|ANGELRAGE'S FLAWED GEM
Rock City News, Los Angeles
"Woe to those who dwell here! Pestilence, famine, destruction, and rumors of war..." so screams the opening vocal on Angelrage's long-awaited, much hyped, full length CD, Omega, and it perfectly sets the tone for what is to follow; a dark, sprawling, ambitious debut clocking in at just over an hour in length. The brutal, lushly-orchestrated and guitar-driven musical diatribes within will no doubt shock as well as entertain the band's longtime followers, and also provide their detractors with plenty of ammo.
Angelrage released their first demo, a 5 song CD called Fight the Devil, through MP3.com back in 2003, where the title track famously clawed it's way past current singles by Michael Sweet, Bride, and even King's X to the number one spot on the Christian Metal charts. Fans expecting a sequel will be surprised to find that the Angelrage presented on this CD bears little resemblance to the armor-clad, prettyboy "Archangels of Metal" version on that earlier disc. The band, featuring an entirely new lineup, have reinvented themselves as “creepy stone angels, cracked and covered in moss,” according to their latest press release; performing on a “graveyard set with large Celtic crosses and gargoyles.” The change is an abrupt one, to be sure, but it works here. This is a solid collection of songs, and a great first album. Blending elements of classical, progressive metal, grunge, and European symphonic metal, Angelrage's Omega weaves it's dark spell. From the beautiful yet ominous, anthemic strains of Apertura, a minute long musical introduction in which we hear an eerie, angelic voice say, "Thou art righteous, O Lord, which art, and wast, and shalt be, because thou hast judged thus," we know we are in for a dark ride. Welcome to the world of Angelrage: church bells, Latin chanting, lush soundscapes, angelic choirs, and end of the world lyrics over riffs heavy enough to melt your face off.
The apocalyptic Signs, which comes blasting out full throttle, features all of these elements and perfectly captures what this band is about. One of several songs on this CD dealing with the subject of angelic warfare, it is in my opinion by far and away the best track on this CD. The vocals range from savage growls to impassioned pleas, and work well within the framework of this track. There is also a killer Pantera-style riff at the end which slowly builds in tempo and then stops abruptly, leaves you hanging.
From there we move on into This World, a plodding, grungy song reminiscent of Dirt-era Alice In Chains. Over a middle-Eastern influenced guitar riff, accented by church bells and Gregorian-style choirs, we are told the story of a child and his mother, following them from his birth to his tragic death. While lyrically brilliant, this song ran a bit long for my tastes, although it does feature some interesting musical elements and a mesmerizing chorus. During the guitar solo, which features blindingly fast Ynwgie-esque guitar arpeggios, the wall of sound is so thick that for a moment the whole thing becomes an indistinguishable pile of mush before eventually returning to lucidity. Perhaps that was the intent, but one of my major beefs with this album is that for whatever reason, it sounds awesome in my ipod, but very bass-heavy in my car, and different again on my home stereo. If these guys had had a good producer, this album would have KILLED! Not to say it isn’t good, but it obviously could have been a lot better.
Here is where things get interesting. Epiphany In Blood features the first of several very detailed dramatic soundscapes the band created with award-winning Hollywood sound editor Karen Vassar, who added her talents to the recent Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Friday the 13th movies as well as the Michael Bay productions of The Amityville Horror and The Island and was nominated for her work in the ground-breaking racial tolerance fable Crash. In this particular one, we hear the disturbing sounds of a baby crying in the distance while demonic giggling weaves back and forth in the mix, building to an intense crescendo which fairly explodes into the song, a shocking account of angels descending to execute the final judgement upon mankind, sounding like Alice In Chains if they were the house band in Hell. This is reportedly the song that freaked everybody out live, with it's refrain of, "Slaughter of the wicked," accompanied by geysers of "blood" from the stage; apparently, some Hollywood record execs who were there to check out the band walked out disgusted, exclaiming, “These ************* will never get signed!” Heavy stuff.
The next track, Oceans of Sorrow, a ballad dedicated in the liner notes to a friend of the band who passed away during the making of this CD, kicks in with a riff reminiscent of In Flames, with unbelievably fast bass drums over a sweet harmony guitar riff that gives way to a delicate piano before thundering back in at the chorus, which features another characteristic effect on this CD: a strange, ethereal, reverse effect on the vocals that appears on several songs, this one most prominently. At times, the vocals reminded me of the late Freddie Mercury of Queen. This song really grew on me after a few listens, in part because it shows a whole different side of this enigmatic band.
Finger of God gives the listener another, more detailed soundscape, this time taking us inside a house as a tornado approaches and eventually destroys it, with the drums and bass slowly increasing in volume; as the tornado strikes, so does Angelrage. This is one of several songs on the disc that reminded me of early Iron Maiden and Queensryche. The sludgy main chorus riff features a very catchy keyboard hook, the solo breaks into a very cool Black Sabbath-like jam, and the ending features a nice dual guitar arpeggio piece that almost sounds heavenly. I guess that was the intent. Overall a very ominous track, as Angelrage tells us that no matter we go, we can't escape the finger of God. Each song on this CD appears to be some kind of warning, and Angelrage means business.
