The Devil Strikes Again
Released: 2016, Nuclear Blast
It is an interesting phenomena about how some people get labeled and other people who exhibit more or less the same tendencies avoid getting the same label. For example, there seems to be a general perception that Yngiwe J. Malmsteen and Blackie Lawless are hard to work for. They both have had dozens of people pass through their respective acts. Now a guy like Peavy of Rage has also had 16 pr 17 people pass through his band but somehow people shrug it off as another line-up change for Rage. Maybe Peavy is hard to work with because we are faced with yet another line-up change.
That’s brings us to THE DEVIL STRIKES AGAIN, the band’s 19th, full-length, studio album of new material. A couple of years ago in a rather surprising move Peavy announced that his long-timer collaborator Victor Smolski was out the door and drummer extraordinaire Andre Hilgers was not far behind. It was a fairly well-documented move and there seemed to be a bit of under-current of unhappiness from all parties with Hilgers claiming he found out that he had been fired by reading about it on the internet! Smolski said he was going to continue on with LMO and solo material. Shortly after Peavy announced an odd, new side project called Refuge where he reunited with some older band members and played some older Rage stuff. Next, in an increasingly bizarre situation he announced new material under the Rage banner with a couple young dudes, a former Rage drum tech and a guy who used to allegedly play in a Rage cover band! All of this mild drama and line-up shuffles had the potential of going off the rails very quickly and this uncertainty did not inspire much confidence in any upcoming Rage material, especially after the well-regarded Smolski/Hilgers era. The pressure on these new, untested guys, Vassilios Maniatopoulos (Drums) and Marcos Rodriquez (Guitar) to follow in their footsteps must have been heavy. Fortunately, Peavy has pulled a rabbit out of his hat with a killer new album and a sparkling new international line-up with a Greek, a German and a Venezuelan.
THE DEVIL STRIKES AGAIN has a very cool, very evil looking cover, abandoning the circle theme and the Soundchaser is nowhere to be seen. The band is still on Nuclear Blast and in a slight change delivers a more streamlined 10 song album running 46 minutes, their shortest album in several years. However there are several versions on the market with a wealth of regional bonus tracks and cover tunes. Collectors will delight in cover tunes by Skid Row, Y&T and a brave and ambitious cover of a 90’s Rush tune.
In pre-album press comments Peavy said the new material was a return to the BLACK IN MIND era. That was a pretty accurate description. The new album is much more melodic than the last skullcrusher of an album (21) and no symphonic stuff is present at all. The album is straight up Metal melodic, heavy with a good mix of tempos and Peavy scaling back on his aggressive vocal delivery of the past album. No death growls on this record! Vassilios and Marcos do an admirable job under difficult circumstances and high expectations. The song-writing is a bit safe perhaps lacking of some of the uber-dynamics of symphonic era, it is far more conventional and traditional. Some of those big, sing-along choruses we are so used to from Rage just don’t jump out like they have on other albums. Oddly enough for me, the bonus tracks seem to catch my ear more than the ten proper tracks, , especially the semi-ballad, ’Into The Fire’. Looking at the lyrics it could be interpreted that Peavy takes a little shot at Smolski on a number of songs, especially the first single, 'My Way' which is not, thankfully, a Paul Anka / Frank Sinatra cover. There is certainly an underlying current of hostility in the lyrics on this album.
THE DEVIL STRIKES AGAIN is straight-up, no frills Rage album. That is excellent and welcome, with the minor complaint that we know the band is capable of delivering more when they wish. I see this as a stop-gap or holding pattern album until Peavy figures out his next move and until the young guns have another chance to prove themselves as the band gels as a cohesive performing and song-writing unit. On any given day, even an ‘average’ Rage album is still better than much of the Metal out there today!