AFM Records [Release date 26.05.17]
After a lot of turmoil, and a number of recent line-up changes, the new look Rhapsody Of Fire lay their cards on the table with their new album, which sees the new line-up rerecord a number of classic tracks from the earlier part of their career.
Italian Symphonic metal band Rhapsody (later Rhapsody Of Fire for legal reasons) formed originally as Thundercross in the mid 90s, changing their name for the 1997 album Legendary Tales. Founder members keyboardist Alex Staropoli and guitarist Luca Turilli were joined by vocalist Fabio Lione for a string of fantastic (I am a huge fan) albums that took power metal in an operatic, symphonic and melodic direction, with albums often conceptual. 2004’s Symphony of Enchanted Lands II – The Dark Secret was the first of five albums spanning a concept and were narrated by Christopher Lee.
Amongst the rotating line-ups were often a second guitarist, either on stage and/or in the studio. More recently Luca Turilli left amicably and formed his own version of the band, but more recently vocalist Lione departed, and there has been a Rhapsody farewell tour featuring Turilli, Lioni and former Rhapsody Of Fire members Alex Holzwarth, Patrice Guers and Dominique Leurquin.
Returning to a one guitar line-up, here original member and keyboard player Alex Staropoli is joined by guitarist Roby De Micheli, bassist, Alessandro Sala, vocalist Giacomo Voli and drummer Manu Lotter.
The 14 tracks, running to 73 minutes, are taken from 5 albums in a concept land started on 1997’s Legendary Tales; while this encompasses many classics, it does omit some of the band’s best work.
Opening track ‘Dawn Of Victory’, a classic and catchy track if there ever was one, kicks off at a high tempo and the solid power of the vocals and guitar is evident from the outset. Imagine a Lord Of The Rings fight scene epitomised as an out-and-out power metal track you’d have Dawn Of Victory. Personally I would prefer the keyboards a bit higher in the mix. The vocal harmonies in the chorus work just as well as the original, the guitar work is blistering. Rhapsody’s symphonic arrangements are evident on Knightrider Of Doom, big choruses, guitar work that is blistering and melodic in equal measure.
Through Flames Of Revenge (some good strings mid song) and Beyond The Gates To Infinity (the latter running to over 7 minutes) take you through the moods and atmospheres of Rhapsody Of Fire’s concepts, and wonderful metal it is too. Likewise Land Of Immortals which sees vocalist Voli fit in perfectly. Again the keyboards and orchestration are wonderful if a little low in the mix.
Emerald Sword is, like the opener Dawn Of Victory, a stand out and longtime live favourite. This song is to Rhapsody Of Fire as Run To The Hills is Iron Maiden, or Whole Lotta Rosie to AC/DC – omission would have been criminal. While Voli’s vocals aren’t quite as operatic as Lione’s, he has the power, passion and range to do the song justice and make it his own. The guitar harmonies, like the layered vocals, emphasise the anthemic feel.
Legendary Tales opens with a harpsichord and woodwind, adding to the medieval sound, before the guitars whisk you away. Dargor Shadow Lord Of The Black Mountain is thematically an important track as Dargor was central to the later Dark Secret series. The alternating smooth and grinding vocals in When Demons Awake capture the mood well, and the guitar solo on this track is a real stand out. Wings Of Destiny is a slower and more emotional track, but just as powerful. Riding The Winds Of Eternity has a big production feel, a sound to close an opera, The Dark Towers Of Abyss similarly, and the polished sound is encompassing and enthralling.
Typical of the band’s sound, Holy Thunderforce has the power and setting of a big stage show thrashed out by a solid melodic power metal band, the keyboard break shows how it can and should be done. The final track Rain Of A Thousand Flames (title track to the album of the same name), a blistering track with some occasional narration.
Arrangements and running times are a little too note-for-note to the original versions; amazing much as this music is, I feel that more individuality could have been made of. The songwriting and arrangement of Rhapsody Of Fire’s music and their trademark big production usually more encompassing of the keyboards, choir and orchestra which some tracks could feature more of here.
That said, it’s a fantastic album and serves as to showcase the new line-up perfectly and act as a reminder of just how good the Rhapsody (as they were at the of this material) catalogue is.
I hope this is just a short stopgap – a new album of new material has to be forthcoming. And only that album, or a new Saxon album, will topple this from one of my albums of the year. ****1/2
Review by Ed Stone
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