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An Enchanted Listen. - 100%

hells_unicorn, February 21st, 2007

2 years after succeeding in superimposing the operatic/film score side of common practice music with the Helloween style of Speed/Power Metal, Rhapsody perfected the unique hybrid that has now become quite widespread in the metal realm. “Symphony of Enchanted Lands” is precisely what its name implies, a 10 movement symphony of sound that transcends the game of notes and transports the listener into the mystical realm that it depicts.

In many ways this album is similar to its predecessor, be it the large collection of fanfare tracks with catchy choruses and riveting background music, or the longer epics that combine the elements of classicism and metal to perfection. However, the production has been improved so that we have a clearly defined guitar texture, as well as a solid overall production that makes for a more refined listen. A drastic increase in the role of acoustic and orchestral instruments is found particularly in the album’s epic closing track, which flirts with upstaging such well known film score pieces such as the main theme of “Last of the Mohicans” and some of the stuff found in the Lord of the Rings movies that would follow a few years later.

Rather than utilizing the haunting church organ sound for the album’s prelude, we instead get a full blown orchestral number with an even more drastic crescendo of sound that segues perfectly into the famous album single “Emerald Sword”. Both this single and the following track “Wisdom of the Kings” are powerful speed metal fanfares, featuring amazing choruses and catchy guitar riffs and keyboard themes. Rather than following up with a full length Renaissance number similar to “Forest of Unicorns”, “Heroes of the Lost Valley” is a brief harpsichord driven instrumental followed by a rather dramatic narration by Jay Lansford, whose presence on subsequent releases has been derided by some as being cheesy. New flash people, this is a High Fantasy style concept album, if you think such things are to be made fun of maybe you should think twice about supporting it with your money.

From here on the songs are mostly longer and full of intricate structures and a few musical surprises, departing from the stricter approach taken on the debut album. “Eternal Glory” is the quintessential epic power metal number, emphasizing speed and atmosphere, while making time to showcase the accomplished playing abilities of Luca Turilli and Alex Staropoli. “Beyond the Gates of Infinity” showcases a somewhat progressive approach, utilizing some mixed meter and an unusual intro theme more reminiscent of Danny Elfman’s creepy sounding horror themes. “The Dark Tower of Abyss” is the most overtly Neo-Classical of the bunch, having almost as much orchestral string sections as it does metal moments.

We still get a fair number of shorter tracks that are more comparable to the last album in the latter half of this rather brilliant opus. “Wings of Destiny” is a better produced version of “Echoes of Tragedy” without the huge male chorus, plenty of serene piano work and a more measured vocal display by Lione. “Riding the Winds of Eternity”, formerly known as Holy Wind from the original demo, is the fastest yet simplest number on here. We don’t get a guitar solo, but we do get plenty of amazing moments and a solid keyboard display.

The true highlight of this album, the one song that culminates all of the strengths that appeared on here before it, as well as succeeds in being one of the best examples of musical storytelling I’ve ever heard. The first 3 minutes of the song flow like a Requiem, meant to articulate the sadness felt by the story’s hero at the soon death of Tharos the red dragon, his one time enemy whom he spared and who, in turn, saved his life at the cost of his own. The best moments of any Fantasy story have always been the moment of redemption, and often it coincides with the death of a principle character. This would be revisited in “Power of the Dragonflame”, but something about this moment in the story is different, probably the relationship between Tharos and the Nordic Warrior being more sympathetic than the one the hero had with Dargor. Anyhow, there is a large number of contrasting themes and developed idea, varying in tempo and texture, but not at the cost of a coherent structure. It’s an instant classic, pure and simple.

Although there is a bit of dispute over whether Blind Guardian’s “Nightfall on Middle Earth” or this album is the stronger example of Epic Power Metal, (I like them both equally, though acknowledge that they are quite different) this is definitely the album to get if you want to hear Rhapsody at its absolute best. It is not quite as hard edged as subsequent releases and may not sound as metal as a result, but musically it towers well above most of the other offering put out by this outfit. If you can only get one studio album by this band, this is the one to get.