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Remember the days when Rhapsody were fresh, and Dark Moor still had Elisa, fuck, remember a time before Italy's power metal scene was crowded? Ancient Bards presents us with their debut release The Alliance of the Kings, which also happens to double as a time machine. So lets travel back to 1999 (Quick let me grab my frilled shirt and emerald sword).
Ancient Bards play Italian power metal like bands such as Kaledon merely wish they could. This is as over the top and as pompous as it comes. You could write a check list for everything you expect from an Italian power metal album and I'm damn sure Ancient Bards could tick every single box for you. I guess it would probably look a little something like this;
Double kicked drums: check
High fantasy lyrics and themes: check
Open string guitar lines: check
Keyboard input orchestras: check
Guitar/ keyboard duals: check
Eight minute plus epics: check
Folky jive sections: check
Yngwie Malmsteen lead guitars: check
Bass arpeggios: check
Token ballad: check
I'm pretty sure that from that list you will have already made a clear decision whether The Alliance of the Kings is for you. I won't keep you much longer but before closing there are a few things I need mention, just you know, so you don't get the wrong idea.
Firstly, this is played with a lot of passion and fervor, which in turn gives Ancient Bards that extra bit of clout which, your average Rhapsody clone band probably couldn't give. Secondly, Sara Squadrani is a great singer and asset, she makes me think Anette Olzon, only the better version. Finally, Daltor the Dragonhunter makes this a mandatory listen for any power metal fan, and is one of the finest power metal tracks I've heard in years.
To close, while I think Ancient Bards still have a ways to go before they reach Pathfinder levels of glorious power metal worship, they have a fun, energetic debut that should be high for any priority power metal fan (especially the dungeons and dragons Rhapsody of Fire types).
Someone once said that Italian metal can sometimes get ugly. Since that someone was me, well – I’m going to say it again. The reason is Ancient Bards. I like them. But let’s get the ugly stuff out of the way first. So we’re talking pictures of the band with swords and capes and stuff, plus lyrics and a story that pretty much go nowhere except clicheville – and spoken parts that nail nothing except a bad accent.
But what was that I heard you say? That it’s all about the music? Alright then, let’s take a look. Or a listen. Despite appearances, this is no Rhapsody of Fire clone. Ancient Bards are, however, a pretty spot on blender band. You know what a blender band is right? That’s when a band sounds like a bunch of bands stuck in a blender. In this case throw in Blind Guardian, Stratovarius and Freedom Call for starters. Then steroid inject it and add a female singer. There you have it.
The female vocals are not what you expect. No out of work opera singer here. Sara Squadrani is cut from the same cloth as Kiara of recent Skylark fame. Think clean powerhouse vox on the dark side. The Skylark comparison carries over to the fact that the keyboardist writes everything here too. His name’s Daniele Mazza and he’s going to be very good one day. The problem here is that someone let him produce his own album. The result is great production values but not great songs.
One of the strangest things about this album is that the when you stop to compare the verse melodies to the choruses – the verse melodies come out ahead over 50% of the time. They’re actually more catchy. That’s a worry alright. Likewise the incredible solos and orchestral interludes. Here’s what I’m talking about.
After a genuinely boring spoken intro we get straight into “The Birth Of Evil”. It’s double kick and keyboard territory right away. This is the band saying here’s our “sound”. The problem with that sound is that it normally includes exactly what you get here, a safe sing-song chorus that’s a rehash of a rehash. But just when you’re about to zone out, the guitars blaze a neoclassical trail straight into a pipe-organ cacophony. Boy does it work.
“Four Magic Elements” sounds just like a pointless extra verse of the song that just finished. But again it’s the solo that saves the day. This time it’s a mighty speed metal mini-symphony. Just the thing to lay the foundations for “Only The Brave”. This one comes close to being a real song except that again, I’d swear the lyrics and half hooks are just an excuse to kill time until the awesome solo interlude. The same again on “Frozen Minds”; over seven minutes of almost a song with a killer solo break.
“Lode Al Padre” is near enough to the best thing on the album. It’s the ballad and you just have to bear with the ultra light and ultra bland verse tune ripped off from every high school musical slow song ever written. It’s worth the wait because the chorus that’s waiting is something special indeed. So too the – you guessed it – astonishingly powerful instrumental section.
The last three songs are really just more of the above but longer. Two run for over eight minutes and it’s not until the last half of the last song that you’ll start getting shivers up and down your spine again.
