It’s true that guitarist Victor Smolski is probably best known for his time in Rage, where he pushed the band into different musical territories, encouraging the German 3 piece into previously unthought-of dimensions…something that some fans loved and some didn’t. But this is also the guitarist I know from progressive metal band Mind Odyssey – so it was never going to be a traditional incarnation of Rage was it? Plenty of time has passed, Rage are what die-hard fans expect once more and Almanac are everything that Smolski wants it to be – there’s no losers here! Interestingly though, as Rage heavy things up once more, it appears, purely by coincidence I’m sure, that Almanac put out their heaviest release to date – and it really suits them!
There’s been a big line-up re-shuffle since their second album – bassist Tim Rashid returns on bass from “Kingslayer”, but Jeanette Marchewka, one half of the vocal onslaught, remains the only member alongside Smolski to have featured on the debut. The male side of the vocals is now handled ably by ex-Gun Barrel/Pantaleon man Patrick Sühl with the excellent Kevin Kott (At Vance, Pantaleon. Masterplan etc) behind the kit. And the new guys handle the new heavy direction perfectly, meaning it was no coincidence that they were brought in. The intricate, aggressive drums are the back-bone to each track, taking the bass with them and allowing Smolski to work his guitar magic on top.
“Rush Of Death” has a lyrical connection to Smolski’s other passion outside music, motor racing (he’s no slouch behind the wheel with many a racing trophy to his name!), which is reflected by the album artwork and draws comparisons from history. This gives the music an extra urgency to reflect the energy and excitement that the lyrics insist upon. Interestingly, the middle section of the album is collectively ‘Sweet Lingua Mortis part 2’ (Part 1 being explored on Rage’s 2006 album ‘Speak Of The Devil’), a nice nod towards Smolski’s past band – which Rage echoed this year with ‘Nameless Grave’, a track that could have been taken directly from Smolski’s period with the band. Both apt and timely recognitions of a period in that bands history, as well as showing how that approach can be worked into the present.
Almanac bombard the listener with crushing riffs, pounding rhythms and fabulous guitar-work, but leave just enough room for memorable vocals and well placed orchestration. The tracks included in ‘Sweet Lingua Mortis part 2’ give the album a slightly schizophrenic feel, but equally hint that there is an album within an album, and with Smolski being Smolski, it all fits together neatly and utterly professionally. Also, the progressive, technical nature of tracks like ‘Can’t Hold Back’ bring to mind an updated Mind Odyssey, so Almanac 2020 certainly are all encompassing, as they push tentatively out of their own blueprint and promise many more interesting times to come.
(7.5/10 Andy Barker)