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First I just want to say that yes the lack of actual music does slightly detract from this album and Rhapsody of Fire would have been well served to add another actual song. Even though the lack of actual music does detract from the overall quality of this as a metal album the parts that do have music are INCREDIBLY EPIC. The Ancient Fires of Har-kunn is a masterpiece. This song contains everything that is amazing about Rhapsody of fire and nothing that is bad. It opens, as many of their pieces do with a brief Italian ballad that if you understand Italian you will realize that it explains what is happening in the song.
This transitions suddenly but smoothly into an extremely heavy almost dark metal riff with Fabio practically screaming "HAR-KUUN!" which never ceases to raise the hair on my neck. It sticks with this heavier movement changing into a more melodic section that switches in and out of Italian flawlessly showing Fabio's immense choral talent. This song switches from epic medium paced metal sections, to heavy metal sections with dark lyrics to symphonic sections with the traditional Rhapsody of fire Latin choirs and it manages to make all these changes smoothly and with amazing grace which really showcases the bands true musical talent. People tend to overlook this song, and this album in general mostly because the rest of the album contains little music and is only seven songs long anyway. But The Ancient Fires of Har-Kuun really makes up for all of this and is an explosion of talent that shows off everything in the Rhapsody of Fire arsenal that makes them an amazing band.
For people like me whom also enjoy the story behind Rhapsody's music this album will especially stand out because all of the non musical tracks are mostly narration with some orchestral backround, which is done very well I might add. Gone are the days when the narrations in their music were done by a guy who clearly knew nothing about voice acting and managed to make some of Rhapsody's earlier albums laughable and cheesy. In this album I could honestly close my eyes and believe that I was listening to a movie. And while people may not like that or appreciate it, they really should because it shows an amazing blend of story elements and music the likes of which has never been heard before. For those of you who just want straight up metal I suggest you listen to The Ancient Fires of Har-kunn and leave the rest of this album alone. But for those of you whom appreciate true musical talent and want to listen to a piece of artistic history I suggest you give this album a thorough listen to, in fact multiple thorough listen to's.
Well, it sure seems as though things are coming up roses for Luca Turilli and company since they added “of Fire” to their group name and shed the lawsuit-evoking Magic Circle Music label. Not only did Nuclear Blast help push a new-found energy that lacking in the cumbersome “Symphony of Enchanted Lands 2” back into the ground, making them burst back onto the fantasy metal world with the monstrous “The Frozen Tears of Angels”, but they had enough moxie to be prolific and treat us with two albums for 2010. This caught me by surprise as I felt that, since “Frozen Tears” was pretty much filled to bursting with ideas, I figured and wouldn’t put it past the band to take some time off to rest on their laurels.
But no…that inspiration was apparently still present, and hopefully this latest work would prove just as entertaining…
This time around, the general musical feel is more on the cinematic side than the fantastical, especially in the rather overwrought acting and voice-overs that push the album’s storyline along as the symphonic whirlwinds spin all around the listener. Such things are of a different breed; this is still Rhapsody, there’s no doubt about that. But instead of a monstrous rocker with every track, this is instead more of a continuous orchestral narrative that doesn’t always leap into the metallic spectrum very often (in fact, it only happens twice, technically thrice, over the course of the album’s seven acts). As well, there’s a sort of darkness existing in the overall theme despite the prettiness of the melodic leads and orchestral movements, pushing the dramatics into the forefront and slowing it down considerably. However, the wild and wacky neoclassical sections, from strings to vast choirs to harpsichord still whip around the ears of this listener in a more palatable formant; were it all to mirror the speed metal tendencies present on the previous album, much of the album would have been more of a morass of sound than real music. As such, the songs don’t really follow the rather limiting metal music structures and arrangements and instead flow from one movement to the next in a pretty traditional classical way, though still retaining a few moments where Rhapsody of Fire reminds that, in the end, they’re still a metal band, dammit! (fast, sweep-picked solos, both acoustic/electric guitar and keyboard, crushing choruses and machine gunny drum work). It takes a very easily accessible ear and mind to truly appreciate this, as the lushness of the compositions isn’t for fickle, fair-weather metal folk, and as I sat back and let this album overtake me, I felt very much pulled into everything and wanted to really see how the story unfolded (in a way, I’ve been swept up in where Erian’s last book was since “The Dark Secret”), and in the end, I was left wanting more, wanting to know what else can happen. Yes, I know that the story is overwrought and cheesy, I know the whole medievally themed “good versus evil” thing has been done before, and more seriously done, but either way the music makes up for it with its ability to transcend the CD right into the heads of would-be listeners, where the likes of “The Ancient Fires of the Har-Kuun”, “Neve Rosso Sangue” and the closer, “The Angel’s Dark Revelation”, are prime stepping stones in this constant river of epicness.
