REVIEW: RHAPSODY OF FIRE – “The Eighth Mountain”
As an avid player of Dungeons & Dragons in my formative years, I quickly realized that as an RPG soundtrack my Van Halen records just weren’t cutting the mustard. My brother’s Deep Purple and Rush records fared better, and regarding the latter, I was thrilled that they name-checked TSR Games in the liner notes of ‘Moving Pictures’, even if in true weird Canadian fashion it was the Top Secret spy game. My unholy prayers were answered in the late 1980’s, however, when I discovered Dio and the more contextually appropriate, Yngwie Malmsteen. In my mind, the first three Yngwie records in particular really bridge the gap between early metal and neoclassical power metal. And while I largely sidestepped power metal throughout my college years, nostalgia got the best of me in my late 20s when I joined an AD&D campaign and discovered Rhapsody (of Fire), the penultimate fantasy gaming soundtrack.
The first in a series of records that revolve around a concept called the “Nephilim’s Empire Saga”, Rhapsody of Fire’s (RoF) new record ‘The Eighth Mountain’, out February 22, 2019 on AFM Records, features a revitalized lineup eager to regain the iron throne.
After the appropriate grandeur of an intro that unveils a fruitful partnership with the Bulgarian National Symphony Orchestra, a string of proper songs reinforces RoFs mastery of tension and release. The band’s marriage of heavy riffs and catchy choruses with classically informed chord structures, choral and orchestral embellishments, and shrewd keyboard shades and flourishes highlight the band’s next-level songcraft. From the breakneck speed of “Master of Peace’s” badass intro riff to the minor key arpeggios of “Seven Heroic Deeds’” chorus, these initial ragers set a lofty precedent. On his third record with the band, guitarist Roby De Micheli’s nimble guitar runs of “Rain of Fury’s” solo break and subsequent melodic wind down are particularly indicative of the high levels of proficiency each player brings to the performance.
The bittersweet melodies and moody shifts between major and minor keys of “The Courage to Forgive” exemplify the epically adventurous nature of these tunes. Last remaining original member Alex Staropoli’s expert keyboard work does a lot of the heavy lifting when it comes to atmosphere, and he is more than ably backed by a band that is rounded out by seasoned bassist Alessandro Sala, and newcomer’s drummer Manu Lotte and vocalist Giacomo Voli.
Elsewhere, “White Wizard,” a mid-tempo slice of melodic fantasy metal, adds some subtle textures to its epic plea for the White Wizard to “atone for us,” “guide our souls” and “foresee our future storms.” “The Legend Goes On” is another standout track with some particularly awesome keyboard work, that like all songs in the set benefits from the modern, ultra-clean sheen of Staropoli’s production.
Standout track “March Against the Tyrant” gallops into the world on the fleet-footed hooves of a classic metal riff before guitar arpeggios break through the din and lead the way into the pastoral meditation of the verse. Voli, whose voice is eerily similar to departed vocalist Fabio Lione, albeit slightly thinner and with a bit more grit, interjects this and all of the tunes on the record with a level of grandeur and urgency that should satisfy longtime fans of the band. When, like a power metal obsessed Gordon Lightfoot, Voli sings “dawn shining clouds and mountains, a cold morning wind makes me tear and think of you,” it makes me want to make love to an elf-eared Liv Tyler in the rolling New Zealand countryside.
Not everything on the record slays the wicked leviathan. Some of the songs are predictable in their dauntless scope. “Warrior Heart” the requisite renaissance folk ballad while well-executed might be the low water mark for a record that generally springs deep.
With “Tales of a Hero’s Fate”, RoF have unequivocally saved the best for last. The intro, which is all electric guitars, choirs, and orchestra, morphs into the gallop of a pre-verse riff that is highlighted by orchestral hits. The verse proper features some unnecessary but fairly well-executed growling vocals, and leads the way into the kind of well flowing series of choruses and pre-choruses that are typical of the set. Around the 4:30 mark, an epic minor key bridge adds a sense of foreboding before a major key harmonized lead guitar introduces a full-on progressive riff-fest that alternates between flashy instrumental riffs and solos and tension building vocal choruses and keyboard and orchestral flourishes. Having not read the LPs press release prior to initial listens, imagine my surprise when the ascending guitar lines of the final riff came to an abrupt halt, and the great Sir Christopher Lee’s unmistakable voice broke the silence. In this posthumous narration, the true “White Wizard” “guides our souls” through the journey’s end, marking another excellent entry into RoF’s consistent discography.
On their 12th full-length record, ‘The Eighth Mountain’, Rhapsody of Fire casts a familiar yet powerful spell that should have fans of epic fantasy metal clamoring for their 20-sided dice.