REFUGE – Solitary Men

As a kid, I was far from a Thrash Metal fan. The hardest stuff I listened to when growing up were the likes of Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Saxon and Accept. Well, I did own – and liked very much – Don’t Break The Oath by Mercyful Fate but that was an exception. Even when the 80’s turned to 90’s and I had broadened my taste – adding heavier and harder bands to my more traditional Metal taste, which also included plain Hard Rock, Melodic Rock, AOR, Arena Rock, Glam and Sleaze – and bands such as Metallica, Slayer, Testament and Megadeth were in my record collection I had a hard time taking all those German thrashers seriously. I hated when Destruction, Sodom and Kreator were let loose on Headbanger’s Ball. Another one of those bands was Rage. To this day, those bands just weren’t in my musical universe. But things change and since I was floored by Kreator’s latest effort and the fact that I really dug Destruction’s gig at Sweden Rock, I could dig into the debut album by Refuge, once known as Rage.

Starting back in 1984 as Avenger, they released one album back in ’85 (Prayers Of Steel) before changing the name to Rage and in 1986 they released their debut album under that moniker, Reign Of Fear. Since then the band have released no less than 22 albums under different incarnations (ok, so one of those was under the Lingua Mortis Orchestra moniker) where members coming and going in an ever flowing stream with vocalist and bassist Peavy as the only original member. Since the reception of the band’s later albums have been mixed to say the least, when Peavy was reunited with guitarist Manni Schmidt and drummer Christos Efthimiadis – the most popular line-up of the band – they decided to start anew with a new name to mark that this reunion was for real and Refuge was born. For a guy like me whose past doesn’t include Rage one bit, I can only review this album for what it is with no comparisons to the band’s old stuff. But this is a refuge album and not a Rage one after all.

The whole thing takes off with “Summer’s Winter”, a fast classic Metal tune that comes of like a more Thrash version of Accept’s “Fast As A Shark”. But on top of all the rough and fast Thrash lies a very melodic melody line and a refrain that’s almost poppy that catches on directly. I’m a bit astound here as I really dig the tune and I really had not expected to. At least not as much as I do. First single/video “The Man In The Ivory Tower” follows. It alternates between mid-tempo to uptempo with a thrashy groove and holds a steady rhythm. It’s a punchy Metal tune but I wouldn’t call it Thrash per se. It’s in-your-face with a striking melody and a catchy refrain that makes it a pretty obvious single choice – and yes, I think it’s a damn good tune as well. “Bleeding From Inside” is a fat, gutsy Hard Rock tune with a rhythmic edge and a bouncy groove. It’s a straight ahead Metal tune, melodic and catchy but not in a “let’s write a hit” kind of way. Very good.

“From The Ashes” is raw, raunchy, hard and aggressive Thrash metal that comes across as very German-sounding. It’s a kicking and biting yet melody laden blaster that hits right on the jaw. This is great stuff! “Living On The Edge” starts out with a sinister, Slayer-like riff but continues like a melodic Metal Helloween meets Manowar goes Thrash kind of thing. It do contain a very strong melody and a refrain that hits right in the gut. This is awesome and a clear favorite of mine. “We Owe A Life To Death” is a faster, punchy Hard Rock meets Thrash Metal stomper, rough and kicking but with a hitty and almost poppy refrain. It’s on the Power Metal side of things, the way Helloween did it back in the day and it sticks like glue – a real killer. “Mind Over Matter” is a hard-hitting, classic Metal where their Thrash roots shines through some – like a more thrashy Saxon or something like that. Tough, hard and ballsy – and right up my alley.

“Let Me Go” is heavy, upbeat, punchy and in-your-face Heavy Metal, strong and memorable in the melodies and a repetitive yet very catchy and effective refrain that leaves you no other choice than to surrender – which I do. Right off the bat. “Hell Freeze Over” surprises me with some riffs that sounds almost jazzy but where Metal still is the base. The tune itself is rough, bouncy, heavy and aggressive. That said, melodies that sticks seems to be the big focal point even here and the catchiness combined with the heaviness is a dynamic contrast which makes the tune a winner. “Waterfalls” is slower in pace and starts out in a softer mode with a bluesy and even jazzy vibe. But the tune soon speeds up and shows off the band’s Thrash roots. But it’s still very melodic and not as hard as the rest and I guess this tune might be a watershed among old fans. I love it though. As a closer, the bonus track “Another Kind Of Madness” brings on a softer, ballad-like vibe, think early Metallica. It speeds up with a big groove and a punch. It’s still not a very hard song, more like a Metal ballad with a catchy and punchy refrain and again, I think old fans might have an opinion about his. I think it’s great, though.

What old Rage fans will think of this album, I’m totally clueless of. But I think this album is awesome and as a guy who doesn’t have a Rage past, will I be fan of their older stuff now that I dig this? Please let me know. To me, this sounds like a Heavy Metal album, classic style with a lot of Thrash vibes all over the record. It’s a lot more melodic and catchy than I had expected. Sure, this is by no means pop-metal for the charts – it’s still aggressive, heavy and ballsy but with a lot of focus on melodies and catchy refrains, just the way I like it. Refuge has put out one damn great album and for me, one of the biggest surprises of 2018. Well done, boys and welcome back.

8/10

Tracklist:

1. Summer’s Winter
2. The Man In The Ivory Tower
3. Bleeding From Inside
4. From The Ashes
5. Living On The Edge
6. We Owe A Life To Death
7. Mind Over Matter
8. Let Me Go
9. Hell Freeze Over
10. Waterfalls
11. Another Kind Of Madness

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