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A Higher Fantasy emerges. - 76%

hells_unicorn, February 23rd, 2007

And so a new saga has begun, and with it a new cast of characters to be introduced and a new plot to gradually develop. Naturally at the beginning of any epic there is a good amount of background information that needs to either be stated or restated, thus resulting in a slow state of development that is hardly for the short of attention span. Both musically and lyrically this album moves quite the same as the first book of The Lord of the Rings did, taking a lot of time to lay the groundwork for what is sure to be a grand saga meant to surpass the one that it follows.

The sound on here is an obvious attempt at marrying the pomp and grandeur of the first Symphony of Enchanted Lands with the heavier and more riff oriented approach to the last LP and the “Rain of a Thousand Flames” EP. To the extent that it succeeds in being a grand work with many lengthy chapters, however, it also fails in terms of basic accessibility. We’ve essentially got just a few too many songs that break the 7 minute mark, owing a lot to the lengthy narrations and atmospheric interludes meant to help give the album a very Hollywood feel.

The narrations by Christopher Lee are obviously on point, lacking the sometimes overacting tendencies of Lansford’s approach to the monologues on previous works, and come as more appropriate to the High Fantasy genre. The obvious highlight is the long narration on the opening track “The Dark Secret”, which was observed in an abridged form on the EP preceding this release. His dramatic recitation of an incantation at the beginning of “Sacred Power of Raging Winds”, which was also observed on the Dark Secret EP, further gives this release the grandeur that Lee brought to the role of Saruman in the Lord of the Rings series.

Musically the album listens like a book on tape, though quite a dramatic and entertaining listen, unless taken as a whole there are very few songs on here that can stand on their own. Surprisingly most of the best songs on here are the shorter ones. “Unholy Warcry” is heavily similar to “Emerald Sword”, featuring a prominent introductory theme and a powerful chorus, not to mention an incredible guitar solo that goes through a large collection of melodic themes and motive based shred leads. “Never Forgotten Realms” listens heavily similar to “Wisdom of Kings”, featuring a similar chord progression and beat during the verses, and a hyper speed double bass driven chorus. “Magic of the Wizard’s Dream” is an interesting hybrid of “Wings of Destiny” off the first Symphony of Enchanted Lands release and “Lamento Erocio” off the Power of the Dragonflame, featuring a consonant yet mournful atmosphere and a moving choir of voices.

After the first 5 songs, which are remarkably similar to the 2nd Rhapsody LP, things shift into more of a “Rain of a Thousand Flames” format and a lot of longer songs are featured. “Sacred Power of Raging Winds” and “Shadows of Death” are the most musically intricate and amazing, the former showcasing a large amount of atmosphere and diversity, the latter flirting with the Progressive approach of Symphony X’s later material. “The Last Angels’ Call” is among the shorter and catchier of the later half of the release, featuring another chorus reminiscent of the triumphant fanfares that the band is known for. Most of the remaining material on here works well, but is heavily oriented towards story and listens a lot like film score. “Erian’s Mystical Rhymes” is probably the hardest to follow, as it contains the most story content of all the tracks and a lot of rapid changes to fit the unsettled prelude to what will later develop into a dreadful ordeal.

All in all, a solid Rhapsody release with the same flaws that any beginning to a high fantasy saga. Its greatest weakness is that it is only the beginning of a new series of conceptions by this well established outfit, and its long winded songs will likely not be as listener friendly as previous releases. This flaw has since been remedied on this album’s follow up “Triumph or Agony”, which has plenty of shorter fanfares and most of the narrations localized to one super epic song, something more befitting this form of concept album. Fans of the band are encouraged to pick it up, but fans of the general Power Metal audience may be possessed to utilize the skip button a bit on here. Sadly we can’t all have an hour and 13 minutes to spend every time we wish to enjoy Symphonic Power Metal.