1. Dar-Kunor 2. Triumph Or Agony 3. Heart Of The Darklands 4. Old Age Of Wonders 5. The Myth Of The Holy Sword 6. Il Canto Del Vento 7. Silent Dream 8. Bloody Red Dungeons 9. Son Of Pain 10. The Mystic Prophecy Of The Demonknight 11. Dark Reign Of Fire
The group formerly known as Rhapsody has now become Rhapsody of Fire, for those of you not hip to the music news. Apparently, their precedence with the name was not enough to stop RealNetworks (who also distribute RealPlayer) from seizing the name through threat of legal action. I, for one, will continue to refer to these Italian symphonic legends as Rhapsody, for a number of reasons. The first: RealNetworks is a hack company distributing the worst media player out there, and not at all deserving of the name Rhapsody. Secondly, Rhapsody of Fire is absurd, even for a band such as this. Finally (and most legitimately), because ‘of Fire’ is severely misleading, despite the positive press release from co-founding member Alex Staropoli where he claims that Rhapsody of Fire illustrates the group’s sustained energy and passion.
While the band’s latest studio effort (their sixth) is certainly as rich and lushly composed an album as they’ve ever released, the ‘of Fire’ suffix harks to their invigorating anthems of old like ‘Holy Thunderforce’ or ‘Agony is My Name’ far more than it does the tepid ballads that take up too much of ‘Triumph or Agony’.
Of the 11 songs, one is an intro track (as usual, but this one is rather bloated at 3 minutes), three are ballads, and three others are mid-tempo, more ‘power rock’ than ‘power metal’. None are particularly bad, per se, but that leaves room for only four songs (including the plot-obsessed epic track that includes entire minutes of narration and spoken parts) for Rhapsody to really unleash the tempestuous bombast that made them famous.
And this galloping release is a rare occurrence indeed on ‘Triumph or Agony’. When it does happen, Rhapsody show that they are clearly one of the most professional and tightly knit bands in the power metal genre, featuring two of the premier musicians in all of metal (Luca Turilli and Fabio Lione). The title track, the album’s early and only real peak, is a perfect example of this—majestic, fluid, and dynamic, with ripping arpeggios and excellent vocal counterpoint; in sum, more like ‘Power of the Dragonflame’, the band’s most consistent and inspired work to date.
After that, though, Rhapsody seem to lose their way, or run out of inspiration. In the face of such a promising start, this is rather perplexing. They have obviously matured as performers—the transitions, textures, and orchestral arrangements are some of their best work to date—but the spark, the ‘Fire’, somehow lacks consistent warmth.
It is true that Christopher Lee rivals Orson Welles as the best guest narrator in metal history, but his (and all the other actors’) presence is superfluous. Always a little quirky with their protracted plotlines more suited to a D&D campaign than a musical project, Rhapsody have gotten by on sheer musical ability and a good sense of fun. But their inspiration has really sidetracked them in recent years.
As a comparison, let us turn to opera, a genre with close geographical and stylistic ties to Rhapsody’s own. In opera, there are a number of different vocal methods such as aria, chorus, recitative, each serving a different purpose—aria to express emotion and act as the climaxes of the entire work, chorus as emphasis, and recitative to quickly progress the plot, moving from peak to peak. At one time in their career, Rhapsody could churn out some of the most natural and fist-pumping ‘arias’ in all of power metal. But now, though we wait with eager arms to leap to the Rhapsody banner and raise it up on high, the signal never comes. ‘Triumph or Agony’ is an opera more recitative than aria, more rote than inspired, meandering around without a climax. What’s more, mired down by its mediocrity, the cheesiness of Rhapsody that always lurked at the corners becomes more difficult to rationalize.
While it is still interesting enough to hear Rhapsody’s group dynamic continue to develop (including an isolated and…unique attempt at growls), I cannot help but wish they would simply kill off all the characters in their story, even the Nordic Warrior, and put the music first. Plots are cute, plots are fun, but nowadays chances are more fans than ever will be downloading the music and never even opening the booklet, complete with maps and parts all neatly written out though it may be. While classy art and massive concept albums are fine embellishments, Rhapsody’s reliance on them for success is a sure sign of trouble ahead.
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