Thursday, 28 January 2016

Rhapsody of Fire's 'Into the Legend' - Album Review

If there is a band that straddles the line between symphonic metal and power metal better than Italy's Rhapsody of Fire, then I have yet to hear them! The band's modus operandi has always been 'more is more', and their string of over-the-top metal albums have made them household names in the metal world. Five years since the amicable split that saw founding member and guitarist Luca Turilli leave the band with bassist Patrice Guers to form Luca Turilli's Rhapsody, Rhapsody of Fire are back with their eleventh studio album and second without Turilli's input. Rhapsody of Fire's other founding member, keyboardist Alex Staropoli, and long-time frontman Fabio Lione got their new era of Rhapsody of Fire off to a bit of a stumbling start with 2013's hit-and-miss Dark Wings of Steel. This was a very stripped back album, and lacked some of the hallmarks that make Rhapsody of Fire so identifiable. The trademark orchestrations and choral arrangements took a back seat to muscular guitar riffing; and the result was an album that was enjoyable in places, but lacked the magic of the band's epic back catalogue. I suppose the band wanted to try something different, as 2011's From Chaos to Eternity had concluded The Dark Secret Saga (the storyline that had run through all of the band's studio albums up until Turilli's departure), but I am not sure that their experiment really worked. That being said, the album has grown on me quite a bit in the three years since it's release, but it is not an album I reach for often. Into the Legend, the band's eleventh studio album, sees Rhapsody of Fire getting back to doing what they do best - writing epic-sounding symphonic power metal! The guitar-heavy sound of Dark Wings of Steel has not been totally abandoned however, but is mixed well with the band's prominent orchestrations to create a hybrid sound that works very well. Long-time drummer Alex Holzwarth plays like a man possessed throughout after this rather restrained previous outing, and this helps to propel the band forward and he drives the pace of the album. Guitarist Roberto De Micheli, on his second studio outing with the band, really stamps his mark on the band and really comes out from behind the shadows left by Turilli. His technical riffing and neo-classical solos are all over the album, and he really impresses here. This is also the band's first album with bassist Alessandro Sala, who joined the band last year. Into the Legend is a real step-up for the band after the lacklustre last outing, and an album that I imagine is a blueprint of the sound the band wish to pursue going forward.

After opening with the obligatory cinematic opening instrumental In Principio (these intros all really do sound the same!), Into the Legend gets underway properly with the fast and furious Distant Sky. The simple guitar riff and staccato orchestral stabs bring the band's Dawn of Victory era to mind, and ensures the album gets off in a suitably dramatic way. Lione, who has been busy with Brazilian prog metal masters Angra recently, shows that he still a hugely over-the-top operatic vocal attack, and he uses his huge range and precise power to great effect throughout this album. Distant Sky features an extremely memorable chorus, with plenty of choral backing, and a solo from De Micheli that is straight from the Yngwie Malmsteen handbook. It is probably the simplest song on the album, but it has the band's trademark anthemic feel that makes you feel right at home when putting this album on. Single and title track Into the Legend is another track that grabs you by the throat from the opening keyboard melody and never lets go throughout. This is a little slower though, with a nice chugging riff that sits perfectly alongside the gothic choral arrangements present. The verses speed up, with a relentless Holzwarth drum beat that showcases his fast footwork perfectly. Lione's harsher vocals give the song a more aggressive edge than the opening number, and this fits the heavier feel of the song. The song's chorus is probably the strongest on the album, and recalls the band's early power metal days when every song contained a soaring chorus that was the song's focal point. After two old-school sounding songs, Winter's Rain - with it's slow-burning, almost doomy, feel - recalls the sound the band tested on Dark Wings of Steel. Lione's vocals and the epic orchestrations really drive the song, but De Micheli's technical, but understated heavy riffing acts as the perfect foundation. The chorus sees some very high notes from Lione, which is contrasted nicely by the booming male-voice choir that backs him up. This songs showcases the band's progressive side of their songwriting, as there are many occasions where the band drops out, and lets the orchestra lead the way - to great effect. A slow, spacey guitar solo - a far cry from the band's usual style - is one of the song's high points, and helps to add variety to the album. After a folky intro, A Voice in the Cold Wind opens with a big keyboard riff that recalls the band's old classic The Village of Dwarves - probably deliberately. Lione sings the verses over a delicate renaissance instrumental backing, but this is fairly short-lived as the band comes back with a driving musical motif, that soon leads into a soaring chorus that, again, recalls the band's early days. After a couple songs that left the speed element of the band's sound behind somewhat, Valley of Shadows comes roaring out of the gate with a speedy riff and spiky orchestrations. This is a rather simple song that has a nice fluidity to it, and the vocal work of soprano Manuela Kriscak to add some extra drama. While enjoyable, it is probably the least interesting song on the album up to this point as it lacks any real standout melodies.

Opening with a delicate classical guitar and cello combination, ballad Shining Star is a nice break from the epic metal we have been subjected to up until this point. Lione's breathy vocals are always very effective when it comes to ballads, and he carries a surprising amount of emotion. The song is easily the simplest on the album, but it is no less enjoyable for it. The orchestra is used fairly traditionally to back up the band, and there are plenty of melodic piano lines throughout to drive the song. De Micheli also manages to lay down a very restrained and emotional solo that compliments Lione's vocal delivery perfectly. After that little break, Realms of Light comes on with an old-school sounding metal riff and layers of simple keyboards to create a big atmosphere. It is not a speed-fest, and uses slower, more precise rhythms to create something more powerful. Again, the Dark Wings of Steel sound is used here and it works well. I think the more guitar-heavy, stripped-back sound works well when used sparingly, but failed to stand up over the course of a whole album. A very traditional keyboard solo followed by a nice guitar solo also reinforces that old-school feel, and this song is a far cry from the band's usual bombastic speed-fests. For those who are by now having withdrawal from the band's classic sound, Rage of Darkness comes along as an antidote to those symptoms. There is plenty of fast footwork from Holzwarth to be found here, and a classically-inspired riff that mixes guitar and orchestra perfectly. It is less crazy than other Rhapsody of Fire songs however, and gives Lione's voice plenty of space to breathe, so he is not lost in the mix. The vocal melodies he uses here are some of the album's strongest, and his smooth tones is a joy to listen to. There is an incendiary instrumental section too, that sees De Micheli and Sala duel with their respective string instruments which climaxes in a fantastic, shredding guitar solo. Not to be outdone, we also have a speedy keyboard solo from Staropoli which recalls the band's power metal past. Old-school Rhapsody fans aught to love this one. The album's closing sixteen minute-plus epic, The Kiss of Life, is a real tour-de-force of the band's skills. While it is not as strong as some of the band's previous lengthy offerings, it is a great demonstration of progressive songwriting and orchestral arrangement. As is often with songs this long and complex, it moves through many movements and is quite difficult to summarise and take in. The opening sections is quite simple actually, with a driving classic rock drum beat and some big vocal melodies from Lione. It then transitions into a lovely classical guitar-led section, with Lione's vocals sitting comfortably in his lower register as he sings the Latin lyrics. The song gradually builds back up to a full-band number, with some really epic choral and orchestral work that brings out the best in Staropoli's songwriting and arranging. Lengthy guitar and keyboard solos, but a reprise of the song's early chorus help to bring the epic number to a close. Overall, Into the Legend is a really strong release from Rhapsody of Fire that is a big improvement on Dark Wings of Steel, and is comparable to the band's early work in terms of quality and songwriting in some respects. It is a good fuse of old and new, and will probably be a big success for the band.

The album was released on 15th January 2016 via AFM Records. Below is the band's promotional video for Into the Legend.

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