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By my count, 21 is only Rage’s twentieth studio album (unless perhaps they are counting Lingua Mortis, which I could perhaps understand), but you won’t hear me complaining too loudly about it. Press about the album ahead of time hailed it as being the band’s heaviest and most aggressive piece of work to date. Really, we’ve never had a lack of those things from what might be Germany’s most consistent metal band. Regardless of the approach, I expected this to be another quality entry into the group’s catalog.
I was, however, a bit disappointed straight off the bat with the title track. “Twenty One” isn’t a bad song, and the gambling metaphor isn’t too overdone, but I consider it to be easily amongst the weakest title tracks that the band has churned out. Considering the results on Soundchaser, Black In Mind, Carved In Stone, and most others, I felt that this gives 21 something of a weak leadoff. Did they really just choose a gambling theme because Peavy perceives this as their 21st album? This seems lame to me, and as always, so does naming your album after its chronological number. But hey, no one’s gotten this high before with their numbering. If I see a 22 in a couple years though, heads will roll.
Anyways, after the so-so eponymous opener, momentum is built quickly. “Forever Dead” is a smoker with a very good chorus, and “Feel My Pain” keeps things going before the mold begins to break with “Serial Killer”. This track shocked me considerably, as Peavy cut loose with the first harsh vocals that I’ve heard him spit out. While I find the harsh vocals quite good and instrumental work stellar as usual, the lyricism takes a downhill slide into the mediocrity that Rage resorts to from time to time. And there it stays for a while, as “Psycho Terror” remains a bit dull lyrically, as well as a couple of the songs later in the album.
“Destiny”, on the other hand, rips the album up to a high point. With some magnificent riffing, jolting tempo changes, and a solo section that drives me nearly to my knees, this is probably my favorite track on the album, thanks in no small part once again to esteemed archmage of the guitar, Mr. Smolski. In fact, I think that Victor’s performance has improved yet again. How, I don’t know, but like a fine wine (though I think Smolski is more like a single malt scotch), this guy just keeps getting better and better.
21 is ultimately a run-of-the-mill album for Rage, that being the gigantic steel-studded monstrosity of a mill that the trio runs. It has its high points, (though not too many of them) and it has some redundancy and a touch of banality here and there as well (ugh, “Concrete Wall”). However, the high standard of cohesion that has always been a strong point for Rage (and of course Smolski’s slamming riff wizardry) help them keep their heads well above water. It’s billed as “more aggressive”, but really isn’t other than one or two songs. Rage fans are gonna dig this as always, go pick it up.
Original review written for Black Wind Metal
Finally, a Rage album that doesn’t suck. After the underwhelming Carved in Stone and the annoying Strings to a Web, I didn’t really expect anything from this except one good song and a bunch of poppy crap. But the venerable German bastards in Rage, still boasting the indestructible duo of Peavy and Smolski, apparently had another good album in them with 21.
This is just easily their best since Soundchaser. Finally we have longer, heavier songs again and less of the experimentation the band has been indulging in as of late. Let’s face it…what this band is good at is the pugilistic, stripped down, heavy-fucking-metal songwriting with powerful choruses and slamming riffs. It’s a testament to how good this is when I can say there are several songs on here that would fit right in on Unity.
This album has a clear, ass-stomping guitar tone and some of Peavy’s best vocal lines in years. On the super-catchy title track or their best song in years, “Forever Dead,” the band is simply on fire with huge hooks and huger riffs. “Serial Killer” is a dark and mean song with an out-and-out harsh screech from Peavy during the verse sections – diabolical! “Psycho Terror” has some of the best riffs on the album, mightily headbangable and forceful, and “Concrete Wall” is a balls-out speed metal number like they used to do in the 80s. “Destiny” shows off their power metal side with a speedy riff and a soaring vocal hook for the chorus. A great song.
There are a few filler cuts, but then, even their old albums had fillers, so it’s not really a big deal. The lyrics are pretty awful at times, but hey, what do you want? These guys were never really lyrical poets anyway.
Now, of course this isn’t a genre-transcending work, but it reinforces what’s good about Rage and about power metal in general. If you’re tired of all the genre mixing and moving away from metal that a lot of power metal bands are doing, Rage is here to allay your fears and deliver a mighty, spiked-boot foot to your ass in the form of 21. I really hope we get another album or two this strong from this veteran band. Definitely one of the most fun albums I’ve heard this year.
These guys really are the Motorhead of power metal. Not as intense and not as good as that band, but that goes without saying. Where they do fit in with them is that they've retained and set in stone a style that's very recognizably theirs that has only subtly changed from time to time, and they're consistent as all hell, too. I can't particularly recall a sufficiently bad Rage album, but then again I can't recall an apparently great or legendary one for that matter. Maybe something along the lines of A Perfect Man, but it still is pretty vague. They don't have THAT classic album or that slew of classic albums. They're just, for lack of a better term, solid. Sometimes middling. Sometimes inspiring. Always a fixture. Anyway.
This album is based on gambling. On the face of it. And its Rage's 21st album. Or so I think, I've really lost count. But that seems to be a fairly straightforward concept. Not that it makes any difference to the lyrics, the band could very well have been singing in a different language for everything, but the chorus or in some cases the title of the song alone and it really wouldn't change things one bit. Sometimes they can be downright silly even, like say 'Psycho Terror', which is just clumsy. But I digress. Power's done worse.
So what we have here is some fairly middling stuff with some real moments of inspiration coming in every now and then. Take the intro of "Feel My Pain" and the ensuing guitar acrobatics. There's a whole ton of great choruses on here, the fist in the air stuff that would work great live. Its all pretty straightforward and memorable. Though it really is problematic and a tad bit annoying when all you can remember of a song is the line 'this will be your DEH-STIN-IYY!'. There's some stuff on here that sounds gratingly modern, but very often it's simply the lifeless production and the mechanical guitar tone that make it as such. Again, very middling stuff.
Fans of Euro-power would really dig this. It certainly doesn't do much for standing out from the rest, but maybe there's some charm to that after all. I just don't find it on this particular release. The band doesn't really sound all that inspired either, but I have to give them their due for still making it work, regardless.
Is there any more rock solid band than Rage? Maybe Motörhead. Who cares? Rage still continues on in the same pace and tempo as they have done in their last eighteen releases. Pure heavy metal with challenging riffs and strong, raw vocals. Those are just two of the things that made Rage one of my all-time favourites. They just never seem to fail.
In this release we get five songs that stand out a little more than the other songs on the album. First, we got the self-titled song Twenty One and its decent theme about gambling addiction with such fantastic musicality and a really interesting chorus. Then we have Forever Dead, which is the power package of the album. It is a song that really sticks in your head right away and stays there. I really love that chorus. We also have Destiny which has both a good beat and speed. The riffing on this one is just freaking amazing. Last but not least we have Concrete Wall, which is simply put just awesome. Did I say that there were five songs standing out? Oh yes, I forgot about the cover of Eternally, originally in Nuclear Blast All-stars: Into The Light with Oddleif from Communic singing. The reason I forgot about it is that I want to forget about it. I did not like that song one bit. Why did Rage have to do that?
Rage is solid, but as usual there is always something to complain about. This time it is that cover, otherwise 21 is just as good as the other albums Rage have released over the years. Great songs, great riffs, but still not perfect.
Best Song: Concrete Wall
Grade: 8/10 Psycho Terrors
Also available in a shorter version in Swedish on http://sharkruisher.blogg.se/?tmp=02214353