Sage – Anno Domini 1573 Review

Band: Sage
Album: Anno Domini 1573
Label: Rockshots Records
Genre: Power Metal
Country: Croatia
Release Date: September 21, 2018

Sage hail from Croatia, a small European nation that has received its fair share of attention this year after becoming runners up in the World Cup. Croatia was once part of Yugoslavia and went through a difficult (which may be an understatement) transition into the country it is today after its dissolution. I would say I know more than most of my fellow Americans about the nation of roughly 8 million, which is to say most Americans know nothing about this place.

From the start, this album lets you know it is more than conveying music to the ears. It is trying to tell a story. It is fully loaded with sweeping vocals and ripping guitar solos and Sage display considerable songwriting prowess on their first album. They sound like a band far more mature than their years would suggest. Interestingly, the album does not feel overly guitar laden. It certainly has its moments but certain songs are led by the vocals, keyboards, and drums rather than the guitar – and this isn’t a bad thing. “Blacksmith’s Tale” is among the exceptions to this, with heavy riffing throughout, though orchestral arrangements play the most interesting part. If anything, the guitar is used to compliment the songs as a whole rather than a driving instrument.

While understandably identifying as power metal, there is something not so ‘power’ about them. Something that sinks deeper into my skin than most power metal does. This might be authenticity – they are playing straight from their hearts. They mix traditional central European soundscapes, potentially those of their native Croatia (I don’t know enough to say), with their otherwise hard rock musicianship. It feels genuine and less smack-in-your-face power metal-like as orchestral sounds might be on another album.

Sage take inspiration from the events of the Peasants Revolt of 1573, and paint a vivid picture. There is a clear arc at work. Intense feelings of helplessness are coupled by the need to cling onto hope. Nevertheless, the protagonist, while his actions have become known, his true name is never revealed. He begins by being referred to as “the boy” with the “dragon heart” and raised by wolves after his parents’ death – although this could possibly be another character. Similarly, while the mood and feeling is expertly captured, real place names are overlooked. Someone such as myself, without knowledge of this event, lacks the context to fully grasp the story.

From what I can gather from Wikipedia, the revolt of mention was in effect building for many years as serf lords increased their fiefdom. They gradually increased their demands over their subjects as economic collapse loomed in the face of Ottoman invasion. Eventually the serfs had had enough and began strategic military operations. They ended up being crushed by the ruling parties at the time, and the peasant class faced heavy retribution for their revolt. Thousands were slaughtered. The intro to “Battle” acts as a hymn to those lost while also being a call to arms to those who remain. It is a powerful message and reminder of a time when much greater injustice than today was not only prevalent but the norm throughout much of the world.

My complaints would be about rhythm guitar often being buried in the mix. Additionally, the classical interludes rarely take center stage even when they should. However, there are some really interesting vocal effects on songs such as “Dragon Heart” and “Two Souls”. The vocals overall are the strongest instrument the majority of the time, being able to convey a multitude of emotions. That being said, the lead guitar tone sounds great and is reminiscent of classic Judas Priest albums.

The standout tracks for me are “Join Us”, which features a unique chorus and earth-shattering group vocals, and the final track “Heaven Open Your Gates”, which is a lovely power metal ballad. It is telling the rare story in which the hero is not triumphant but that doesn’t mean they are any less a hero. I still find myself singing the chorus. No song overstays its welcome, each with its own structure, never overdone. Powerful choruses are abundant and will make you want to sing along. I thought I might get bored by traditional power metal clichés by the end of the album but they are so well executed that it becomes a non-issue. In conclusion, Domini 1573 is a coagulation of free flowing musical ideas & storytelling woven into an often stunning epic tale.

Rating: 8/10

1. Rivers Will Be Full of Blood
2. Rebellion
3. Wolf Priest
4. Dragon Heart
5. Two Souls
6. Blacksmith’s Tale
7. Man of Sorrow
8. Join Us
9. Treason
10. Battle
11. Heaven Open Your Gates

Total Playing Time: 58:32

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