s perception of a quirky and, at times, refreshing band might truly be dead.


Rating: Mixed
DR: 6 | Format Reviewed: 160 kbps mp3
Label: Nuclear Blast
Websites: www.rage-official.com | facebook.com/RageOfficialBand
Release Dates: EU: 2016.06.10 | NA: 07.08.2016

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  • Stefunal

    Aw, that’s a pity. Seems like we’re not getting another Lingua Mortis anytime soon, either.

    • Roquentin

      There were rumours of Smolski continuing with the project, but who knows.

      • CarvedInStone

        Actually he did continue the project. He calls it Almanac now. One of the female LMO vocalists as well as the keyboardist and both orchestras are part of it. As well as David Readman from Pink Cream 69 & ex-Adagio and Andy B. Franck of Brainstorm & Symphorce. They released an album named “Tsar” in March. A canidate for a “Things you might have missed in 2016” review.

        • Stefunal

          I don’t think that Almanac is what I meant. For what I know, it’s quite ordinary power metal, even if the single was bombastic. Smolski knows how to arrange and write great tracks, but I feel like (Peavy) Wagner’s late 90s ventures into classical territory (read: Lingua Mortis ’96 and XIII ’98) have much more of a blunt yet magnificent earnesty to them (which Speak of the Dead and LMO kinda lacked due to Smolski having much more skill in that aspect).
          TL;DR – I hope that Wagner makes another imperfect yet stunning classical crossover like the one he made in 1996.

          • CarvedInStone

            They said in interviews that they will eventually release another orchestral album. When the new line-up was announced Peavy said that they might do something for the 20th anniversary of “XIII”. But it isn’t a priority. They don’t want to do it all the time and only work for the orchestra on special occasions.

          • Stefunal

            If they do, I’m thrilled. Thanks for the input!

  • Innit Bartender

    Any suggestions for a beginner into their discography?

    • As an old timer I’d suggest Perfect Man and then The Missing Link and Lingua Mortis.

      • GardensTale

        One of those bands I never got round to. I’ll check out Perfect Man.

      • CarvedInStone

        Lingua Mortis isn’t good. Surely it was the first Orchestral Metal album and they nailed the concept but due to contractual issues with their old label they couldn’t use any of the old songs and because they only had one album released with their then current lable they coul only use those songs. There is no original material on the CD. But for some reason there is a shortened version of “All This Time” that is otherwise identical with the original on there as well as the “Alive But Dead” orchestral instrumental that didn’t serve any purpose either.

        • geoelectric

          My issue with Lingua Mortis as the progenitor of the genre is that it’s symphonic metal like Metallica’s S&M and the Scorpions album, etc–re-recorded retreads with an orchestra. We’d been doing that for a long time with rock bands.

          I give Therion’s Theli way more credit for kicking off the genre as a whole (even though they came after one-song experiments from Celtic Frost, Believer, etc.). It’s probably sheer luck it came right as Christofer Johnsson started exploring clean vocals and non-death genres, because it ended up being influential on goth, power, doom-death, basically the whole lineup. Rage’s influence was pretty limited to power metal in the best case.

          • CarvedInStone

            I’m not saying they kicked the genre off. Unfortunately Rage were never that influental. Other bands made that genre popular. I’m only saying they should get credit for being the first Metal band to record an entire album with an orchestra.

            I agree that it is a shame that there was no new material on “Lingua Mortis”.

    • CarvedInStone

      Black In MInd, Missing Link, Solitary Man for classic Rage.
      Unity, Soundchaser for modern Rage.

      • Roquentin

        Listen to what this guy says.

    • Reflections of a Shadow, Trapped! and Soundchaser.

      Soundchaser may just be the best thing they’ve ever done. 21 is probably the low point, along with End of All Days.

    • Martin Knap

      also the later era – Strings to a Web

      • CarvedInStone

        I don’t get what people see in that album. If you ask me it is easily the worst album they have recorded with Smolski.

        • I think Strings to a Web is really good. I think 21 was the worst of the Smolski era. Soundchaser was/is the strongest and would probably find a place in my top 10 or at least 20 albums of all time.