Damn this band is frustrating and damn I wish someone had given them some direction. Here’s my advice. And actually it applies to anyone interested in doing the symphonic or power metal fantasy thing. Go and listen to a song called “Keeper Of The Seven Keys”. You’ll notice it tells a magnificent story that you can actually follow. You’ll also notice the way it manages to balance a traditional verse, bridge, chorus with a symphonic structure that brings in interludes, multiple solos and then a massive finale. Also, you’ll notice it seems a hell of a lot bigger than it is. Who needs an orchestra when you have a vision right?
Oh and what a great story it is! I happened by this band by accident when following various Youtube videos and when I saw the chunky, yet cute Sara Squadrani, I instantly fell in LOVE. Love I say!
STORY TIME. The album starts with a spoken intro by Sara. The intro tells of an evil Sorcerer (Sendor) who wants to find a mystical serd (sword, sorry Sara) so that he will have absolute power. The album has a concept that flows through each song, telling a story of the kings being united to stand up to Sendor and stop him from getting the serd (I am sorry).
So after the intro we are thrown right into "The Birth of Evil" which starts off our story, and on one HELL of a right foot. We start off with a very cool guitar intro leading us directly into a nice little fast climb up into a guitar wall before the story kicks off.
The beauty of the album is not in the story, but really in the collaboration of all the instruments. The main six musicians can be heard perfectly throughout the album and they even have a full choir! The keyboards and bass are also very audible along with two guitarists who sound like they are in a competition to play leads. The drumming is a little more involved than your typical power metal album (noting to cause a mind fuck, though) and Sara... oh my Sara, how awesome your vocals are.
As the album progresses (or should I say flows on, due to the synergy of all the songs), we are given nothing but nine completely solid tracks (and one track being your typical power metal filler). The only real issue I have with the album though comes from the progression itself. Wait...was I not just praising it? The issue is almost all of the songs repeat themselves. We heard the chorus a minimum of three times per most songs and the verses are even repeated! This is a no-no in my book when trying to tell an "epic" story. Why have ten tracks (at a decent length too!) when I am only tickled with the first part of the "Black Crystal Sword Saga"? There really won't be much of a saga at this point if any future albums continue with this song structure. What's the plus side in all this? We (usually) get to hear the same verse repeated with all new riffs and beats, which makes most songs a rediscovery of your favorite chorus/verse. More pluses:
great story, strong and powerful vocals, near perfect dual guitarsmenship, good drumming for power metal, audible bass...and the entire chorus.
The issues: the story is just not enough for me, the filler track (I loathe fillers), and the way sword is pronounced in the intro.
I am not usually a guy big on his power metal, but this album is a MUST OWN. The album is truly one of the best finds for me in a long time and is easily in my top power metal album picks. Sara's vocals, the story, and the interesting guitar work seals the deal for me. Go buy this album right now so that I may hope to hear more of the Black Crystal Serd Saga.
I <3 you Sara!
Arriving onto the metal scene with a great fury, holding their swords high and proud is Italian symphonic speed/power metal band, Ancient Bards. Forming in early 2006 by keyboardist Daniele Mazza, the line-up was eventually solidified in 2007. After performing in local Italian contest and claiming the top prize in most of them, the band released a demo in 2009 to high acclaim in Italian metal magazines. Soon after, Ancient Bards supported metal acts such as White Skull and Almah before recording their debut later in the year.
Released in 2010, through Limb Music, ‘The alliance of the kings’ is a fantasy based conceptual album, that has been done many times before; conjuring up old tales of ancient swords, magic, kings, dragons and great battles. Mazza’s influence for this release came from fantasy Nordic tales and Japanese stories such as Final Fantasy. Other bands from the past who have attempted this style of conceptual writing include Celesty’s debut release ‘Reign of elements’, Fairyland’s debut ‘Of wars in osyrhia’, Dragonland’s ‘The battle of the ivory plains’, anything by fellow Italians Rhapsody of Fire and many more that you can think of.
Fronted by a female vocalist, enter Sara Squadrani, who sounds similar to journey-woman Elisa C. Martin; the debut CD is very creative and epic, but also taking on board some level of cheesiness due only because of the genre of metal they play. All the grand elements you expect are present on the CD, including soaring twin guitar riffs, thunderous double bass, over extended solos, and keyboards high on speed entwined with large and bellowing Lord of the Rings style orchestras and choirs. There are also some folk and neo-classical elements in their sound too, which melds together nicely with the rest of the music.
