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I feel like I've been pretty clear about this in the past, but I'm going to reiterate it really quickly: I love the shit out of Rhapsody. They're pretty much the textbook example of what I love about power metal. The songwriting is as busy as it is infectious and as theatrical as it is overindulgent. It's a style that doesn't lend itself well to restraint, and that's why I can publicly love a stupid band like Dragonforce and not feel the slightest hint of shame. This style is fun, and it's at its most fun when it's just throwing caution to the wind and letting loose all over the place, enthusiastically just throwing me on the back of Odahviing and sweeping me across magical lands and epic adventures. That's what Rhapsody nailed so much with their original Emerald Sword Saga (the first four (five?) albums (Rain of a Thousand Flames is still an EP in my mind)). The band simply did not give one single shit about subdued atmosphere or intelligent complexity, their sole goal was to tell a silly, cliched, over the top fantasy tale and cram as much epic sounding choirs and orchestrations they could into their journey. Some people may not take well to the overindulgent ear candy style they aimed for, but I ate it up happily.
By the time their second story (The Dark Secret Saga) began, something had... changed. Symphony of Enchanted Lands II was a much more subdued effort, much less focused on showy bombast and moreso focused on sweeping grandeur. It was pretty I suppose, but "pretty" isn't the kind of feeling I want to envision whilst listening to Rhapsody. I want to feel swept up above magical wars with entire worlds in the balance, not take a pleasant ride over a lush, green landscape. The second chapter, Triumph or Agony, manages to fall in a similar pit, though for different reasons.
Rhapsody's entire tenure with Magic Circle Music can pretty much be summed up with the observation that one of their biggest criticisms early on was that there was always just too much going on in their music, and so they overcorrected and started writing droning songs where nothing at all would happen. That was the biggest issue with Symphony of Enchanted Lands II; it was full of overlong filler songs with a couple great ones scattered around, whereas Triumph or Agony here gives us the worst of both worlds by giving us even more filler in the form of shorter but even more boring songs and filling almost the entire album with dull ballads. Here's all you really need to know from this album, "Triumph or Agony", "Heart of the Darklands", "Son of Pain", parts of "Silent Dream", and parts of the trademark epic closing track, "The Mystic Prophecy of the Demon Knight". That's three full songs and a handful of sections from two others, only one of any of those songs being one of the low tempo ballads/dullards. This album is completely plagued with the sort, and many of Rhapsody's trademarks are missing. There's no folksy bouncy track like "The March of the Swordmaster", "The Village of Dwarves" or "Danza di Fuoco e Ghiaccio", nor are there any out-and-out burners like "Holy Thunderforce", "Agony is My Name" or "Rain of a Thousand Flames".
"The Mystic Prophecy of the Demon Knight" may not hold a candle to previous and future album closers like "Symphony of Enchanted Lands", "Gargoyles, Angels of Darkness", or the near perfect "Heroes of the Waterfalls' Kingdom", but it's pretty serviceable for what it aims for and does a good job of bringing the album full circle by repeating the motifs of the overture. It has a nice, typical Rhapsody style chorus, full of over the top projection and fluff, it's exactly the kind of thing fans want to hear. So even though it isn't quite as good from a songwriting standpoint as we know the band can be, it's still pretty refreshing after seven or eight tracks that sound like an entirely different, and entirely less inspired band. The first proper song, the title track, is also extremely good. It's actually somewhat frustrating because it starts the album off on such a high note and lulls you into a false sense of security, feigning a fast, energetic journey to contrast the previous album's more laid back sightseeing tour. The pre-chorus in particular is among the catchiest vocal lines that Lione has ever sang.
