Thursday, March 4, 2021

Rage - Soundchaser (2003)

With albums as ranged and excellent as Ghosts and Unity, Rage had REALLY started to shift back onto my radar in those early 'oughts, in a way they hadn't since the beloved 80s. Sure, I had never abandoned the band, and there are efforts they've produced every decade since their arrival that I enjoy, but against the surging scenes of melodic death metal, metalcore and Gothic drear that permeated that pivotal turning of the century, it was great to hear a great veteran band like that bark back, and bark back hard. Soundchaser, named for the band's biomechanical mascot, was the third album with the Peavy Wagner, Mike Terrana and Victor Smolski lineup, which had clearly shaken out any of the kinks before even the previous album had been released, and where Unity could have been seen as the band putting its foot in the ground, and re-affirming the band's long-held strengths, Soundchaser could be heard as the press forward across the battlefield.

It could certainly be seen as a Unity Part II, because stylistically it falls very close, with a lot of the bulky, grooving, chugging guitars, and if I'm being honest, there are transitions or individual riffs here which I often confuse with its predecessor, or might even be interchangeable in particular songs. However, I think they were trying to go a little more aggressive, and create a slightly more evil theme overall, with some lyrics that were a little more inspired by science fiction and horror, like in the title track, or "Great Old Ones", or maybe even the post-intro slammer "War of Worlds" which in at least title only recalls the great H.G. Wells but then applies that to the context of modern geopolitics. A lot of Victor's nastiest riffs are present through the album, seeded with his spurious, showy little leads and melodies, although it's only rare that Rage actually sounds 'evil'; I mean they've generally been a thundering, anthemic, uplifting sort of band, so you have to take that with a grain of salt, but certainly there's always been a darker influence to some of the lyrics, and the mascot, while awesome, was always a bit of a creepy enigma.

There are a few corny bits on the album like the filtered growl vocals in the verse of the title track, but then again it's all playing into this more futuristic Rage, and yet they can shift between the choppier and heavier parts to smoother, melodic passages where Peavy issues some mellower vocals and the overall tone goes for a more decidedly prog/power leaning. What's most important is that I don't think there is even a single track that goes by here without some excellent part, "Defenders of the Ancient Life" is just choked with these awesome Smolski riffs and a nice rhythmic shift for the chorus, whereas "Human Metal" has possibly the coolest lyrical sentiments you could hope for from the already-aged band...and a breakdown in the bridge that should have you flailing your arms around the room and fists into the nearest available poseur. It's almost pointless to repeat just how good these three musicians are...Mike and Victor are icons on their respective instruments, and Peavy deftly balances the bass and vocals like few others...he may not have the shrieking capabilities of his youth, sure, but just about every line on the album is delivered with character, grit and passion.

Along with Unity, this represents my favorite material from the band in the 21st century, and like so much other work in their catalog, it really holds up, the further evolution and refinement of a band that absolutely belongs in the top tier of any German metal conversation. Blow for blow, album for album, Rage might not be as historically important as bands like Accept or the Scorpions, nor do they have the same sorts of accessible hit singles, but they are clearly a lot more consistent, more engaging and just overall superior, and they're given us more great music than we can ever repay. They're just one of those long-enduring Euro power metal bands which has hardly ever taken a misstep while keeping its own identity about it, in the same class as a Helloween or Running Wild or Blind Guardian. I am all the richer for having ever discovered them and witnessed their transformations through the decades.

Verdict: Win [8.75/10] (now the beast has come)

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