Ancient Bards have taken a Dragonforce style approach to their songwriting, meaning that track times are quite long (6-8 minutes average) and the tracks themselves have an extended instrumental break and solo(s) during the mid parts (anywhere from 2-4 minutes long). The blistering solos are performed by both guitars and the keyboards and are one of the real highlights on the release.
Sara Squadrani is a fairly good singer however her talents are rather covered up, overshadowed you might say, by the style of music for most of the CD. This is the case for the first chunk of tracks until you get to the semi-ballad “Lode al padre”. It is on this track where Sara takes control of the piece and is able to sing with great gusto, harmony and melody. This is the track where you fully recognize her talents as a singer and every track afterwards follows in the same way.
Delving into the story of the conceptual album, the tale unfolds about a dark wizard named Sendor, who came to know about the existence of a mysterious sword that would wield the bearer absolute power. Hidden from all, only the 4 kings of the land knew about it. Long story short, Sendor steals the sword and threatens to destroy the land. A hero by the name of Dorus must gather the 4 kings and unite together if there is any chance of defeating the dark wizard and restoring peace in the land.
Best tracks to find on ‘The alliance of the kings’ include “Only the brave” (best track in my opinion), “Frozen mind”, the above-mentioned “Lode al padre”, “Farewell my hero” and “Faithful to destiny”. Credit must be given to the production of the CD, as it is crystal clear and quite balanced across the board, so you are able to hear every instrument played, without any overpowering the other. Given its epic nature, the end result does sound like a quaking grand movie score.
Ancient Bards have impressively broken into the metal world with ‘The alliance of the kings’, and the people should take notice of their outstanding creative achievement. Although it is not for everyone, fantasy-related symphonic speed/power metal has just been given a shake up by Ancient Bards, and ‘The alliance of the kings’ has set a standard for others to follow. If you are very much into the fantasy conceptual albums much like the ones mentioned above, then Ancient Bards will be perfect for you. Speed metal and symphonic metal fans should also find ‘The alliance of the kings’ enjoyable and quite satisfying, particularly fans of bands such as Dark Moor, Avantasia, Blind Guardian and Luca Turilli.
Since the close of Rhapsody (Of Fire)’s famed Emerald Sword Saga, commemorated in a rather impressive collection of fanfare on their 2004 best of compilation, Limb Music has been starved for a suitable replacement that offers up the same kind of ingenious blend of flashy power metal with a strong symphonic edge. 6 years to the day they’ve succeeded in a new powerhouse of a band hailing from the same land of majestic, metallic, fantasy-based storytelling (Italy) going by the somewhat cliché name of Ancient Bards. But setting aside the obvious rehash of Tolkien imagery of gallant heroes and realms of magic, this is a band with a remarkably solid take on a very tried and true format, so much so that “The Alliance Of The Kings” rivals most of Rhapsody Of Fire’s work up until “Power Of The Dragonflame”, as well as a few other noteworthy acts from the early 2000s and Polish contemporary rivals Pathfinder.
Nailing down the sound heard on here is not terribly difficult, though there are definitely a few unique elements that give an air of freshness to what is mostly a reassertion of a now somewhat scarce take on power metal. The instrumentation is an even distribution of powerful drumming, fancy bass work, virtuosic guitar and keyboard elements, straightforward chord progressions and a beautiful mezzo soprano performance that is mildly operatic and avoids the melodrama factor artfully. Sara Squadrani sounds somewhat similar to Ana Lara, albeit a bit more subtle and restrained in her presentation, and does a solid job of leading a very credible fold of musicians. But what is most charming about this band is that while there is a typical showcasing of individual talent, it is evenly distributed and comes forth as a collective effort rather than a guitarist or singer leading a group of supporters.
As the album unfolds before the listener, familiar territory is revisited, but in a rather new and surprising way. One will remember many instrumental preludes kicking off many a concept album between 1997 and 2003, and even a few with somewhat eccentric narrators explaining the story thus far, but here the looming orchestral notes and rising tension is accompanied by a crooning feminine speaker, laying out an impending conflict like a mother to child telling of an epic bedtime story. At the onset of “The Birth Of Evil” the usual fancy guitar or keyboard themes are absent, but in its place is an unexpected and auspicious bass intro that rips from one note to the next as if it were standing in place of the guitar, bringing up memories of when Iron Savior and Mob Rules would trot out the bass at key points on their early material. When all the instruments fully kick in, there is a slight tinge of early 80s metal orthodoxy mixed in with a measured mixture of Dark Moor and Epica neo-classical elements.