TWO HUNDRED NOoOoOR OF UNHOLY STONE
It's unfortunate that the darker, more intense yet overly bombastic sound of the first track fades away so quickly. The next track is another fun, shreddy track, but after that the album just drops anchor and shits out three ballads in a row. I mean, I'm not going to pretend that ballads automatically suck (I actually like "Son of Pain" pretty well), but they have never been the band's strength, and the fact that they always manage to shoehorn in at least one per album has always irritated me and has always held the band back from releasing any full, start to finish genre-defining classics. Rhapsody is an energetic band and is at their best when gripping their hilts with vigor and determination, not languidly stroking their flaccid shafts while trying so desperately to emote anything other than enthusiastic spunk. Trudging through nearly 45 minutes of a Rhapsody album nearly entirely devoid of Turilli and Starpoli's absurd guitar/keyboard soloing is like... man I sat here for like fifteen minutes with that sentence half finished because that is so unheard of. Things like the completely obnoxious soloing and oversaturation of choirs and overblown orchestration is exactly what made the band what they were, and the dearth of all of these qualities leaves us with a very hollow, uninspired album. The entire thing just runs by as if on autopilot, and save for the handful of exciting sections, it's just completely unstimulating.
I don't even know who Triumph or Agony is supposed to appeal to, honestly. Old fans of the Emerald Sword Saga are going to find the utter lack of energy to be wanting, and the non-fans who disliked how busy and over the top the band previously was will likely find the exact same problem. Like I said, the album just feels like a huge overcorrection in response to a criticism that called for something antithetical to the band's modus operandi in the first place. They were a group of nerds and manchildren who didn't seem to realize how silly they were, but played everything so straight that it was endearing, and the goofy music was so enjoyable that there was no reason to hold it against them. It seems that this album and its predecessor show a band who became self aware and then focused too much on trying to be more mature and dark, and it just ends up sounding like dull, plodding crap. Thankfully, the following albums would rectify these issues (I'm going to just go ahead and blame Joey DeMaio's shitty label/attitude), but as it stands, the whole time spent with Magic Circle stands as the dead-ball era of Rhapsody's career, and Triumph or Agony illustrates the phenomenon brilliantly. In the realm of over-the-top symphonic power metal, Rhapsody is one of the perennial heavyweight champions, and this is an album with only trace amounts of over-the-top, power, or even metal. You do the math.
Originally written for Lair of the Bastard
I have never been a big fan of Rhapsody Of Fire because I thought that their early works included to many fast and hectic tracks and a lot of useless bombast and silly orchestrations. On "Triumph Or Agony", the Italians reduced their speed and focused on a more diversified song writing without losing their very own style and this works surprisingly well for me.
Instead of symphonic “wankery”, the band kicks off with a short and atmospheric introduction which is the opener "Dar-Kunor". Even the ballads work quite well such as the beautiful "Old Age Of Wonders" that features some soft female guest vocals or the touching "Son Of Pain" with some great orchestral work and maybe the most stunning vocal performance on the record. Even the piano ballad "Il Canto Del Vento" that features Italian lyrics is not as cheesy as I feared and in fact a quite beautiful song with a great vocal performance. The orchestrations rather remind of Therion or even Dimmu Borgir at some points and not of pointless power metal bands but at the same time the band icluded some soft folk elements. This combination works best in tracks as "The Myth Of The Holy Sword" that also features an epic guitar solo that reminds a little bit of Manowar. That's nothing surprising as the band had signed with Magic Circle Music at the time that has a very close connection to Manowar.
The album's epic track "The Mystic Prophecy Of The Demonknight" is divided into five parts and resumes very well the new strengths of the band on this record. It's surely one of the best if not the best song Rhapsody Of Fire have ever written in their long career. I especially appreciate the folk sounds with the use of violins and the powerful drum play in the first part, the narrative play passages in the second part, the more metal orientated and heavy speed and power metal passages in the unusually brutal third part that even includes some piercing screams and soft growls, the guitar solos that open for the fourth part that includes some very atmospheric passages and the calm ballad tones in the fifth and final part of the epic masterpiece.
