Italy’s Rhapsody of Fire (formerly called Rhapsody) were one of the first symphonic metal bands when they emerged in the late 1990s.. Their style of “epic fantasy metal” is part operatic metal, part Hollywood film score, with Dungeons and Dragons lyrics and song titles like “The Ancient Forest of Elves”. I’ve half-jokingly described them as musically making Queen sound like XTC, and lyrically making Dio sound like The Arctic Monkeys. U2 fans have even been known to run away screaming in terror. But at their best their music can be gloriously over the top, and hugely entertaining provided you aren’t allergic to a little bit of cheese.
Their latest album “The Frozen Tears of Angels” has been out a few months now. It’s got most the traditional Rhapsody elements, such as choirs and spoken word parts by Sir Christopher Lee among others. The lyrics are another fantasy saga, rather more David Eddings than Tolkien (Seriously, a villain called “Necron”? Come on guys, surely you can do better than that?).
While by no means a bad album, doesn’t quite seem to have the same spark as previous offerings. Perhaps it’s down to the fact they’ve not used an orchestra this time, with the symphonic parts played on layered keyboards instead. Yes, there are still some great moments, like the monstrous opening track with pseudo-orchestration backing Christopher Lee’s ominous-sounding narration – about as epic as something less than three minutes long can possibly be. And we stll have some huge soaring Carl Orff-style choral moments. But there are also times when they fall back to some very generic Euro power-metal, which I find far less interesting than their more cinematic moments.
Perhaps the biggest problem is that they aren’t really breaking any new ground with this release. They’re largely repeating what they’ve already done before, at a time when other bands in the symphonic metal scene are still moving the genre forward. A dozen years after their debut, the likes of Epica, Nightwish and especially Therion leave Rhapsody of Fire sounding a little dated by comparison.
If you’re a fan of the band, you’ve almost certainly got this album already by now. But if you want an introduction to Rhapsody of Fire’s gloriously over the top music, you’re probably better off starting with one of their earlier albums such as “Symphony of Enchanted Lands” or “Triumph or Agony” rather than with this one.