For most of the album, the songs generally tend to be fast and furious, but also fairly long and involved. Apart from “The Birth Of Evil” and “Four Magic Elements”, which are themselves intricate and complex, most of the songwriting on here is bent towards an epic model in line with the longer songs put forth by Manowar, but a little less repetitious. “Only The Brave” marches out more of the 80s influences in the principle riff, while also conjuring up imagery of Markus Grosskopf with a fancy bass tapping solo that shows up the one heard on “Eagle Fly Free”. In fact, compared to a number of differing symphonic power metal albums from the late 90s and early 2000s, the contents on here gets closer to recapturing the magic of the “Keepers” albums in a more stylistically precise way. “Lode Al Padre” is another point of interest where a fairly straightforward piano ballad gives way to an assortment of folksy and heroic sounding sections that are somewhat reminiscent of Turisas, but with more guitar-oriented brilliance and no violins or accordions.
There is a lot to be liked here, and even more to look forward to given the impressive precedent set here. Maybe a name like “The Black Crystal Sword Saga” is a bit derivative of another tale with a sword toting a green gemstone, and maybe a keyboardist writing all of the songs and lyrics reminds heavily of Fairyland, but anybody who loves this stuff will be too busy enjoying the stellar songwriting to care. That’s really the chief draw of this album, the wonderful blend of catchy chorus work, crooning vocals, fancy instrumental work, and grandiose atmospheres. For the symphonic addict who is hungry for another mountain of an album in the mold of “Symphony Of Enchanted Lands” and “Of Wars In Osyrhia”, this is yet another knight at a still growing roundtable.
Originally submitted to (www.metal-observer.com) on April 8, 2011.
First things first, Italy is a country that is running over with fantasy flower metal bands, and this generally describes the Ancient Bards as well. BUT, and that is a big but, this band does it all with so much passion and talent that it's really hard to compare them to bands like Derdian, Kaledon, and others. Even the mighty Rhapsody of Fire have a considerably different approach. Personally, I've never been an incredible fan of Rhapsody's work, and something like this appeals to me much more.
So what is it that makes “The Alliance of the Kings” so fresh, so exciting, and so novel? There isn't a quick and simple answer, I'm afraid. It is glorious, epic, passionate, and utterly brilliant musically. Let's begin with the very first and perhaps most impressive item, and that which I normally do not care for in metal bands: a female vocalist. I am NOT a sexist, but neither have I been a great fan of women as lead metal vocalists (gothic metal and bands like Nightwish, Luna Mortis, and early Dark Moor notwithstanding), particularly in the genre of power metal. Sara Squadrani of Ancient Bards has made me a believer, and I confidently state that this fine lady is already on par with Tarja Turunen in terms of talent and respect in my book. While she is a soprano, she's clearly not as operatic. Her voice is powerful and silky smooth, at times a gentle breath, mounting to fortissimo melodies on many tracks. She slides so gracefully between some notes that, much rather than sounding amateur, her vibrant and melismatic singing is a joy to listen to.
Oh, and instrumentally! Most of this group's work is so incredible that the guitars are almost the low point, believe it or not. The bass is audible, and there are at least two short sections featuring the bass in a solo, which is almost unheard of in this genre. Choirs and synths complete the transformation into a project that has little trouble transporting the listener from an office cubicle to a fantastic land fraught with peril, pride, and promise.
Like many Italian bands, the lyrics are written in English but are occasionally difficult to understand (sword comes out repeatedly as “surd”). This is a slight imperfection in the otherwise flawless majesty to which the band aspires. Musically, the compositions are breathtaking. Long song lengths find the listener repeatedly finding themselves swept up in an orchestral interlude or a tasteful demonstration of the ample guitar shredding that is also to be found. With symphonic metal this well-crafted and exciting, I almost don't care what I'm listening to, story-wise. Here also, the band excels. This is the first entry into an ambitious project for these young Italians, being part one of the “Black Crystal Sword Saga”. The difference being the means of telling the story. The lyrics are perhaps easier to understand, and the story not entirely so bombastic and dramatic. There is more...story-telling if you will, than many other outfits see fit to provide.
