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Rhapsody (of Fire) - Symphony of Enchanted Lands CD (album) cover


Rhapsody (of Fire)


Progressive Metal

3.75 | 139 ratings

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Conor Fynes
Prog Reviewer
4 stars 'Symphony Of Enchanted Lands' - Rhapsody (Of Fire) (78/100)

Endlessly aggravating are the people who wilfully dismiss music of this sort as a bad joke due to the cheese and bombast factor. Power metal, like any other genre of music, isn't free from its share of clichés and tropey expectations, not to mention the brand of imagery the sound is best at conjuring in the listener's mind. Not unlike the Roger Moore era of Bond films, when a power metal gets too self-aware and tongue-in-cheek with the tropes, it usually sounds pathetic-- I'm looking at YOU, Gloryhammer! For a band as shamelessly bombastic and trope-enforcing as Rhapsody, a large part of their charm is due to the fact that they do take themselves and their art seriously. Pair that sincere conviction with a fittingly bombastic grasp of composition and energy, and it's not hard to see why Symphony of Enchanted Lands became a go-to album for me when I was first getting into the genre.

Although it's been years since I picked up this album from a record store in Seattle, my opinion has barely changed. The band's enthusiasm for all things fantastical is contagious. The musicianship is exceptionally biting and tight, and their orchestrations are well-befitting the 'symphonic' descriptor. Although I'm not totally certain I'd call Symphony of Enchanted Lands Rhapsody's brightest-shining moment, it would be the most suitable point for any newcomers to get their first fill of the band. For good and bad, all of Rhapsody's defining traits are here. Orchestral interludes ("Heroes of the Lost Valley") are cut between hyperactive neoclassical metal, set alight by one of the most brilliant voices in power metal from frontman Fabio Leone. Although some of the latter work with epics would take them to even-greater heights, Rhapsody's titular "Symphony of Enchanted Lands" demonstrated the band early on as an act fully capable of earning flattering comparisons with many of the Baroque and High Classical composers that influenced them. And, of course, there is "Emerald Sword"; even as one of the album's shorter tracks, the fusion of aggressive speed and classical elegance make it as perfect and immortal a song as Rhapsody have ever created.

Although "Emerald Sword", the similarly epic "Eternal Glory" and bombastic title piece are certain favourites on the album, Rhapsody's musical output here is wonderfully consistent. Even if by the point of "The Dark Tower of Abyss" the formula begins to repeat itself, that rare feeling of much-sought exhilaration never goes away. Much of Rhapsody's sense of classical impressement is thanks to Alex Staropoli's wizardly keyboard work, but the orchestral arrangements themselves feel full-bodied and epic in their scope. Too often do power metal bands try to get away with MIDI synth pocket orchestras, and very seldom does it ever achieve the epic atmosphere the bands strive for. Even beyond the authentic-sounding orchestrations and choral arrangements, Rhapsody demonstrate a power knowledge of classical composition here, and it makes it feel much more than the afterthought it often is in the genre.

For lack of a less-overused term, the truly 'epic' sound on Symphony of Enchanted Lands has lost none of its effect over the years. Considering the substance behind Rhapsody's music, it's actually disappointing that the execution of the album's concept is so weak. Unlike two-thirds of the reviews for this album that I've read, I don't have any issue with the ridiculous Lord of the Rings knock-off high fantasy atmosphere they're trying to create. The story itself (expanded upon in the album booklet) is autistic and impenetrable and I've given up trying to make any proper sense out of it, but the story doesn't need to make sense. What it does is set up a foundation for a host of archetypal high fantasy imagery. Enchanted swords? Check. Generic heroic chosen one? Check. Dragons? Check. Said hero riding on said dragon to fight monsters? CHECK. Tis' safe to say that Rhapsody will never win any Hugo Awards for their contributions to fantasy fiction, but it's easy to tell from the enthusiasm Rhapsody inject into their music that the story means something to them. Enthusiasm is infectious, right?

By all means it should have been, and there are times where I might care what happens to the Ice Warrior and his overgrown lizard, but the voiceover narration just kills it for me. Even when they're ineffective I don't usually let bad voiceovers get in the way of my appreciation for a concept album, but it's impossible when the voiceover is bad to the point of sounding like a fucking self-parody. For all of its musical merits, Symphony of Enchanted Lands has the worst voiceover narration I have ever heard on an album. I swear, the lisping narrator sounds like every unfavourable stereotype of Dungeons and Dragons players rolled up into one. I hate bands like Gloryhammer for being contrived and ironic, and love Rhapsody for their sincerity, but when I'm listening to this narrator who sounds like he forgot to take his retainer out before lamenting the fall of the mighty dragon Tharos, the lines between sincerity and parody start to blur. I'd be lying if I said the narration doesn't hurt my appreciation of Symphony of Enchanted Lands; it completely works against the rest of the album's atmosphere. Given that they enlisted the extraordinary Christopher Lee for the mandatory narration on Symphony of Enchanted Lands II six years later however, it's safe to say Rhapsody recognized the error in their ways.

People (metalheads included) tend to be pretty cynical in recent years, and in virtually every sphere outside of power metal, Rhapsody's 'justice and love for all' fantasy-laden idealism is horribly unfashionable. Even the high fantasy folks are into nowadays is generally post-modern and 'edgy'. Where does that leave a story about a warrior and his faithful dragon? Where does that leave neoclassical sweep solos and harpsichords? For those who know, Symphony of Enchanted Lands is a pretty great album in spite of the lispy voiceover, though I'd hesitate to recommend it to anyone who regularly mistakes bombast for inauthenticity without first giving the benefit of doubt.

Conor Fynes | 4/5 |


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