There are still some elements that seem very pathetic to me. The fantasy topic and some parts of the lyrics play with too many stereotypes and offer nothing new or innovating in the universe of Rhapsody Of Fire. This album won't win a price for its originality. Some potpourri songs featuring multiple male choir’s voices, orchestrations and high pitched lead vocals still give me headaches if I get an overdose of them as in "Bloody Red Dungeons". But this kind of song is so rare to find on this record that it doesn't pull down the final rating by much.
In the end, we have a very epic and powerful record that focuses more on mid tempo tracks, includes some nice folk orchestrations, great narrative passages and overall more creativity than ever. This kind of music might still be too overambitious and overwhelming to some which I would completely understand but in my opinion the band just found the perfect mixture this time and the powerful music creates a lot of images in my mind. The final verdict is that this underrated record is probably the best effort the band has ever released to date and only grows on you as time goes by. There are many passionate details to be discovered over and over again. This is more than music, it's an epic story and worthy of a theatre play or epic movie without sounding too ridiculous as for example Manowar's attempts on this kind of music. It's nothing revolutionary but simply Rhapsody of Fire on the peak of their career and there really isn't much to criticize on here.
Rhapsody is an epic orchestral based power metal band that plays beautiful moving music with aggressive booming drums, blazing guitars, soaring vocals, and epic choirs.
So this is new and "improved" Rhapsody, now known as Rhapsody Of Fire. I guess with a new watered down name they decided to water down their music. This latest effort is but a shadow of the mighty Rhapsody. They didn't pull a 180 and totally change their sound, everything on this CD still sounds like Rhapsody but it sounds like something is missing. Listening back through all their other CDs to try to find what exactly what was missing, it's their inspiration and their balls. The main thing that is different about this album is the absence of aggressive metal, just a whole bunch of mundane ballads. Triumph and Agony just sounds like Rhapsody going through the motions of song writing, just to put out another CD.
Rhapsody reached their pinnacle on Symphony of Enchanted Lands, and slowly diminishing each album but not missing the mark by much. This is the first time Rhapsody has totally dropped the ball. These guys where once the kings of epic neo-classical power metal, now they enter the world of mediocrity.
There is seriously only one good song on this CD, and that is Silent Dream. The funny thing about that song its the least Rhapsody-esque song. It sounds more like standard power metal than anything else. If you are thinking about buying this CD stop right now, go out and buy Fairyland's new CD. It sounds more like Rhapsody then Rhapsody Of Fire, you'll thank me later. It really pains me to say all this because Rhapsody is easily one of favorite bands of all time.
Worthwhile tracks: Silent Dream, Son of Pain
The constancy of consistency is a winning approach when one has a formula that requires little to no or evolution. In this respect, it will be all but impossible for Rhapsody of Fire (formerly Rhapsody) to disappoint its core, as it would require a true break with the sound that they have helped to pioneer. 11 years after releasing their first demo, the only thing that has truly changed about the band is a bit more focus on creating memorable songs rather than putting on an extravaganza of speed and a larger concentration of ballads. They are the only band in their genre to come out of the concept album craze of the late 1990s still carrying on the same grand tale, armed with the same approach of epic storytelling and musical intrigue.
As this is the second installment of the saga begun on “The Dark Secret”, the need for character background and development has lessened a bit, resulting in a few less narrations and more songs that can function independent of the story. Christopher Lee reprises his role as the Wizard King, making a brief appearance at the end of the grand epic song “The Mystic Prophecy of the Demonknight”, which also contains the voices of several other voice actors and the bulk of the storytelling. The bulk of the storytelling here describes the journey to reach the last of Necron’s 7 books, and the story then takes a turn as it seems that the taking of the book by the party of heroes was a part of the dark lord’s plan.
The parallels between the story and that of the original manifesto of the High Fantasy genre “Lord of the Rings” is also evident in the structure of the album, as it begins and ends with the narrations of a handsome sounding elven queen. “Dar-Kunor”, barring the exception of the female narration in elvish, is a typical Rhapsody overture, loaded with atmosphere and a sense of impending adventure. Later in the album we hear ballads that further bolster the Middle Earth tendencies of the album. “Old Age of Wonders” is a bit similar to the debut’s ballad “Forest of Unicorns”, and reminisces on an age old war waged by elves against dark forces (The first war against Sauron anyone?) “Il Canto Del Vento” and “Son of Pain” carry heavy remnants of older piano driven ballads such as “Echoes of Tragedy” and “Wings of Destiny”.