          • CarvedInStone

            I thought “21” was a return to form for the band. Apart from the “Empty Hollow”, “Beggar’s Last Dime” and the Peavy-penned “Purified” “Strings To A Web” was a really uninspired affair.

    • Innit Bartender

      Many thanks for the suggestions, anyone! I’ll listen to them all! Blasting Lingua Mortis as I write this.

      • Ralph Plug

        They told you not to! :(

        Anyway: XIII, Soundchaser, Black in Mind and maybe Unity for studio albums.

        • Innit Bartender

          Where’s the metal in doing as you’re told? ;-P
          Besides, I’m listening to XIII now. Soundchaser next.

          • CarvedInStone

            You have to do yourself a favor and listen to one of the records with Manni Schmidt on guitar. Preferably “The Missing Link” or “Trapped”. When he joined them they developed their signature sound. Not that the records released before he joined were particularly bad. But they were kinda generic.

  • CarvedInStone

    I wouldn’t think much of this review. Clearly written by a fan of the Smolski era and probably not of the classic Rage sound. The way the band is supposed to sound like. I would suggest that people give the album a try anyway.

    Yes, Smolski added some progressive and neoclassical elements to Rage. But if you ask me none of that was needed. He tried to “improve” something that didn’t need improvement. He is a great guitar player. And a composer. I’m not denying that. And when he and Peavy where still working together in a 50/50 partnership such as for the first three records they recorded together they complemented each other perfectly. But Peavy said in several interviews it became hard to work with Smolski as he tried more and more to exert his influence. And as Peavy started to take a back seat in terms of songwriting the albums began to sound less and less like Rage. In and of themselves they were good Records. I enjoy
    albums like “21” and “Carved In Stone” and even the LMO record a great deal. But to me it simply wasn’t Rage anymore.

    Under his reign as guitar player and main composer all the levity and rawness which made the classic Rage records so special were gone. In exchange we got sterile perfectionism (although to be fair that isn’t his fault alone. A lot of blame also lies with Charlie Bauerfeind and his production job on the Smolski-era-records) and sometimes it seemed like his main priority was showing of his mad guitar skills.

    Add to that the constant downplaying of Rage’s achievements before he joined the band (in all fairness you can’t blame that solely on him. Peavy was very bitter after the less amicable split in 1999 so he probably didn’t want to praise his former band mates themselves), the constant emphasizing of how awesome he is and his apparent unwillingness to play old material apart from a short list of songs they simply couldn’t avoid such as “Higher Than The Sky” or “Refuge” it is not hard to argue that Peavy did a good thing with ending their partnership.

    This new record isn’t perfect. I’ll give you that. I can’t stand “Deaf, Dumb and Blind” and I think “Times Of Darkness” is the dullest song they have ever written. But for the first time in years Rage sound like Rage again! The levity and rawness are back! Peavy’s unmistakable compositions are back! I think this is a good record with some room for improvement and I can’t wait to see what the future holds in store for Rage.

    • Roquentin

      I don’t think that Smolski leaving the band is a bad thing in itself, and I actually agree that it was necessary, but I can’t say that I appreciate Wagner blaming everything on him either. At least that’s what Peavy implied in some interviews. He could have dumped him sooner if he felt that the albums they were making were not any good.

      Just to be make sure that I wasn’t being too harsh, I revisited all of their records that I consider “favourites” while writing this review, including ones from their early discography. The Devil Strikes Again falls significantly short of all of them in my ears. But YMMV.

      In any case, there is some promise, I’ll give you that, and I’ll give their next one a chance, absolutely.

      • CarvedInStone

        I think Peavy is more of a passive guy who will go along with things if the rest of the band is enthusiastic about somthing. He is not a Mustaine, a Malmsteen or a Rock’n’Rolf who are the undisputed leaders of their bands and everything has to go their way always. He is kinda like Weiki from Helloween in that way. That is probably why it took so long before he let Smolski go.

        • Here’s Johnny

          Really? I think of Rage being Peavy’s band completely. Who wouldnt use Smolskis talent? A change was needed though.

