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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.