RAGE – Afterlifelines (Album Review)

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Twice the splendor, twice the fury.

The Teutonic metal scene has crafted many legends in the past four decades, but few can claim the expansive and highly eclectic body of work amassed by Herne-born speed metal trailblazers Rage. Originally cutting their teeth in the mid-1980s under the name Avenger, they would come to occupy a unique middle ground between the biting fury of Grave Digger and the grandiosity of Helloween upon further evolving their sound in the closing years of said decade.

In like fashion to both of their aforementioned contemporaries they’ve been a marvel of tenacity, navigating the changing tides of musical trends throughout the 90s and onward with the tenacity and adaptability of a master captain of the seven seas. Now marking more than 40 years of sticking to their guns and also assimilating some noteworthy stylistic innovations from the symphonic and modern heavy metal realms, bassist/vocalist Peter “Peavy” Wagner and his present fold have unleashed a titan of a double feature dubbed “Afterlifelines.”

Though a band that has often vacillated between being a quartet and a trio over the years (landing on the latter eventuality this time around), Rage continues their consistent blend of massive power and pizzazz unabated through this album’s grueling, 86-minute duration.

Guitarist Jean Bormann reprises his role as lead instrumentalist in the arrangement, though with the absence of second axe-man Stefan Weber, has to pull double duty in order to achieve what can be best described as a sound similar in scope to this album’s 2021 predecessor “Resurrection Day,” yet also about as technically impressive as what often occurred during the Victor Smolski era of the band.

Drummer and longtime associate of the band Vassilios Maniatopoulos makes a mighty racket at the kit, matching the speed and bombast of this fold’s extensive array of percussion alumni, and also bringing a strong level of precision and consistency to the table. But when all is said and done, Wagner’s gritty and highly versatile vocal display gives this album its personality, and he essentially runs the gamut of every aggressive permutation of the metal voice, occasionally veering into extreme territory, but always sparing nothing in the decibel department.

Essentially one album is split into two separate chapters, the first collection of songs is titled “Afterlife” which presents a streamlined and stripped-down modern metallic incarnation of the band. Following a cinematic prelude dubbed “In The Beginning” that sees guest keyboardist and orchestral arranger Marco Grasshoff taking a few cues from Hans Zimmer, a 38-minute barrage of compact, uncompromising speed and heavy metal with a penchant for infectious hooks descends in rapid succession.

Flashy entries like “End Of Illusions” and “Under A Black Crown” present a technically-charged take on high-speed steel that meshes the vintage riffing of Judas Priest with the intricate melodic contours of late 80s Helloween. Crushing machines like “Dead Man’s Eyes” and “Waterwar” blur the band’s signature speed metal style with some blatant thrash trappings, while mid-paced fair like the title entry “Afterlife” sneaks in some subtle metalcore and Gothenburg elements into the equation and the chunky “Mortal” mixes in some modern groove trappings after the spirit of Lamb Of God, all complementing an otherwise consistent expression of vintage speed and melodic flair.

The second chapter sees this fold accomplish what one might chalk up to a stylistic 180, culminating in the grandiose symphonic opus that is “Lifelines.” Though by no means a downgrade in the aggression department, the pomp and bluster brought to bear on the final 46 minutes of this album by Grasshoff’s orchestrations and melancholic piano interludes makes for something that is far more cinematic, often rivaling the dense layers of sound accompanying the works of Epica and Nightwish.

Afterlifelines Album Artwork

The opening foray “Cold Desire” manages to marry this sound to something approximating the gritty speed metal feel of Rage’s typical handiwork, ditto heavy-ended beasts like “Curse The Night” and “It’s All Too Much”. Then again, the uplifting sense of triumph that the dense symphonic contours and nimble guitar lines of “Root Of Our Evil” and “One World” certainly highlight Peavy’s grimier vocal delivery. Yet the two musical moments where this half of the experience truly rivet the senses are the somber power ballad “Dying To Live”, which marks one of the few instances where Wagner turns in his forbidding snarl for some occasional and masterful clean moments and the nearly 10-minute epic extravaganza “Lifelines” which cycles through segments of sorrowful balladry and symphonic metallic discontent in a manner that somehow seems to fly by in half the time.

There is a very real temptation to label this the finest work in Rage’s now 26-album back catalog, as it touches just about every base in their entire history and merges it with all the production advantages of the present day. From the rustic speed metal beginning of this outfit’s run in the 80s through the spectrum of stylistic innovations that would crop up in the years since, it’s all represented at some point in this dystopian conceptual double feature.

But in the end, this falls more along the lines of the upper echelon of this outfit’s works following the turn of the millennium, which is still a sizable cut above most of the rest. It hits like the peak of a crescendo that has been building since the somewhat middling late 2000s era of the band gave way to the highly impressive “Strings To A Web,” and is sure to play especially well to fans of the band that came in at any point during the Smolski era.

This is a band that has definitely entered its golden years, and the music that has come along with it shimmers with a correspondingly bright, metallic luster.

Released By: Steamhammer
Release Date: March 29th, 2024
Genre: Heavy Metal

Musicians:

  • Peter “Peavy” Wagner / Vocals, Bass
  • Jean Bormann / Guitars
  • Vassilios Maniatopoulos / Drums

“Afterlifelines” Track List:

Album 1:

  1. In The Beginning 1:31
  2. End Of Illusions 3:48
  3. Under A Black Crown 4:00
  4. Afterlife 3:45
  5. Dead Man’s Eyes 3:24
  6. Mortal 4:04
  7. Toxic Waves 3:36
  8. Waterwar 3:42
  9. Justice Will be Mine 4:35
  10. Shadow World 3:22
  11. Life Among The Ruins 4:06

Album 2:

  1. Cold Desire 3.59
  2. Root Of Our Evil 4:02
  3. Curse The Night 3:34
  4. One World 4:24
  5. It’s All Too Much 5:11
  6. Dying To Live 4:51
  7. The Flood 3:56
  8. Lifelines 9:54
  9. Interlude 2:43
  10. In The End 3:23

“Afterlifelines” can be ordered in the following configurations:

  • 2CD DigiPak
  • Limited Box Set
  • 2LP Gatefold, 140 g, black vinyl, printed inner sleeves
  • Download / Streaming
  • Exclusive CD/LP Bundles with a shirt only at the Steamhammer shop
  • 2LP Gatefold exclusive colored edition only at the Napalm Records shop
9.1 Excellent

Resurging like a mighty berserker into the mid-2020s, Rage unleashes a veritable one-two punch of raw aggression and symphonic majesty, codifying the credentials of a band that has kept to their core and braved more than 4 decades of change

  • Songwriting 9.5
  • Musicianship 9.5
  • Originality 8.5
  • Production 9
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