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If “Dawn of Victory” marked a move away from the symphonic approach of its two predecessors towards a more riff friendly angle, this EP is definitely the next step in the process. Although the orchestral and formal attributes of the band have not wavered much, the darkness and heaviness of the band has jumped a considerable bit into the realm of Helloween’s “The Dark Ride” at times. The vocal approach has also gotten quite a bit rougher, although indications of this direction were evident on the title track of the previous LP.
One curious thing about this EP is just how long the thing is. 10 years ago this would be considered a full length album and it would have been considered a bit too long for the radio friendly variety, especially considering that two tracks on here break the 10 minute mark. With the exception of the album that follows it, this release is probably the most heavily conceptual work, relying on references to previous events, a lot of narrated passages courtesy of Sir Lansford (who does go a tiny bit overboard in his delivery), and the reprise of the principle theme of the title track to close the listening experience.
The emphasis on this is pretty heavily on the metal aspects, highlighting a lot of Judas Priest and Helloween inspired guitar riffs, solo interchanges that rival Stratovarius and Rising Force, but still a consistently melodic approach. The principle highlight is the title track, which is one of the best symphonic/speed metal songs this band has ever put out, particularly noteworthy is the extremely dead on chorus. Luca’s film score and classical influences are on full display on the longer tracks, featuring an interesting set of musical paraphrases and inspired movements from Dvorak’s New World Symphony and an Italian Horror movie (Black Sabbath anyone?)
Although treated as an aside story by Rhapsody, the plot development and the music on here is quite excellent for an EP. This is definitely essential listening for any fan of the band or the genre that they have helped to pioneer. If you like your metal fast, furious, epic, melodic, and full of pomp and grandeur then this is something that belongs in your collection.
Here's the quick version of this review. If you liked Rhapsody's past albums you are likely to like "Rain of a Thousand Flames". If you were not a fan of Rhapsody in the past this won't change your mind.
First a quick intro for people who are unaware, but judging by the number of reviews that would be a minority but I disgress, of what Rhapsody are and what they do. Rhapsody are purveyors of music that the band likes to describes as "Epic Hollywood metal ". In lay man term it means a mixture of power metal and classical music a la Hollywood film score. Imagine power metal meets the Gladiator soundtrack. In this release Rhapsody continue telling the story of a struggle of good versus evil in a medieval and magical times that they have elaborated in their three prior CD's and concludes in Power of The Dragonflame. Its basically a Lord of The Rings type of story told through a Heavy Metal narrative.
As I alluded to earlier "Rain of a Thousand Flames" is a 7 song mini album, which clocks in at about 41 minutes. For the first time a Rhapsody album does not start off with an instrumental classical piece. We have to wait till track two for this. Instead Rhapsody start with a bang with the up tempo title track. With the exception of its duration "Rain of a Thousand Flames" is pretty much the quintessential Rhapsody song with its strong lead vocals, a chorus, lots of double bass drums, melodious keyboards and a bit of narration thrown in to advance the story. A very strong song to start of the album.
With "Queen of the Dark Horizon" Rhapsody again has managed to come up with a terrific epic song. The song is very much keyboard driven in that it sets the tone and pace throughout the song. Witness the build up at the start of the song , the quiet little piano interlude near the 7:20 mark and the very 70's proggish feel of the keyboards near the 10:20 mark. The classical instrumentation and the female soprano singer are used very well to create a very grandiose sounding song. "Queen of the Dark Horizon" with its several change of pace and mood is easily the best song on the album. This is a very busy song that does not feel the length it is. In contrast "Elnor's Magic Valley" is a short Irish or Celtic sounding folk song that features a fiddle and a flute. It's a great little interlude and a nice change of pace.
The album's lone misfire is "Tears of a Dying Angel". In my mind it unfortunately encapsulates one of Rhapsody's overall weakness to me, the narrator. As I mentioned in a prior paragraph Rhapsody are telling a story in their CD's. From time to time a narrator is used to further the story along. Lots of "mighty warriors" and "magic swords" and such are used in these little interludes. Usually they are a track onto themselves or are a negligible part of the song but in "Tears of a Dying Angel" the narrator is an integral part of the song. The song starts off very well with its military sounding drums and its very effective use of a chorus but soon enough the narrator comes in and talks throughout the song.
The album however finishes on a high note. "The Wizard's Last Rhymes" is a straight forward, up tempo song a that rely's on it's classical orchestration and its chorus to give it momentum of a freight train. Again the excellent use of the chorus creates a very bombastic atmosphere and makes it one of the better song on the album. Rhapsody starts and finishes the "Rain of a Thousand Flames" CD with a bang.
Overall a solid all around effort form the Kings of "Epic Hollywood metal ".
It's a little far-fetched to release an album just three and a half minute shorter than your debut, which still is over 40 minutes with the EP epithet, to say the least. Rhapsody's fans were anxiously waiting for the fourth part of the "Emerald Sword" saga. Instead they got something much, much better.
The guitars are more prominent than ever before, but stick sadly to power chords and an occasional run-through of the melody to create a namby-pamby riff. There are a lot of faster, more violent keyboards and the singer uses a more aggressive style than the one we're used to. But do not fear. Rhapsody hasn’t lost their pomp and splendor, or cheesiness. It's just better than the usual.
