I've been an obsessed hard rock/heavy metal fan and collector since the early 1980s. If it's got a good guitar riff and attitude, I'm in.
Refuge, "Solitary Men"
Genre: Power Metal
Release: Frontiers Records, 2018
Tracks: 11 / Run Time: 55:28
"The Man in the Ivory Tower"
I'm not quite sure how I missed out on this CD when it was first released in 2018, but I'm glad I got my hands on it now. Refuge is an offshoot project of bassist/vocalist Peter "Peavy" Wagner's long-running German power metal trio Rage (that's just plain ol' "Rage," kids, not to be confused with "...Against The Machine," haha!)
On Solitary Men, Peavy reunited with former Rage guitarist Manni Schmidt and drummer Chris Efthimiadis. Those are the three guys who made up Rage's most critically acclaimed and commercially successful lineup. Though they never amounted to much more than a cult item in America, Rage remains quite popular in Europe and Japan, and their ascent started with the run of classic albums recorded by this particular trio, beginning with 1988's Perfect Man and ending with 1993's The Missing Link.
Rage has continued as an active band ever since, with Peavey as the only original member. Therefore these band members chose to call this project "Refuge," after one of the most popular songs from the Missing Link album. Their "Refuge" logo even looks like the vintage Rage logo that the band used on their album covers back then. Soooo, would you be surprised if I told you that Solitary Men sounds... pretty much like vintage Rage? I didn't think so.
I own a handful of Rage CDs, but I lost track of them quite a few years and albums (not to mention band members) ago. However, it only took a few spins of Solitary Men, for me to determine that the magic is still there, and the album can hang with the best of Rage's golden-years catalog.
"From the Ashes"
When most people hear the term "power metal" they generally picture bands like Helloween, Gamma Ray, or Hammerfall, who play speedy, highly polished, upbeat music, but Rage have never been a "happy happy" kind of band. Even during the biggest years of the German power metal boom, they set themselves apart from their countrymen by employing a dirtier, greasier sound which still managed to have a good amount of melody. Peavy's hoarse, snarling vocal style may be an "acquired taste" for some listeners, but you can't deny the crunchy groove of tracks like Solitary Men's blistering opener "Summer's Winter." "The Man in the Ivory Tower" has a great chorus with hooks that will immediately get stuck in the listener's head.
"Bleeding From The Inside" stomps on the gas pedal and brings a touch of speed metal to the proceedings, and "From the Ashes" features some of the most jagged, thrashy guitar riffing on the entire album. Peavy's voice gets seriously sinister as he growls his way through the doomy "Living on the Edge of Time," which has a major Black Sabbath feel to it. "We Owe A Life to Death" may be an awkward title, but it's another burly, bruising speed metal cut with Peavy's thumping bass lines leading the charge. The chugging "Mind Over Matter" and rollicking "Let Me Go" keep the intensity level high and lead into the album-ending one-two punch of "Hell Freeze Over" and the moody, seven-and-a-half-minute closing epic "Waterfalls."
My copy of the CD ends with a bonus track: a re-recording of "Another Kind of Madness," a rare cut that originally appeared on the 2002 remastered version of The Missing Link. For some reason it's billed as an "acoustic version," which seems inaccurate, since this song sounds pretty damn electrified to me and is just as heavy and head-banging as the 10 tracks that preceded it.
Summing It Up
I'm not sure if Refuge was intended as a one-off or if this trio plans to record more albums together, but I sincerely hope they do, because Solitary Men has developed into a frequent player after only a few spins.
It's also prompted me to dig back into the handful of other Rage CDs I own like Unity and XIII, which I hadn't listened to in quite a few years. Who knows, maybe this will inspire me to start looking into some of the Rage albums I've missed out on over the past decade and a half. (If memory serves, their last album I bought was Soundchaser way back in 2004!) This band has quite an extensive discography, so that would be a project guaranteed to keep me busy for the next couple of years.
In short, Solitary Men is a solid listen from a trio of veteran bangers and it's great to hear them still sounding so vital after all these years. Welcome back Manni and Chris, and keep bringin' the heavy, Peavy!
© 2020 Keith Abt