Friday, May 24, 2024

Rage venture into the Afterlifelines

It’s been 40 years since German giants Rage hit the road and achieving such a milestone demands something special. The treat is a double album going by the name of Afterlifelines, split like theatre acts with contrasting styles on both sides. Singer and bassist Peter Wagner aka “Peavy” comments on how the record paints a dystopian scenario of the consequences of not looking after earth “where all systems known to us will collapse if we don’t fundamentally change”. The album cover itself seems to reinforce that message with a giant, long-toothed, skull-faced robot standing over what appears to be an imploding world.

Afterlife (Disc one)

Afterlife opens with a cinematic instrumental track that gradually builds in intensity where all seems peaceful until all hell breaks loose like a David Attenborough wildlife series, in which paradise comes to an abrupt end when the predator catches its prey. ‘End of Illusions’ is where the blood-pumping action gets going as Rage are out on a mission to prove that this celebration of their time on the road won’t be fun and games with champagne and cakes. Therefore, always read the party ground rules because chilled guests aren’t welcome. Vassilios “Lucky” Maniatopoulos puts the afterburners on as his magnificent coordination behind the drumkit keeps the group in time while some relentless riffs and mini-solos by Jean Bormann accompanied by earthquake force vocals from Peavy kickstart the skull-shattering experience. The lyrics waste no time by diving into the bleak reality of how our destructive actions have grave results. It represents how only once the damage has been done that regret settles in “We’ve gone too far, we destroyed all we had” and can be seen as a wake-up call to change our behaviours. After all, there’s only one earth so make the most of what it provides you while it’s around.

‘Under A Black Crown’ follows suit in keeping the pace going with Rage bringing out their trademark sound of playing loud and fast. The famous hybrid skeletal mascot which has been an iconic figure for many years on their album covers returns, but this time it’s taken you to the afterlife where all of your past sins come back to haunt you. Peavy passionately belts his unique gravelly voice like a tribal chief loud enough to be heard from miles away and anyone tempted to scream along to this live won’t be able to speak for days. The sight of him in the music video itself has dangerous territory written all over it and with a physique of a rugby player, getting on the wrong side of him isn’t a wise idea unless you wish to get flattened. 

One of the highlights of Afterlifelines (both discs) is Peavy’s crazy vocal abilities where he can flirt with different textures, tones and techniques all in one song as well as adapting them to the flow of the music. While he’s known for his rough and potent style, some unrevealed magic escapes where in the blink of an eye he’ll switch between multiple sounds. For instance, he’ll use his familiar harshness during verses but smoothen the high notes in a chorus or add a bit of melancholy during quieter sections.

The first five songs focus heavily on speed and aggression as Jean takes responsibility for keeping listeners entertained with tasty riffs and harmonies, picking hard enough at the strings until they snap and Vassilious showing great endurance on the drums to execute tight double kick patterns. ‘Afterlife’ (the title track of disc one) explores the concept of life after death and what we will be remembered for, including raising existential questions “Is there a meaning for all things, Or is all coincidence?”

But this is only just a warmup of booby traps that Rage have laid out because all of a sudden, we’re hit with three consecutive tracks in the keys of b and b flat minor in which an angry but satisfying experience becomes melancholic. ‘Dead Man’s Eyes’ is about the extinction of orangutans and although it’s easy to headbang to it from a sonic perspective, the lyrics are incredibly sad. Knowing how close we are to primates is what hurts even more and the way that Peavy puts his soul behind the music accompanied by the tone and slower tempos, it’s hard not to hold back tears “Killing all your people, in the end you were alone”. And if you think Rage are done with giving us a brutal lecture on the irreversible consequences of destroying earth, they salt our wounds with another heartbreaking song about plastic drifting in the oceans ‘Toxic Waves’ “The cradle of life is all lost inside these toxic waves”.

Despite the prevalent pessimism, there is some room for hope with ‘Justice will be Mine’ being a rallying cry to stand up against oppression which will eventually lead to justice being done after persistence in the face of adversity “Stand the ground in these hard times, One day justice will be mine”. Using epic choruses and major scales, this is the ideal power metal anthem to raise your self-esteem and give the listener hope that not all is lost. Rage’s mixture of speed and power metal perfectly blend into the emotions that each song tries to evoke and the frequent changes in mood act like a new chapter. When you thoroughly analyse the lyrics, those transitions make sense as they’re responsible for retaining engagement. Each tune has its own uniqueness and fillers are nowhere to be heard which perfectly sets up the climax that listeners want to prepare for in the build-up to disc two.

