If you’re unfamiliar with the band, it’s probably worth knowing they exist at the very fringes of power metal; their music has been described as “film score metal” due to its many soundtrack-style elements and with virtually every track packed to excess with overblown orchestral and choral arrangements, Rhapsody Of Fire owes as much to Bach and Paganini as to Maiden and Manowar. It all works brilliantly, but this isn’t an album for subscribers to the less is more theory of heavy metal.
If anything, the sextet has upped the ante. Even by their own standards, “From Chaos To Eternity” is utterly and unapologetically grandiose. The twenty minute, five-part closer “Heroes Of The Waterfalls’ Kingdom” best illustrates the point. After a spoken word intro from stalwart British actor and unlikely metal god Christopher Lee, a delicate baroque passage builds dynamically before launching headlong into a full force metal gallop complete with a vocal arrangement to match any Wagnerian opera, before concluding in a spectacular fashion not unlike a metal band reinventing Les Miserables for an audience of Broadway bangers. In comparison, Trans Siberian Orchestra sounds like the Ramones.
It’s not all sprawling twenty minute epics though. On tracks like the infectious “I Belong To The Stars” and the immense balladry of “Anima Perduta,” the histrionics are expertly condensed into concise song structures with something close to instant appeal.
The multi-faceted vocals of Fabio Lione shine throughout, but really Rhapsody Of Fire is all about guitarist Luca Turilli and keyboardist Alex Staropoli. Turilli sets about his work with enough fleet-fingered ferocity to make Malmsteem seem like a street corner busker while Staropoli embellishes every last second with some quite awe-inspiring orchestrations. If there’s a criticism, it’s that the rhythm section occasionally gets lost somewhere in the endless layers of upfront sounds, but that’s no more than a niggle.
Nine albums in and the first part of the Rhapsody Of Fire saga draws to a magnificent close. It’s going to be intriguing to see where the story takes us from here.
(released July 12, 2011 on Nuclear Blast Records)