On Dawn of Victory the spoken parts were implemented sparsely and scarcely. On Rain of a Thousand Flames you get at least one per (non-instrumental) song. They don't sound as pathetic as they used to be, without the old accent, it’s just more "normal" thus making it easier to accept. Transitions are handed nicely, although it’s strange how they always fade out the guitars within the song to give room for a cleaner sound with just piano and singing, and how they depress a key and fade it out when it’s time to close the songs.
The keyboards are well-used, even though a small number of elements and variations are used. First we have the clean pianos, just strumming on. There's a lot of this around. Second is the key, key, key together with drum bash, bash, bash to make the music dramatic. Third are the keys that are depressed for a while, making their tones spreading wide, often within the verses. The fourth and last way of keyboards is mostly to be found between verses and with choruses, it's the sweeping keyboard sound that the symphonic bands have made associated with the term 'symphonic'. I'm talking about what sounds like short blows of trumpeting, lighting up for a second until the rest of the music goes on. There's often switching between melody and these trumpeting synthesizers that occupy the entire sound picture, intermittently.
The vocals are better than before; the singer manages to sound emotional without sounding too Italian... And there is more speed than before, as many distinct, grand choruses before. But one thing: they've become all crazy about bells. These bells don't actually sounding like ringing ones, but more like resounding, tinkling ones. They disturb me as they arrive often and in series for a long time, once again in a pattern.
DIES! IRAE! REGNA! NEEEEELL' OOOOOSCUUUUURIIIIITA'!!
Right from the first few seconds of the opening track, you know exactly what you're in for, and if you already find yourself thinking "fuck, now this is pretty damn overdone, pretentious and cheesy", you might as well end your magical journey through enchanted lands here and now - 'cause it ain't gonna get any better.
Needless to say, this band might not be everyone's cup of tea. From the endless symphonic wankery to the really ludicrous warrior image, it becomes readily obvious that this band is not easily digested, regardless of musical talent. In fact, many will likely throw this shit up before it even reaches the stomach, so to speak.
This is a rather modern brand of power metal, that somewhat differs from what its originators did back in the 80's, in that the music relies more on guitar leads, various keyboard effects and vocals, and less on riffs, or just general guitar rhythms. In most cases, those are replaced by keyboards or just random symphonic effects; not necessarily a BAD thing, but in order to thoroughly enjoy it, you probably need a pretty open-minded "vision" of what heavy metal is all about. While the discernable and undeniably metal riffage that pops up every once in a while, as well as the fast and double-bass heavy drum work, does hammer home the fact that this is a METAL release, those entirely symphony-dominated passages that sometimes stretch over a minute in length, they tell you of something very different.
So when all is said and done, is it any good? Surprisingly, yes, this is actually more listenable than one could ever imagine. The best thing is that this band knows how to write a CATCHY tune, and one that isn't made unlistenable after hearing it twice. Even with all the silly keyboards, symphonic elements and theatrics considered, a catchy tune is still a catchy tune, no matter your preferences. But it's not like this band is HURT by any of those things - they actually play an equal part in this band's powerful sound and therefore ADDS instead of detracting. On their own, these elements wouldn't have much value, but when mixed together with Rhapsody's excellent sense of pure melody, they suddenly do miracles. And also, a non-symphonic Rhapsody does seem pretty to hard to imagine, eh??
This is an EP, but at seven tracks and 42 minutes, it's basically a somewhat shorter than average Rhapsody full-length, even if two tracks on here are merely short non-metal interludes (so a point-deduction of 5% or so for only having five "whole" songs, then). If you like Rhapsody, then you will like this one, because, in my honest opinion, if you have heard one Rhapsody album, then you have heard them all. There's some album-to-album progression, sure...but not enough to really throw off their trademark sound. Anyway, I chose to review this one because it's the only Rhapsody release that I own, and the only one I've ever owned since I got it on Christmas of '02!
There's no real need to describe the songs individually; it's the Rhapsody sound we all know and love, hate, fellate, and despise all the way on here. The main highlight is by far the blazing opening track, the title track, because it's just so perfectly crafted - everything from the previously mentioned opening (and closing) line, to the huge chorus with its well-placed double bass, to the BRILLIANT keyboard/guitar solo just works so fucking well, it's simply the Rhapsody formula exhibiting total and utter perfection. At 3.43 it's surprisingly short and therefore also pretty accessible, I suppose, but even at 13.42, "Queen of the Dark Horizons" has no trouble keeping my attention all the way through, either. A fuckload of lengthy passages, keyboard & symphony-only sections, tempo changes and shit, but prog, this is absolutely not - the melodies and drum patterns are actually pretty simple and straightforward, even if it may look different on the outside. It's the INSTRUMENTATION that has all the flash and wankery. Which, by the way, works just fine.
