Tag Archives: Rhapsody of Fire

RIP Christopher Lee

The Wicker Man

Sad news today that Sir Christopher Lee has died at the age of 93.

He was the definitive Count Dracula (accept no imitations), a classy Bond villain, Tolkien’s wizard Saruman, and of course his best role of all, Lord Summerisle in the 1973 classic “The Wicker Man”.

Perhaps because so many of the films he starred in were considered too lowbrow, it took a long time for the cultural establishment to give he the recognition he deserved. But he was eventually rewarded with a well-deserved knighthood as one of Britain’s finest actors.

He didn’t just do horror. Remember his starring role, as the villain of course, in the Australian-made comedy musical “The Return of Captain Invincible”?

His work in the world of Metal mustn’t be forgotten either. Here he is with Rhapsody of Fire; he contributed spoken-word narration on several of their albums, on this track he runs rings around Fabio Lione as a singer.

Farewell, Sir Christopher Lee. As was said on Twitter, 93 is a good innings, and cricket stumps make very good stakes.

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Top Ten Albums of 2010

It’s that time of the year again. 2010 doesn’t seem to have been quite as strong a year as 2009, when I did a top 15 – this year I struggled to name ten. On the other hand, my top four are absolutely superb. A couple of 2010 releases are missing (most notably the excellent Satellite by Panic Room) because I included the pre-release editions in my 2009 list, and it doesn’t seem right to list them twice.

10: Tarja – What Lies Beneath

The second solo album from the former Nightwish lead singer has a massive production including orchestras and kitchen sinks as well as metal guitars, but never quite comes alive. There are some good songs in the mix of big rock numbers and power-ballads, but Tarja’s soprano vocals, while technically superb throughout, lack emotion too much of the time.

9: Rhapsody of Fire – The Frozen Tears of Angels

More Dungeons and Dragons operatic pomp-metal from the Italian quintet, again featuring narration from Sir Christopher Lee and a corny plot featuring a Dark Lord called “Necron”. All good fun in a cheesy sort of way, even if it doesn’t really break any new ground for the band. Twenty-sided dice are not included.

8: New Dance Orchestra – Electronica

An unexpectedly good album from Geoff Downes (the instrumental half of The Buggles) with the superb Anne-Marie Helder on vocals. Billed as “dance-pop”, it’s more 80s pop than Ibiza-style dance anthems, a great collection of well-crafted songs. This one’s a pre-order, currently available direct from the band, but won’t have a retail release until the new year.

7: Anathema – We’re Here Because We’re Here

The former doom-metallers return after a lengthy absence and drop just about all traces of metal from their sound in favour of atmospheric soundscapes. It’s a musical journey that works far far better as one continuous listen than as a collection of individual songs.

6: The Reasoning – Adverse Camber

The Cardiff band’s third album continues in a similar prog-metal vein as 2008′s “Dark Angel”, albeit with Rachel Cohen handling the majority of the lead vocals. A solid piece of work with some great songs, even if it doesn’t (for me at least) quite reach the heights of their first two albums.

5: Pure Reason Revolution – Hammer and Anvil

PRR describe their third album as “Disco-prog”, meaning they’ve put electronic dance, prog and metal into a blender. At times atmospheric, at times sounding like The Prodigy at their most mental, it puts the progressive back into prog.

4: Therion – Sitra Ahra

Not quite as bonkers as their last album “Gothic Kabballah”, this one is the slightly more accessible side of Therion’s choral metal. It’s still filled with complex multi-part vocal arrangements using multiple classically-trained singers, which when combined with twin lead guitars makes for a very rich sound indeed.

3: Black Country Communion

The combination of Glenn Hughes, Joe Bonamassa, Jason Bonham and Derek Sherinian is in danger of giving supergroups a good name with this album of classic 70s-style hard rock. Hughes, despite his age is on fine form vocally, Bonamassa shows he can do hard rock as well as blues, and Jason Bonham is in the same league as his famous father. Sherinian really only has a supporting role given that cast, but still delivers some great Hammond playing. The best album Led Zeppelin never recorded in the 70s? Maybe.

2: Karnataka – The Gathering Light

Five years in the making, the second incarnation of Karnataka finally deliver an album of old-school symphonic prog on a truly epic scale. Features heartfelt female vocals from the now-departed Lisa Fury and some fantastic guitar playing from Enrico Pinna, as well as guest appearances from Troy Donockley on Uilleann pipes, and Hugh McDowell, formerly of ELO, on cello.

1: Mostly Autumn – Go Well Diamond Heart

OK, so you all know I’m a huge fan of this band. But this is the first time since I’ve been blogging that they’ve come up with my album of the year. It’s an immensely varied album containing atmospheric celtic moments, belting hard rockers, shimmering four-minute pop songs, and soaring ballads. They’ve managed to take the spirit of 70s classic rock and made it sound relevant for the 21st century with great songwriting, singing and musicianship. And they’ve done it straight after the departure of a much-loved lead singer too.

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Rhapsody of Fire – The Frozen Tears of Angels

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.

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