I mentioned in my review of The Eighth Mountain, Rhapsody of Fire's twelfth album, back in 2019, that, beyond any need to distinguish the band from other offshoots of Rhapsody, I've always had trouble distinguishing any of them from some of the other similar bands with male lead vocalists that explore the symphonic metal genre in very similar ways. I liked that album and I like this one too, but I struggled even more with it than its predecessor because of how generic it is.
Don't get me wrong, these are decent songs performed by a very capable band, and listening to it is no hardship. It's enjoyable stuff. However, I quickly found myself seeing the album like this and I haven't changed this view even after a few listens.
Firstly, there are three songs that are roughly what I expected from the album. They do their jobs well enough, but they do them in the same way and I haven't distinguished them yet. Then there's a brief interlude called Eternal Snow, its Celtic flute over soft drone grabbing our attention. After a little while, the drone builds and the narration begins, as if we're in a concept album (I think we are, as this is the second chapter of The Nephilim's Empire Saga, after The Eighth Mountain). Two more songs follow that are more of what we expect.
Then there's Abyss of Pain II, a real epic at almost eleven minutes and close to twice anything else here. It has a long intro and becomes heavier than any of the earlier songs. There are cool chords and a neat choral section when it gets going. The vocals do ache to be more emotional than ever before, but it moves along very well. It's not going to be ignored, though I'm not convinced that it can truly sustain its length.
That's because, every time I listen through the album, the next thing I notice is the choral section early in I'll Be Your Hero—presented in its Single Edit form—at which point I realise that I missed the two other songs in between Abyss of Pain II and I'll Be Your Hero entirely. It's not that they're worthless; it's that I didn't register the gaps between them, so I assumed that they were parts of Abyss of Pain II which therefore played to me like one twenty minute song.
Then there's another song that I like called Chains of Destiny. It barrels along and I wanted to join in with the vocals, even though I didn't know the words. I can't help but feel that it's not good that it's only the third song I acknowledged by name, if we ignore the interlude that is Eternal Snow at this point, in eleven tracks. However, it's good that it keeps standing out, especially right after I'll Be Your Hero stands out too.
And then, because this is a generous release at six minutes over an hour, there are two songs that are actually the same song and both of them are the same song as Magic Signs, one of the two I'd assumed were sections in Abyss of Pain II. They're merely sung in different languages, Un'ode per l'eroe in Italian and La Esencia de un Rey in Spanish.
If I'd seen the album that way on a first listen because I was too busy multitasking and let it drift a little, only to see it a different way on a second, that's one thing. However, I've listened four times now and I'm still seeing it the same way. Sure, there are bits here and there that I dug a lot, such as the choral bits that pop up here and there, the opening to The Kingdom of Ice and quite a lot of what's going on in the first half of Abyss of Pain II, but it means that my brain isn't acknowledging much of the album and that's not good.
At least it tells me the highlights, because, however many times I drift away, I'll Be Your Hero has a habit of grabbing my attention back and Chains of Destiny maintains it. That says something all on its own, as much as the fact that I can't remember what songs like Maid of the Secret Sand and Infinitae Gloriae sound like after listening to the album four times.
I think I need to listen to some more symphonic metal with male vocalists, because I don't usually have this problem with the genre, especially when the lead singers are female. Are the men that close in sound? Surely not. Is it just the various flavours of Rhapsody? I don't think so. So is just me or do others have this problem? Answers on the back of a postcard to the usual address.