This may sound like a very odd statement to some people: but I find the idea of a world without Rage difficult to imagine. But, at the same time if you told me you’d never heard a single track by them, I would also have to sympathise. Rage have been around for so long and developed a sound that evolves at such a glacial pace, if at all these days, that they’ve almost blended into the heavy metal scenery. Execution Guaranteed, my first encounter, was an early outing for a band which was already beginning to enjoy being at the centre of a burgeoning German speed metal scene led by their record label Noise.
It was an album I couldn’t possibly have heard before I picked it up one day in a record store somewhere in Bradford – although I vaguely remember hearing Don’t Fear The Winter on Tommy Vance’s Friday Rock show (where I first heard Helloween, King Diamond and god knows how many others). But otherwise a £4.49 punt, pure and simple. When I actually got my hands on 1988’s Perfect Man (and so finally getting an original version of Don’t Fear The Winter) the grooves on the previous album were well worn and, with the new one – with its oddly melodic and quirky tracks like Wasteland, Supersonic Hydromatic and Death in the Afternoon. Others would look at me like I was barmy. But I was convinced of Rage’s rightful place on this earth.
I remember reading in Metal Hammer at the time that Perfect Man had sold 30,000 or 40,000 copies across Europe – vinyl only remember – and I recall trying to work out how many people in the UK would even own it. Even my friends avidly listening to Anthrax and Metallica scorned Rage. I couldn’t find one other single person at the time who appreciated it. More off-beat thrash than power metal back then. But an acquired taste – which made getting to know the albums all the more enjoyable. I regarded it as the perfect balance to the saccharin joys of other Noise bands like Helloween and Scanner and an example of why this music pouring in from Germany, so full of speed and energy, also had depth and was clearing away the old stuff – the overplayed and over-praised likes of Black Sabbath and Judas Priest. It would have been great to find someone of a like-mind – and I constantly tried in vain to convert anyone who was even vaguely into heavy metal. I’ve long since got over doing that with any band.
A lot has changed in the Rage camp since then. Less quirky and perhaps losing a little of what made the band so unique back in the early days. The band has undoubtedly recycled many of those original ideas many times over and has become more firmly metal of the centre ground even though that master songwriter and bassist Peter ‘Peavy’ Wagner – Mr Rage himself – has never once lost his vigour and his superb knack for penning infectious tunes and rousing choruses. And always with that unmistakably Rage signature.
This EP presents something of cross roads for the band. The four tracks are almost certainly for you if you cannot live without the thought of Rage – as I’m sure applies to their now sizeable and global fan base. My Way in English and Spanish and two other previous tracks re-recorded (Black in Mind and, probably the best track on this EP, Sent By The Devil – both from 1995’s Black in Mind) represents very little new material or anything particularly must-have. The track My Way, as solidly enjoyable and classic Rage material as it is, is certainly not the finest example of a Rage track I could provide and one which I suspect would quickly fade into the side lines of any forthcoming album for me. The My Way single is a tiny fragment in the ever expanding metal universe that will go largely unnoticed by the vast majority.
What I suspect it is, is a personal message from a man who has lived and breathed heavy metal music on his own terms, more or less, for more than three decades. The recent split from long term collaborator and guitarist Victor Smolski was a bit of a shock from the outside. It’s not yet clear why – the original press releases were confusing and conflicting – but reading between the lines the two were clearly growing apart. Peavy apparently rejected approaches for the new line up from established musicians preferring, he says in a more recent announcement, to have ‘a real band again with all members pulling in the same direction’ (which in ‘artistic speak’ sounds a lot like ‘doing what they’re told’).
But Peavy is rising from the ashes of the previous incarnation of Rage. On that basis, it will be interesting to hear how the new band and the rest of the new album turns out. My Way will form one track on album number 22. I must admit I skipped the last couple for no other reason than Rage albums have all tended to blur into one over recent years. But I know I’ll buy them eventually. Whether I’m caught in nostalgia or steadfast loyalty, Rage has been a staple of my last three decades of existence and Peavy has rarely let me down. Whenever I put pretty much any of his albums on, I am reminded how good a band this is and why I return to it time and time again. There’ll be some great tracks on the next album and some standard Rage tracks too, no doubt. It’s Rage. And where would the heavy metal world do without bands like Rage who have carried the flame through good and bad years and ultimately remind us where all this shit came from in the first place.
(7/10 Reverend Darkstanley)