While upbeat, technically proficient, and bombastic tracks like “The Birth of Evil” and “Frozen Mind” are my favorites (you CANNOT find better symphonic power metal, ANYWHERE), there is a wide tempo spread and a beautiful ballad in the form of “Lode Al Padre. As with all excellent metal releases, words don't quite do the music justice, as it's impossible to bottle the essence and energy of such a dynamic and unique band and then spread it across so many sheets of paper.
With that said, if you get even a shred of enjoyment out of symphonic or orchestral power metal, or if you feel that you may want to look back into a genre you've given up on, this is the time to do it. The genre itself seems to have been limping a bit the past couple of years, but Ancient Bards are one of the several bands from Europe that have re-energized the genre and given it a sublime recovery this year. This album should not be ignored by any fan of power or heavy metal in general. Friends, you owe it to yourselves to discover this wonderful and majestic gem of an album.
Originally written for www.blackwindmetal.blogspot.com
By the Gods, what a sensational debut from these Italian masters! ... I will fully admit that, before hearing The Alliance Of The Kings - Ancient Bards' 2010 debut album - I had yet to hear a note of their music, however, between the cover artwork, song titles and the overall mystique surrounding the album and its contents, I decided to take the plunge and was justly, justly rewarded, to say the least! In a nutshell, Ancient Bards reminds one of power metal's glory days, when albums like Rhapsody's Dawn Of Victory and Dark Moor's The Hall Of Olden Dreams were the norm, in terms of quality, bombast and atmosphere; sadly, as many power metal enthusiasts are used to thesedays, such releases in vein of the classics are a rarity and, indeed, the river has run rather dry though, fellow brethren, do not despair, for The Alliance Of The Kings IS a masterwork of such immense proportions that it can rightfully stand next to the aforementioned albums, and more!
One of the things I was initially a little weary of with this album was the fact that the vocalist was female and no, I don't mean that in any kind of sexist way whatsoever but, rather, in a sense of avoiding Within Temptation clones (which are in over-abundance at the moment, alas) though, to my absolute delight, Sara Squadrani's vocals remind one of Elisa Martin (Fairyland/Dark Moor) or Federica De Boni (White Skull) rather than Sharon Den Adel (Within Temptation). Sara's voice resounds with great power and clarity, soaring through and amidst the melodies with both confidence and prowess, truly capturing the power and potential of melodic metal's high vocal standards.
Musically - musically ... okay, where to begin? - this album is just RIDICULOUS in how good it is, truly! - the melodies, the compositions, the instrumentation, the arrangements! - I am, quite admittedly, still quite in awe with just how incredible each and every track is on The Alliance Of The Kings, in every regard and manner possible. The songs take on addictive yet progressive structures, where one can expect an orchestral movement followed by a floating and energized folk melody, transitioning right into an exceptional guitar solo flowing back into the aforementioned melody - this time utilizing more instrumentation for maximum power - and, just when you think you are going to explode with excitement, one is taken amidst Rhapsody-esque, tarantella-type guitar/orchestra interplay to truly create and conclude an instrumental climax akin to those rare power metal moments! ... all of that, by the way, is just in a couple of minutes of the song Four Magic Elements. I do not exaggerate when I say that every song IS a masterpiece, without flaws and without any moments of monotony or derivativeness; this album goes all over the place with insane orchestrations and melodies, without ever losing any coherency which, in the case of an album as layered and dynamic as this, is quite a feat!
As for a couple little notes, the use of bass on this album is just fantastic and, indeed, it's quite audible compared to a lot of epic, symphonic power metal albums. Furthermore, the production is absolute, cutting through one's speakers with shimmering clarity, where all of the instruments shine through in their own right and, considering just how dense the album is with instrumentation, that is a compliment of the highest order. I would also like to highlight the choral arrangements as well, which come through at just the right moments for maximum impact, elevating already flawless musical moments to truly divine heights!
All in all, you would be an absolute fool NOT to check this album out immediately if you call yourself a power metal fan of any sort, and I mean that! This is, without a doubt, one of the most impressive debut albums I have ever, ever heard and, after a good ten or twelve listens within a week's time, I can still say I am totally awed each and every time I listen through Ancient Bards' The Alliance Of The Kings which has, already, become an all-time power metal favorite of mine. Make haste in obtaining this album, and prepare for a metallic, epic, symphonic and grandiose adventure of a lifetime - you assuredly won't regret it!