Review Summary: Not quite as legendary of a tale as its predecessor, but Rhapsody's second chapter in the Emerald Sword Saga is still enchanting enough to warrant a listen from any symphonic power metal fan.
The realm of power metal is a very fantastical one, filled with a barrage of double bass drumming, wildly melodic galloping guitar riffs, keyboardists emulating entire symphonies, and singers with powerful voices who probably played Dungeons & Dragons & Dragons and Legend of Zelda far too much in high school. Rhapsody has never been a more perfect example of all of these power metal clichés, so be prepared for an onslaught of all of this cheesiness on Rhapsody's sophomore release, Symphony of Enchanted Lands
. Luckily here we're treated to a fairly exceptional kind of cheesiness.
Just to give you an idea of the level of cheesiness we're dealing with, Rhapsody's entire discography is one super-massive continuing story called the Emerald Sword Saga. I wouldn't be able to write a summary for you or anything, but Symphony of Enchanted Lands
is the second chapter in this ongoing tale of epic battles, warriors, and other power metal lyrical staples the band loves to write about. Narration, which has become a staple in Rhapsody's sound, is first introduced on this album. Yes you read correctly, narration. Several songs have short vocal interludes acting out the story, driving it forward. Unless you're a die-hard Rhapsody fan, most people, including myself, probably won't care about the epic story that guitarist/composer Luca Turilli has crafted, but it does serve as a nice backdrop for all of the musical grandiosity of the album.
And what a grandiose album it is. Every song is packed to the brim with choirs and string sections, although some songs have more and less of an emphasis placed on these parts than others. My personal favorite songs are actually the more straightforward songs like the extremely anthemic "Emerald Sword" as well as most of the material on the band's debut, Legendary Tales
. As much I like the epic scale of the other tracks, it sometimes feels like the band falls back on their more symphonic elements to try to spice up what would be otherwise bland parts of songs, especially on "Eternal Glory" which barely could seize my attention for its tedious seven minutes. Luckily though, this problem isn't nearly as noticeable here as it is on the material on their 2006 release, Triumph or Agony
Although their overall quality is somewhat hit or miss, when Rhapsody does nail these monstrous power metal epics, they nail them with great precision. "Beyond the Gates of Infinity" sounds somewhat progressive at times and could be almost be mistaken for a long lost Symphony X
b-side of sorts. Then there is also the monster of a title track which clocks in just over thirteen minutes. After the tranquil Celtic intro, Fabio Lione's booming voice emerges over a sinister organ and from there you know you have quite a journey ahead of you, even if that journey does drag on a minute or so longer than it should. That's not to say that the title track is the only song Fabio's vocals excel on. I'll admit he doesn't have quite the range that other vocalists in the genre have, like Hansi from Blind Guardian
for example, but just the sheer power, tone, and control he has over his voice is enough to serve as a testament to what a great singer he is.
One thing in particular that makes Rhapsody one of the more standout power metal acts is their neo-classical guitar and keyboard work. "The Dark Tower of Abyss" really shows off a lot of their classical influence, especially Vivaldi. At around the 2:40 mark you would swear Alex Staropoli's keyboard melody was stolen straight from Vivaldi's "Summer", more specifically the third movement Presto. Luca Turilli's love for neo-classical guitar leads also certainly won't go unnoticed with most of his solos throwing loads of arpeggios at your ears. At the same time that is one thing I really dislike about the solos on this album. Turilli falls back on sweep-picking far too much with little variation or creativity in his leads. Although he's a great player, his guitar work on Symphony of Enchanted Lands
is just fairly bland most of the time.
Speaking of being bland, in general there's just a lot of parts to songs that drag and lack personality, usually because a lack of creativity in the instrumentation. There are just so many tremolo-picked riffs with the drums following note for note with double bass that you start to get déja vu after listening to a couple of songs. Fortunately there is one track that acts as a segue into "Eternal Glory" and there is also a mild ballad "Wings of Destiny," though it isn't as strong as some of their others. So to Rhapsody's credit they do a decent job at breaking up the album to prevent it from getting too repetitive, though it is somewhat inevitable given all of the seemingly regurgitated material. Another flaw, or rather annoyance I should say, is all of the narration. While I don't exactly care for the narration one way or the other, the actor the band found to play this part is so terrible and insincere in his delivery that it starts to detract from the songs.
These problems still shouldn't put too much of a dent in this power metal gem's metaphorical armor. Like all Rhapsody albums, Symphony of Enchanted Lands
is incredibly epic, has immense vocals, and lots of great epic melodies that are sure to please any fan of the genre. If you are new to Rhapsody I wouldn't encourage you to start here however. I would personally suggest you check out their debut, "Legendary Tales." But if you think with the logic, "the more symphonic and epic the better," you might want to start at towards the front of their discography rather than the back.
"Beyond the Gates of Infinity"
"The Dark Tower of Abyss"