"Strings to a Web"

(Nuclear Blast)

01. The Edge Of Darkness
02. Hunter And Prey
03. Into The Light
04. The Beggars Last Dime
05. Empty Hollow
06. Empty Hollow II: Strings To A Web
07. Empty Hollow III: Fatal Grace
08. Empty Hollow IV: Connected
09. Empty Hollow V: (Reprise)
10. Saviour Of The Dead
11. Hellgirl
12. Purified
13. Through Ages
14. Tomorrow Never Comes

RATING: 7/10

For 25 years running, RAGE has served as one of the lead examples of German heavy metal excellence. Widely respected and led by vocalist/bassist Peavy Wagner, RAGE ultimately became a band best known for its patented mix of thrash and trad-metal riffs — executed with skill and precision for several years now by Russian guitar wizard Victor Smolski — and scintillating melodies, at varying points and to varying degrees joined with progressive and orchestral elements. Every fan has their favorite RAGE albums, but many would agree that a standard of excellence has been established that while sometimes predictable is almost always melodically engaging, musically accomplished, and occasionally, when the stars align just so, outright breathtaking, as was the case with 2006's half-symphonic/half-vintage-metallic "Speak of the Dead". Even a generally meat and potatoes heavy metal affair like 2008's "Carved in Stone" was rock solid, a clear cut case of familiarity not breeding contempt. On new album "Strings to a Web", there is some level of recycling of RAGE's tried and true melodic metal style, as well as the inclusion of another orchestral/progressive metal suite, yet the familiarity involved is more often than not comforting, even endearing, to long-time fans, while the musicianship impressive no matter whose set of ears are opened for it.

In other words, much of the 55 minutes of "Strings to a Web" is RAGE doing what it does best, albeit with a few missteps and sections that are overly formulaic, without necessarily pushing the envelope. Once again, the glimmering choruses seem to leap out of the mix subsequent to metallically charged verses, though occasionally miss the target. However, there are more instances where the melodies are as addictive as crack cocaine without the prostituting yourself for a fix part. And that's not even mentioning the fact that nearly across the board Smolski's riffs crush and his solos dazzle, while the band's progressive side continues to shine with all the brightness of the sun at midday, as evidenced by the 17-minute, five-part, classically-based/progressive piece "Empty Hollow".

The funny thing about most RAGE albums and "Strings to a Web" in particular is that it takes a few spins to appreciate the kind of chorus melody heard on a song like "Hellgirl", one that initially had me writing it off as one of a handful of awkward and cheesy trip-and-falls, and several spins later begrudgingly acknowledging its pure pop catchiness. It is one of those unique RAGE characteristics that make the trio an acquired taste in some circles. The point is that "Strings to a Web" probably will not go down in history as a high water mark in the band's prolific career, mainly because of those areas where the temperature drops to lukewarm. Yet when the album in question was recorded by a band like RAGE, it is rarely a question of good or bad; only degrees of quality.


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