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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