Lifelines (Disc two)

After 39 intense minutes, Rage pull off the mother of all twists. If you poke a bear, there’s only so many times before it rears its ugly head and in this case it’s mercilessly retaliated. While maintaining the speed/power metal elements, they’ve added an orchestra to make an already savage sound even more bombastic. This time there’s no intro track as the band picks up right where they left off with ‘Cold Desire’ and you can already notice the contrast in emotions. The classical elements can somehow flick a switch in our brains where although the tone is bleak, we perceive it in a grandiose way. 

Lyrics depict a toxic relationship and the contradicting feelings that have led to the ghosts of negativity constantly haunting the speaker “I try to run but you are there, I am your true believer” and when you have someone like Peavy perfectly interpreting a song’s message, you’ll feel like you’re inside it. Having been used to his aggressive side for all these years, the voice that could collapse a whole crater now switches to a more delicate, soft-hearted one. What’s impressive is how well he can mimic the texture of the orchestra to the point that you don’t even have to stop to listen twice because of its chemistry. Jean on guitars is at the top of his game with some grinding riffs strong enough to melt your brain while Vasillous has ice in his veins by not losing an ounce of concentration when setting the pace on drums.

Just like Metallica’s S&M, ‘Root of Our Evil’ and ‘One World’ are a prime example of just how a drastic style change within the same subgenre has an effect on our perception. While the subjects are gloomy, we don’t feel the same anger and rebellion towards what humanity has done to Earth as the symphonic elements soften the impact which shows the sheer power of music. It’s a sign of a confident band willing to leave question marks hanging over our heads and painting a true definition of what art is, leaving it to the individual to interpret its meaning. For instance, the lyrics of ‘Root of Our Evil’ are about the feeling of invincibility that evil brings “We’re not so special but still think we are”. Without the orchestra, your natural reaction would be the total opposite but once added, the way a listener feels it almost passes over their heads like a breeze.

Things slow down for a little while with a moving ballad where Rage rubber stamp their versatility. Peavy flexes his vocal range like a yoga split stretch where he moves away from his authoritative sound to a softer and melancholic approach. Lyrics of ‘Dying to Live’ comments on the harsh reality of what soldiers go through in battle and longing for peace “Although we had so much to give, We’re dying to live”. When combined with gentle strings backed by sweet acoustic guitar riffs, the temptation to sing along is irresistible as the warmth of the song makes you feel like you’re sat around a campfire wishing for better days.

‘Lifelines’, the title track of disc 2 lasts nearly 10 minutes and its length evokes the feelings that once the consequences of our actions come back to haunt us, regret and trauma are the ones that last the longest. Frequent tempo changes could also suggest that we’ve reached the latter stages of a destructive cycle and that the story has set itself up for a grand finale “This endless greed in our minds, Has lead to end all our dreams”.

Just like the start of ‘Afterlife’, there’s a long instrumental interlude growing in intensity before setting the tone for a big ending. ‘In the end’ closes the entire record and Rage puts any hope of a happy ending to bed by describing how “We poorly failed at the end”. In the same way that the beloved Pandora forest in the film Avatar was burned to the ground, the desperation in Peavy’s voice is highly reminiscent of these scenes where you can picture yourself unable to come to terms with the sight of your sacred home vanishing before your eyes. With the accompaniment of sad-sounding chord progressions and a slow, funeral march-style beat, the band wants to show that mistreating our planet could’ve been avoided but instead, we chose the wrong path.

Due to the major contrast in sounds on both discs, I would recommend listening to Afterlifelines on two separate occasions as unpicking its hidden layers and subtleties isn’t an easy task even for diehard Rage fans.

Pulling off a double album without boring a listener requires nerves of steel and sky-high confidence. Many experienced bands have attempted it and failed but that’s not the case for Rage because they have dodged all the hidden landmines and surpassed expectations. 

Pedro Felippe
Pedro Felippe
Metalhead since the stone age. Always bash the crap out of my drum kit and am an avid gig goer. I massively identify myself within the metal community as the sense of belonging is unrivalled.

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It’s been 40 years since German giants Rage hit the road and achieving such a milestone demands something special. The treat is a double album going by the name of Afterlifelines, split like theatre acts with contrasting styles on both sides. Singer and bassist...Rage venture into the Afterlifelines