At the end of the day, “The Cold Embrace of Fear” isn’t boilerplate Rhapsody, but it’s still a great listen nonetheless. While not able to really stand on its own (it’s a more entertaining listen in conjunction with the past couple albums), chances are I will still enjoy this every once in a while; I fear that consistent exposure may dilute some of the magic the Enchanted Lands possesses so virally. Recommended if you like this sort of thing. I know I do
Terms like “afterthought” or “interlude” can be applied to a number of albums put out, though rarely is this the explicit intention of those creating it. Often EP releases get saddled with this label due to their proximity to a respected full length album. But this particular release, which is dubbed as being a “dark romantic symphony”, is worthy of being treated as something other than a regular release. In truth, the label “dark romantic film score” would be a more appropriate label given the content, but such has been the plight of many Rhapsody Of Fire releases.
Unlike “Rain Of A Thousand Flames”, which held true to the EP concept and consisted of several different songs with different thematic material, “The Cold Embrace Of Fear” functions more like a singular work with multiple changes. There are 3 actual metal works to speak of, drawing largely from similar material to that heard on the band‘s folksy and progressive material of earlier days, but in a more slowed down fashion. The 14 minute colossus “The Ancient Fires Of Har-Kuun” is the focal point of the album, mixing up some grooving riff work comparable to Symphony X with some occasional references back to the band’s speed metal/Helloween influences. The other 2 songs (Acts V and VI) are informed thematically from the former, though draw more from the band’s balladry and folk oriented past.
Obviously the chief draw here, given the simplicity and overt familiarity of the music, is the character acting going on during the spoken sections. For the most part things veer into book on tape territory, as the symphonic elements accompany the dialogues like a distant mist, occasionally kicking up the dynamics to accent a point of rising action, but largely serving the story rather than leading it. The mark of this band’s post “Emerald Sword Saga” material has been a departure from the systematic format of fast paced, lead happy Metal with a collage of symphonic elements along for the ride. But here, this has been exaggerated to the point that Luca Turilli and Fabio Lione are mere contributors rather than the focal points of the album.
It is easy to see most mainstays of Rhapsody Of Fire’s fan base to be less than impressed with this, as it is more geared towards the theater going sort than the head banger. For bookworms like me it’s a fun listen, but anyone looking for a consistent metal assault as what was heard on “The Frozen Tears Of Angels” will not be satisfied. How good this album is depends on how much of an affinity you have for John Williams styled film score and how interested you are in what happens plot wise in between the last album and the one that is to come.
Originally submitted to (www.metal-observer.com) on December 14, 2010.
Rhapsody have been out of business for three years due to legal issues. That’s all the news the fans got. But they weren’t dead or defeated, as they came back with the great The Frozen Tears of Fallen Angels. But that was not all: their long seclusion has proven to be a great way to focus on music and the creation thereof. Only a few months after the release of The Frozen Tears of Angels, The Cold Embrace of Fear – A Dark Romance was released (and as I write these words, the next album is already being recorded). This 35 minute disc is without doubt the most cinematic feat by the band. On only one or two albums monologues are absent, while every album has intro’s and interludes. The two first parts of the The Dark Saga even feature scenes from the story that is told through the music, complete with different characters, background sounds and a film score. Now, The Cold Embrace of Fear combines all these elements into an epic experience. Rhapsody tend to describe themselves as “Hollywood Metal”, a label fit for this album.
The album is divided into seven acts, describing the arrival at Har-Kuun, the discovery of Erian’s White Book, the (spoiler alert!) betrayal and the conclusion to this chapter of the story. We get three real songs that one could listen to as such in their own right. The other four acts are narrations and scenes that form an essential ingredient to the story that is being told. The narrations are accompanied by a fitting symphonic score. The actors do a fine job, and master narrator Sir Christopher Lee proves once more to have a perfect storytelling voice.
Act III (the first song) is a rollercoaster of emotions, tempos and sounds: Fabio sings in Italian, only accompanied by acoustic instruments and before you realize the song has changed into a violent and fast larger-than-life song, complete with orchestra and choir. And as it fits a good rollercoaster, this change is repeated several times throughout its 15 minutes. Luca Turilli and Alex Staropoli succeed in molding these changes into one coherent song that doesn’t feel like 15 minutes. Count this song among one of their best creations! The link with the more riff-oriented The Frozen Tears of Angels is very clear in this song.
In Act V (the second song) we get a haunting ballad: acoustic and Italian with flute, keyboard and an eerie woman’s voice as the main ingredients. The atmosphere of the song reflects the despair and disappointment the characters experience in the story. Towards the end of the song we reach a climax and continue with Act VI, the second (and last) metal song of the album. This one is less impressive than Act III: the epic (orchestra and choir) beginning and end show Rhapsody of Fire’s composing skills, but the metal part of the song reminds me of Triumph or Agony’s rather dull songs.
This atypical album shows more of Rhapsody of Fire’s cinematic side than we’ve seen before: the orchestrations, story and narrations form the core while the metal music is but a tool and not the main goal of this album. If you like Rhapsody of Fire’s more extravagant side and you can spare 35 minutes of your time, than A Cold Embrace of Darkness is one of the better things you’ll hear this year.