Crimson Twilight Suite, the longest track on the CD at nearly 8 minutes in length, begins with a dramatic orchestra introduction punctuated by the tolling of a bell, suddenly interrupted by a great intro riff. This song has perhaps some of the most poignant lyrics on the disc (time waits for no one, vain still we run; we can't retrace the steps to find our way back home) and also some of the most controversial (they scream for choice, proudly rejoice; without a care for little ones who have no voice). In a killer break, Azrael snarls, "Whatcha gonna do when your destiny finds you unaware like a thief in the night?" The last verse also has some cool sounding udu drums and sitar! Angelrage is obviously addressing the whole world. Good luck with that one, guys.
One of the things I liked about this disc is that each song has a distinctly different flavor, yet similar elements that unify them into a cohesive collection. An example of this is our next track, Raising Hell, a nasty little ditty about demonic possession that totally gives me the creeps! Introduced by a very graphic depiction of Stephen Crane's classic poem In the Desert, from his 1895 book The Black Riders and Other Lines, it begins softly over a native American sounding beat, "They move in shadows on the wall. Most mortals see them not at all," building to a trippy ostinato guitar riff that warns us, "You shouldn't have let them in!" and finally screaming at us, “You’re raising HELL!” The wordplay on this song I thought clever, particularly in the second verse: "They work in those without remorse, until they too succumb of course. The more to mock you in your pain... they've after all so much to gain." I also really liked the tribal moonlight feel to the verses, and the Geoff Tate-like delivery on the vocals.
From here things just get better. A wistful piano intro gives way to a brutally sludgy riff complete with the obligatory church bells as For the Least of My Brothers takes hold, weaving a fascinating story about an encounter with a homeless man who turns out to be Jesus Christ! The vocals here are some of the best on the CD, ranging from a gritty, Bon Jovi-esque tone on the verses to a crystal clear, angelic sound, imploring, "Can you lend a hand? Don't turn away - now I'm talking to YOU!" on the choruses. I should mention that the crucifixion soundscape in the guitar solo is both shocking and moving, as Angelrage asks in the person of Jesus, "Why do my children lack? I gave the skin off my back! Do you not hear their cries? How can you leave them to die?" The song is dedicated in the liner notes to the Jefferson Street Bridge Bunch, a small homeless ministry operating in Nashville, Tennessee, and this song was originally released as a single to generate donations for this group, who will receive a portion of the profits from this CD, according to their official website, angelrage.com. THIS is one of the things I like about this band. Their first single, the aforementioned Fight the Devil, they gave away for free; this one, one of the best on the CD, they are using to try and help the homeless.
The next song, Dysangellion, is a railing accusation of hypocrisy in the church, featuring some of the best vocals on this CD. "And now in the dawn, perhaps they'll see what they've done in His name should never be." We hear of angels coming to destroy those who, "every Sunday morning... go to watch the witches burn." Dysangellion, by the way, according to a 2008 interview, is a “bastardized Greek word roughly translated into English as bad news.” Angelrage has taken the darkest, scariest, most shocking and controversial parts of the Bible and made them into an hour long horrorshow, with plenty of thunderous riffs and ear cady to keep you interested. Pretty cool stuff whether you are a theology enthusiast OR a horror movie addict!
"And there was war in heaven," rumbles an eerie voice in the intro of the band's eponymous themesong, Angelrage. Like most of the songs on the CD, this one is obviously based on the book of Revelation. This song has my favorite riff on the album, a vicious little number in a time signature known apparently to God alone, and Cradle of Filth-like vocals. When the chorus rasps in a harsh whisper, "Can you feel the wrath of ages? Can you feel the angels rage?" I think you will. I know I did. The wah-wah guitar solo features a soundscape with gunshots, helicopters, car crashes, blood-chilling screams, and most ominously, Satan laughing at all the misery.
Capping off the album is Finalis, which revisits the first track, Apertura, as well as the chorus of the song SIgns, in an instrumental version, tying the CD up in a nice little bow and giving it not only a sense of cohesiveness, but a definite end; that is, the beginning.
Disappointingly, the only bonus track on this disc is a radio edit of For the Least of My Brothers, which is identical in every respect except that it does not have the crucifixion soundscape which apparently some people found too intense.
I think this is going to be one of those CDs you either love or hate. Some may find the soundscapes or unusual vocal effects distracting, others, innovative. I thought this was a solid first CD with some really good songs, a classic feel, and some really cool effects I have never heard anyone do before. It suffers at times from the raw, bass-heavy, in-your-face production, and some of the songs were a bit long for me, but still overall I would give it a solid 4 out of 5 stars, just because it’s an indie release with balls and vision, and I look forward to hearing more from Angelrage soon - I think they are capable of better. I STILL don't know if they are good angels or bad angels, but I like them. Angelrage Omega **** (This review is based on the e-version provided for review by angelrage.com)
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