Speak of the Dead

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Challenging all those who long ago dismissed them as second-rate and painfully cheesy Teutonic power-thrashers, Rage inaugurate their 18th studio album, Speak of the Dead, with an ambitious, 25-minute song suite subtitled "Lingua Mortis." OK. Get ready for this, though: it's actually very entertaining! Part symphonic orchestration, part Spanish guitar austerity, part organ-driven progressive rock in the style of '70s legends Kansas and, obviously, part heavy metal at its most over-the-top dramatic (and, sure, just a little cheesy, in true Rage tradition), the magnum opus' multiple compositional dimensions are, at the very least, unexpected, and at most, a whole new avenue of expression for the group -- who knew? Unfortunately (or fortunately, for the many fans of Rage's traditional melodic thrash fare) the album's remaining eight tracks revert to business as usual; commingling rather forgettable, standard issue numbers like "No Fear" and "Be with Me or Be Gone," with occasionally inspired slabs of anthemic heavy metal such as "Soul Survivor" (great chorus) and "Kill Your Gods" (excellent machine-gun riffing). And, in Rage's defense, although these second-half offerings are nowhere near as daring or exciting as Speak of the Dead's unpredictable first half salvo, they still showcase more challenging songwriting and technically gifted performances from guitarist Victor Smolski, drummer Mike Terrana, and bassist/vocalist/mastermind Peter "Peavy" Wagner than one can usually expect from terminally repetitive commercial power metal. After all, who else but Rage would have the sheer cojones to pen an entire heavy metal song -- "La Luna Reine" -- in Spanish? As much as anything else, not being afraid to do whatever they want is reason enough to justify the band's lengthy career.

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