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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.