We still have a healthy collection of fast songs to speak of, although there are dispersed a bit more than usual amongst the slower ones. The title track is the obvious highlight amongst the faster ones, combining the memorable elements of several classic fanfares including “Rain of a Thousand Flames” and “Riding the Winds of Eternity”, not to mention an extremely dense atmosphere. “Heart of the Darklands” utilizes a signature high open string riff quite similar to “Pride of the Tyrant”, but otherwise adheres to a strict structure meant for memory retention. “Defenders of Gaia”, the bonus track, sounds a bit closer to Luca’s solo work, and lyrically is quite similar to his music on “Infinite Wonders of Creation”. If he had written more stuff like this on that release, it would not have been such a disappointment among his core fans.
There are a fair share of mid-tempo songs on here, actually more than ever, hinting that Turilli and Staropoli were saving some of the drama for some key points. “The Myth of the Holy Sword”, “Bloody Red Dungeons” and “Silent Dream” feature simple riffs and powerful choruses; obviously tailored to function similar to the way “March of the Sword Master” and “Village of Dwarves” did on their respective albums. “Dark Reign of Fire”, which carries the long epic that precedes it to the album’s conclusion, reprises some musical themes from the last album, and features closing narrations by the principle storytellers.
“The Mystic Prophecy of the Demonknight” is the grand epic of this release, clocking in at over 16 minutes and divided into 5 parts. The introductory acoustic theme is heavily similar to the classical guitar intro at the beginning of the longer epic found at the end of the “Power of the Dragonflame” release, though with a more folk dance feel to it. In between it and the conclusion we observe plenty of atmospheric devices, guitar majesty, some shrill shrieks by Lione reminiscent of “When Demons Awake”, and a very dramatic twist of fate for the characters depicted by the voice actors. Although I wouldn’t say this is the greatest epic Luca and Alex have composed, it is quite a thrill to listen to and is up there with previous classics such as “Symphony of Enchanted Lands”, “Wizard’s Last Rhymes”, and “Gargoyles, Angels of Darkness”.
To all fans of Symphonic Power Metal fans in general, as well as Rhapsody fans in particular, this is a solid release that improves upon some small issues present on the last release. The songs are shorter and more listener friendly, and beside a slight reduction in tempo and a slightly larger number of ballads, this flows as a typical Rhapsody release. The amount of story left to be told here, judging by the slow development of the story, will undoubtedly turn out plenty more from this tireless band of musicians. I look forward to all the future releases as this band shows no signs of throwing away their legacy for the capricious and often tacky tastes of the masses out there.
After listening to this album quite a few times, I now feel I can judge it in all its depth.
First off, I must say that this isn't Rhapsody's (oh, excuse me... of Fire) best performance. It lacks the speed and energy of the earlier days, like in Symphony of Enchanted Lands and Power of the Dragonflame. It seems the aggression has gone somehow missing in certain songs, and with him it took Alex's second bass drum! I can't feel the energy of Emerald Sword or Dawn of Victory, those powerful sing-alongs in which you can feel the epic mood and lyrics that surround you in a wall of horns, violins, guitars and drums. Maybe Luca has used up all of his Power Metal inspirations while writing Prophet of the Last Eclipse. Also, the obvious lack of Only-Luca-Can-Do-Them-Like-He-Does Sweep Picking solos sets quite a gap between the first and second saga. And finally in my list of rants, the thing that I miss the most... keyboard solos! The last one I heard was in Never Ending Heroes, and it was much too short. This album has absolutely no keyboard solos!
