Monday 4 March 2019

Rhapsody of Fire - The Eighth Mountain (2019)

Country: Italy
Style: Symphonic Power Metal
Rating: 7/10
Release Date: 22 Feb 2019
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If, like me, you haven't been keeping up with the doings of Italian power metal band Rhapsody, let me try to update you. Everything was fine for a decade, but they had to change their name to Rhapsody of Fire in 2006, due to some sort of trademark concern. So far, so good, right? Well, in 2011, they split in half but not in the usual way. This split was apparently entirely amicable and it led to a sort of 'buy one get one free' scenario where Rhapsody fans got two bands to continue the legacy. Let's untangle.

Rhapsody of Fire continued on under the leadership of founding member Alex Staropoli, who handles their keyboards, along with long term lead vocalist Fabio Lione and long term drummer Alex Holzwarth, both of whom were in the band that recorded Power of the Dragonflame back in 2002. Simultaneously, founding member and lead guitarist Luca Turilli started up Luca Turilli's Rhapsody and the other guitarists followed him over: Dominique Leurquin and bassist Patrice Guers.

Just to confuse even more, Holzwarth initially played in both bands until settling back to just Rhapsody of Fire. Of course, that line-up ended up changing too and the current band, still led by Staropoli, doesn't contain anyone who was there prior to the split. Meanwhile, Luca Turilli's Rhapsody called it quits in 2018 after two albums and became Turilli/Lione Rhapsody instead, with a line up that's the classic Rhapsody sans Starapoli.

The question, of course, is that if Turilli/Lione Rhapsody has all but one member, why would we be listening to Rhapsody of Fire? Well, the answer is because this is a pretty good album that does everything it needs to do.

The Eighth Mountain, which is actually their twelfth album, doesn't outstay its welcome and that's even with a running time close to an hour even before the epic final track that lasts almost eleven more on its own, in part due to another resonant narration from the late lamented Sir Christopher Lee. I've lost track of the ongoing storyline but it still sounds wonderful and it's great to hear his voice again.

Giacomo Voli's versatile vocals are perfect for this sort of material. He's comfortable in more subdued lower sections and he soars like a bird in the higher ones. Starapoli's fingers dance up and down his keyboards like they need the exercise but he also tones it down for atmospheric sections, often led by flute or soft guitar. I believe its his voice in the choral moments, which play very much in the Therion style on tracks like Seven Heroic Deeds, March Against the Tyrant and at the end of The Courage to Forgive.

Everything is overblown, of course, because it's hard for symphonic power metal not to be overblown and fans aren't just not going to care, they're going to revel in it. Warrior Heart, in particular, is jam packed full of heartfelt emotion and grandiose melodies. I've often thought of symphonic power metal as the subgenre where the verses are all choruses and choruses are on steroids. Warrior Heart is a textbook example of that and so is The Wind, the Rain and the Moon.

And, frankly, this is pretty textbook stuff throughout. Everything that you might want from the genre is here: soaring vocals, frantic solos, melodies that could save the world and odd little musical sections to keep the wave of emotions where it needs to be. The only surprising aspect is that most of the songs only run four or five minutes, with just March Against the Tyrant and Tales of a Hero's Fate getting really epic.

So, if there's everything you might want here, what's the catch? Well, the catch is my usual catch for this genre, namely that I often have trouble in telling the various quality bands apart. Never mind Rhapsody of Fire or Luca Turilli's Rhapsody, how do I distinguish this from all the similar male-led bands, especially those which have featured these members? I haven't figured that out yet. I just know that this is good stuff indeed and I like it. As track ten points out, "Still the legend goes on."

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