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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.