Oh, and on the "narrator issue": sorry, but I must allow myself to completely disagree with what has been said so far on this very review page; I think of his speeches as absolutely fucking great. At least in that "absolutely fucking hilarious" sense, which is a GOOD thing. YES, they are the epitome of everything that is cheesy, or no, I take that back - they are in fact BEYOND cheesy, but on here it's like a "what do we have to lose, anyway?" situation. I mean, would anyone notice Rhapsody getting LESS cheesy with the narrator removed? Not particularly, and since he is very much in line with the almost-as-cheesy music, he does not detract one bit. Especially since his rants are so *tastefully* placed within the songs, and do not ever slow you down or anything; instead, they are there to add variety and depth (as well as for storytelling, but that's lyrical and not musical territory). "Nothing seems possible to change the destiny of war!" - that whole section of the title track owns you, as do the other narrated sections too.
"Yes, my dear friends, the sun shining on our beloved lands seems to not be the same any more..."
As if there's any need to say this, there's absolutely nothing wrong with you if you cannot stand this. This isn't a higher form of music that only the most experienced listeners can understand and enjoy, as if there ever was such a thing at all. You either like this, or you don't. This kind of music is pretty much today's equivalent of the glam rock/metal scene of the 80's, it just sounds a bit different and involves a lot more technical instrumentation. No particularly amazing songwriting on here - just nice and catchy power metal.
Some final words: everyone knows what Rhapsody sounds like, and thus a tenthousandth-something opinion on them isn't really all that needed - I'm fully aware of that. This review should instead be used in order for people to get to know my tastes a bit, helping them to know "where I come from" when reading any of my other reviews. So the next time you find yourself disagreeing with a review of mine, you can always think to yourself "but hey, this is coming from someone who likes Rhapsody, so what the fuck does he know??" Basically. ;);)
My only other experience with this band, being their 2000 album "Dawn Of Victory", I now have enough know how to safely say, these guys kick ass. This "speciallly priced" mini album, starts off wonderfully with the thundering title track in Rhapsody's trademark "Symphonic Hollywood Metal" style with guitars and keyboards flying majestically all over, and filled to the brim with choral splendour and atmosphere. Boiling down into short, subdued instrumental "Deadly Omen", we get plunged back into the first of two epics "Queen Of The Dark Horizons" without warning. While you may stop me to tell you I'm writing this review like an epic fantasy story, that pretty much sums up the immense, ovelwhelming feel of the band and their storytelling lyrics and moods. Maybe a little over the top, but certainly satisfying in every sense of the word. This is power metal with a big symphonic, classical presence, and played with immense passion and intent. While the band's formula, from Fabio Lione's soaring voice, Luca Turilli's unique axe skills, to the immense drumming and arrangement cannot fail, this little album is not perfect. The dread of many metal fans the world over, the four month old cheese in the fridge, is here to terrorise us in full force, yes: The Narrator! Does anybody actually like this guy? This guy is so bad, I can't play this album to anyone for the sheer embarrasment of him, and on this disc, he gets a whole song to rabbit on! ("Tears Of A Dying Angel") Arrrgh! Oh well that aside, the rest of the album is good, with another fine, folky instrumental, "Elnor's Magic Valley", a decent but not outstanding song, and then another immense epic! Nothing to rival the masters of the genre, or their previous album, but it entertains and I find this in the player freqently. Their distinctive style has yet to bore me, and I'm certainly looking forward to collecting all the other parts of the "Emerald Sword Saga".
CldHteWrmBld is absolutely right. The narrator completely destroys the entire album with his really stupid-ass storytelling voice.
This EP actually contains some of Rhapsody's heaviest stuff that starkly contrasts with Rhapsody's lighter style. It's decent, and there are some good songs on here, but it's nothing to really write home about. The guitar playing is pretty good, but it doesn't hold up in comparison with some of the other lightning-fast songs of Symphony of Enchanted Lands or Dawn of Victory (or even Holy Thunderforce, for that matter). The keyboard/piano/synth playing is also solid, although oce again, Rhapsody can and has done a lot better than this. The drums are the standard hyperactive pounding, and the bass is quite powerful, though never too overpowering. This leaves us with that damn narrator, who I assume is the vocalist just talking instead of singing, in which case he should definitely stick to singing. It's hard to put into words the irritation one feels from having to listen to his stupid tale-telling voice, but suffice it to say that at least one otherwise good song (Tears of a Dying Angel) is ruined by his constant fruitcake blithering.
Highlights. Well, the title track is the standard God-decreed fast-as-hell Rhapsody opening number, and it's good, though nothing special. Tears of a Dying Angel is a *fantastic* epic, except for the damn narrator who tears the song apart whenever he opens his mouth to speak. Elnor's Magic Valley kicks ass, because it's a big Irish violin solo with a bit of flute, concertina and bodhran (Irish drum) thrown in. It's not a metal song, but Irish fiddling kicks ass (being a fiddler myself), and that's all you need to know (and yes, I have learned how to play this on the fiddle). The Wizard's Last Rhymes is a really long epic that manages to stay interesting for the vast majority of its 10 1/2-minute lifespan.
It's not as good as most of their other stuff, but it's not a total letdown, either. Rhapsody fans will want this for their collection, but everyone else should stick with their full releases and Holy Thunderforce single.