Redkey - Rage of fire 3/5

Reviewed: 10-13-06


1. Intro
2. Rage of fire
3. Be my guide
4. Gone too far
5. Rebellion
6. Peace & war
7. Easy way out
8. Obsession
9. Metal head
10. Respectable
11. The fortune

Back in the mid-90s, I owed a tremendous debt of gratitude to German melodic power metallers Heavens Gate for keeping this genre of music alive at a time when the American market and even chunks of the European market had left it for dead. Although the Heavens Gate discography is not uniformly brilliant, 1989's 'In control', 1991's 'Livin' in hysteria', and 1996's 'Planet E' remain favorites of mine and absolute must-haves for prime Helloween-lite power metal with superb songwriting and cool vocals. After 1999's disappointing 'Menergy' opus, Heavens Gate disappeared with nary a whimper, and without ever enjoying the accolades (outside of Japan) that they so richly deserved. Guitarist Sascha Paeth has gone on to become an acclaimed producer, responsible for producing the likes of Rhapsody, Epica and Kamelot in recent years. Vocalist Thomas Rettke has done backing vocals here and there on a few projects, but has otherwise remained hidden from view. Until now.

As the none-too-subtle name suggests, Redkey is the new solo band formed by Thomas Rettke. (Get it: Redkey, Rettke?), featuring none other than his former Heavens Gate bandmate Sascha Paeth, both playing guitar and manning the producer's chair. The news of Redkey's existence and this debut CD on Piet Sielck's typically reliable Dockyard 1 Records was quite exciting to me, and I longed for a new recording of classic Heavens Gate-tinged material to show today's modern power metal kiddies how the masters do it, and to reaffirm that at least one great band was formed and forged in the musical cesspool of the 90s. A few reviews of breathless praise on the internet brought my anticipation level to a fevered pitch.

What I wanted and what I received on 'Rage of fire' were different things, unfortunately. This Redkey CD will never be confused with Heavens Gate's magnum opuses. The problem most definitely does not lie in Rettke's distinctive pipes, which are like the return of a long-lost friend. His voice sounds as familiar, friendly, strong, sturdy and melodious as ever, albeit with a tendency to lurk in his mid and lower registers more often than he did back in Heavens Gate's heyday. Nor is there any room to gripe about Paeth's punishing production job, which puts the pounding guitars right in your face, front-and-center. No, Redkey's downfall lies in the material, which is of highly variable quality. Some songs are great, while others are distinctly lacking in the excitement and riffing departments. Inexplicably, Rettke has opted to eschew the glorious Heavens Gate sound of old in favor of a modernized and updated take on the well-trodden Judas Priest sound. 'Rage of fire' is a bit like crossing Priest's 'Jugulator' with Primal Fear's midtempo stuff, with hints of Fight, Beyond Fear, or even groovier U.D.O. This was not a good decision, in my view. Too many of the riffs are too boring and too many of the songs are too rhythm driven, with those amazing Rettke melodies taking a back seat to the action. Redkey lacks the songwriting dynamics to do the Primal Fear stuff as well as the Sinner/Scheepers combo. Rettke's voice lacks the sheer jaw-dropping, show-stopping quality that elevates Ripper's Beyond Fear stuff above the level of mediocrity. And Redkey can't touch U.D.O. for the throne of domination at the pounding, anthemic style.

When all is said and done, I'd never pick 'Rage of fire' over 'In control', 'Livin' in hysteria', 'Planet E', or even 'Live for sale'. Maybe if I were not so enamored of Heavens Gate, or if my expectations had not been sky-high, this Redkey CD would have impressed me more favorably. But if I were not a big fan of Heavens Gate, I would never have checked Redkey out in the first place, so that explanation is ultimately unsatisfying. Next time, Rettke should write with Paeth, instead of trying to bear the laboring oar himself. And if he insists on doing the writing, he should focus on tracks with strong melodies and interesting riffs, like the outstanding title track, "Be my guide", "Obsession" (whose chorus is pure gold), and the great bridge on "Rebellion". But the chuggy repetitive stuff like "Easy way out" and the Fight-styled "Gone too far" just isn't working for me.




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