          • CarvedInStone

            I’m not saying it isn’t. Peavy is Rage. What I’m saying is that I don’t think he is the kind of person who will immediately blow a gasket if something doesn’t go 100% his way like a Malmsteen or Axl Rose would.

  • I can’t agree that this isn’t catchy. It’s one of the catchiest albums this year, with Times of Darkness being the only track that isn’t. My Way IS very cheesy though, as is Deaf, Dumb and Blind. I do agree that it is unremarkable and while the catchiness is there, it’s one of those albums where once you hear the first half of the song, you’ve heard the whole song. I don’t think the lack of bass helps at all either. It really is almost completely absent. The bonus cd is crap, if anyone is interested, apart from Into the Fire, which makes a good closer.

    Overall, it’s an album I like when I listen to it, but I sort of forget I own it when I’m not listening to it.

    • geoelectric

      I actually did like their cover of Slave to the Grind off the bonus CD, but that was about the only thing there to grab my attention. I’m always happy to see a nod to the handful of songs where Skid Row actually played some metal.

      Overall I thought this was an OK album. It was no Perfect Man but I didn’t find it significantly worse than, say, the most recent Accept album. I actually kind of liked hearing the sound stripped down again after getting quite so much symphonic in so many other bands now.

    • Here’s Johnny

      This is the site that said the last Maiden album, had no catchy tunes…bwahaha.

      Sometimes bands cannot win, Amon Amarth for example. Solid releases, fab live shows, great songs – Sell outs!

      Rage bring it back to basics and release a solid album with some great tunes – Crap non- catchy arena rock!

      Go figure.

      • Roquentin

        FWIW, I like both the latest Amon Amarth and Iron Maiden records. ¯_(ツ)_/¯

      • CarvedInStone

        Thst is actually true. The new Maiden record was a bitter disappointment. As was every record they have released since “Brave New World”. Still an incredible live band though.

        • Here’s Johnny

          No!

        • Ralph Plug

          A Matter of Life and Death is the best album Maiden has ever released, and I will fight anyone who disagrees.

          • Juan Manuel Pinto Guerra

            Is there a list where I have to sign up to fight you? I guess it will be a long list… ;)

  • Paddlin’ Rites ov Beargod

    Unity and Soundchaser were the last good Rage albums, consistently good that is. Though I have been enjoying this quite much more than anything in between.

  • Wilhelm

    I really don’t think this sounds too bad, I really haven’t been following them since the late 90’s, but some of their latest stuff seemed sterile and unmoving…the clip above sounds decent enough to compel me to check out the rest.

    • Roquentin

      It’s definitely better than 21, so there’s that. Check out Unity and Soundchaser for the best Rage releases in the third millennium.

      • CarvedInStone

        Welcome To The Other Side is good as well. Terrible production but good album.

        • It’s very good. Tons of great tracks, but that production really is awful. How could a professional produce something like that and think it’s acceptable. Man I hate that clacky kick sound. Ghosts also has a lot of great tracks, but also some cheesy ones. XIII is also very good even if it’s not very heavy. When I look back on it, Rage has one of the strongest discographies out there. Plus, they destroy any band in the genre with their ability to write a catchy chorus. Peavy has an unmatched ability to keep churning them out.

  • VeryAngryGuy

    wrong metal aguyn. retry and be lucky.

  • jetblindracos

    Neither Almanac nor this could hold my attention for long.

  • Juan Manuel Pinto Guerra

    Holy shit! 22 albums!

    • CarvedInStone

      23 Albums. If the record released when they still where called Avenger (with 3/4 of the same line-up that would go on to record the first Rage album) counts towards their Discography then the LMO record released when they treated LMO as a seperate project to Rage with it’s own record deal and all counts as well. LMO is Rage with an Orchstra and two additional female vocalists. I don’t see why it shouldn’t count. So it’s 23 albums.

      • Juan Manuel Pinto Guerra

        22 albums taking into account the Avenger album. I went to the Metal Archives and checked, the album titled “XIII” is the 12th listed and the album titled 21 is the 20th listed. I don’t know about the LMO album, though…

        • CarvedInStone

          Then we are back at 21 albums. If you don’t count LMO than you might as well not count Avenger too.