A review ought not to begin on a down note, but it's important to point out that the music on Sage's five-song EP is much better than a banal title like Lightning Strikes suggests. Now that that's out of the way, take a breath! Known only by their first names, the four Chicagoans who make up Sage produce an accessible yet somewhat heady, allegory-drenched, riff-oriented symphonic hard rock.
Female vocals never fail to perk one's ears, and Tracey S's vox will invite comparisons to Melissa Rodler (Leger de Main, Mythologic), Sharon den Adel (Within Temptation), and Amy Lee (Evanescence). Lightning Strikes is marked by the same airy, punchy production that yields a huge, in-your-face sound—from which this band's style benefits. The songs are actually less complex than one might anticipate, but the clever arrangements and hilt-deep playing sound otherwise. Jagged guitar leads mesh perfectly with the rhythm section's piledriving TOOLisms on "Dust," the leadoff cut—and obvious choice for a lead single.
"Ever Unanswered" builds over an authentically sitarlike guitar lead and a hypnotic bass riff. Tracey's lilting vocal is tops on this tune. A guest tabla player and a nice time shift at three minutes make this a standout. "Scarecrow" and "Blindsided" continue to familiarize one with the band's style, and it becomes very apparent what an asset Tracey's voice is—hold on to this gal! "Lightning Strikes" closes this round as the most uptempo, jarring cut (alongside "Scarecrow)." Guitarist Mike W doles out some nice runs, and the song's denouement follows a crescendo worthy of Fates Warning. If the right cards fall, Sage will have a serious opportunity to crack the mainstream jugular.