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Fantasy-related symphonic speed/power metal - 80%

TrooperOfSteel, April 15th, 2011

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.