But don't get me wrong. This record, overall, is absolutely great! The melodies are very present, very melodic (even if they lack aggression), and you can definitely see why the band call themselves "Hollywood Metal". The overall complexity of the orchestral arrangements is stunning. Every time you listen to a song, you can discover some more instruments you've never heard before. I think that's what makes the true spirit of this record. Without the strings and horns, it just wouldn't be the same. "Silent Dream's" opening riff, for example, wouldn't be as good if it was only played with a guitar.
The faster songs like "Heart of the Darklands", "Triumph or Agony" and "Silent Dream" have a bombastic feeling which gives them a lot of credibility. They somehow remind me of songs like "Wisdom of the Kings", but not quite "Emerald Sword" (unfortunately). The riffs are very good and supported by the orchestra, which adds a whole new dimension compared to the sampled MIDI that used to fill Dawn of Victory's riffs. The choruses are memorable and definitely interesting, although sometimes, Alex interrupt the flow of the song by stopping the drum line and replacing it with cymbal hits (let's hope you'll understand what I mean). The only problem with them is the number. Only 5 on 10 songs (let's not count Dar-Kunor).
The rest are ballads. Now, I don't mind ballads. But five is maybe a bit too much. I understand Rhapsody has this very emotional feeling in its music, but I think what the band needs most at this time is fast songs. Anyways. The better ballads like "Old age of Wonders" and "Son of Pain" are definitely a good way for Luca and Alex to prove they have some incredible classical arrangement skills. "Il Canto Del Vento" is also a great song, the first one ever composed by Fabio.
Now, let's talk about "The Mystic Prophecy of the Demonknight", because I feel this song deserves a paragraph of its own. This 16 minutes epic is most definitely one of Rhapsody's best songs. It's a true masterpiece. The first part, "A new Saga Begins" brings us into Dar-Kunor with a powerful chorus that reminds us the energy of the earlier albums. The calm pre-chorus is a perfect build-up for what follows. The second part, the Narrations, is somewhat strange. You can hear once again Christopher Lee, but this time he brought along some friends to play the might Dargor, Tarish and the rest of the "Order of the White Dragon". In the third part, Fabio attempts (once again, remember When Demons Awake?) semi-growling vocals. At first it's a bit strange, but you eventually get used to it. The choirs are also very well used. Then, some more narrations and again the epic chorus (with a little modification). This song is pretty much a good overview of the whole album, with calmer parts and some more energetic ones.
Overall, this is a good album. The melodies are good, memorable, interesting. The classical arrangements are brilliant and definitely stick out. It only lacks in solos and speed/aggression.
There are some certainties in life; after rain the sun will shine, one and one makes two, the pope will always be a caricature of himself and Rhapsody of Fire will never disappoint with a new record.
A new saga begins, although this is already the second part of it. And it’s not going to be a fairytale according to the dark sphere on Triumph or Agony. Yes, you get it right; it’s not about catchy, positive melodies this time. First single ‘Triumph or Agony’ says it all. Although the sound is very recognizable, the sphere is more serious than before. Even the mightier songs on the album strengthen this idea, like ‘The Myth of the Holy Sword’ which will become a classic for sure. (Because it’s about the sword again?) Highlight of the album is the 16-minute lasting song ‘The Mystic Prophecy of the Demon Knight’ where the band presents the new saga, guided by the storyteller again.
Of course I could tell you about the fact that this album contains everything you want; faster songs, ballads, heaviness and calmness, but that’s a cliché. What I found really surprising is the fact that Rhapsody of Fire has taken a step backwards. With Symphony of the Enchanted Lands pt. II I thought they killed themselves. The sound, the choir, the orchestra, the whole project had been worked out so well that I, and with me many others I’m sure, the boundaries had been reached. And this step backwards did the band extremely good. The sound is a bit different, ok, and it’s not that bombastic but everything is so in great proportions and balanced! that I’m stunned.
This, my friends, I dare to say it, is the best record by the band so far, even if it’s not that accessible as before and even if the whole atmosphere may be different. For Rhapsody of Fire, even the sky is not the limit.