Review Summary: Rhapsody (of Fire) return to form with 50+ minutes of finely cut cheese.
I've always had a soft spot for Italy's Rhapsody*
, but at some point their love of theatrics became so overbearing that their once affable love of monologues and narration turned from delightfully cheesy to annoyingly pretentious. It was just following the release of Symphony of Enchanted Lands II - The Dark Secret
, when the band, having a remarkably larger budget than in the past, decided to employ a 40 piece orchestra and 20 piece choir to record five additional versions of “The Magic of the Wizard's Dream”. This was unnecessary, but it only worsened with their next album. Released in 2006, Triumph or Agony
featured a 70 piece orchestra and countless narrators. In the interest of time, I'll say only this: as an album it was fuc
king terrible; as story-telling it was even worse. Much of the album is dominated by extended orchestrations and narration and I'm entirely convinced that nobody outside of Christopher Lee (who, let's face it, is a full-time member at this point) has any idea of what's going on in the “Dark Secret Saga”, something I feel is wholly evidenced, I believe, by the fact that the story begins on the second Symphony of Enchanted Lands album, which, in considering their new album is the third in the saga, makes little sense to me. I guess it's an Italian thing.
The point is that because of the growing trend for the band to embrace their “hollywood metal” sub-genre caused me to approach The Frozen Tears Of Angels
with caution. To kill the suspense, I was pleasantly surprised. Yes, Christopher Lee is still the first voice you'll hear, babbling on about Nekron, but he does so for just under forty seconds and is not heard from again until the fifth track, during which he only speaks for an additional minute and a half. Here, Rhapsody have found a balance in their ability to stroke both the egos of Christopher Lee and of their own storytelling while making their music the point of emphasis for the first time in six years.
“Sea of Fate” and “Crystal Moonlight” are the band at their speediest and most familiar, dominated by a re-appearing chorus and Luca Turilli's ever-improving guitar work. The real point of intrigue comes however in the album's middle-tracks---if the first two (discounting the introductory and disposable “Dark Frozen World”) have the band revisiting their glory years, than the two that follow threaten to raise the bar. “Reign of Terror” begins in typical Rhapsody fashion---with ascending guitar harmonies---before a piercing shriek enters itself into the mix and the song's darker tones are visited repeatedly by scathing tremolo picking and an Alexi Laiho-esque scowl. “Danza Di Fuoco E Ghiaccio”, which translates to “Dance Of Fire And Ice” and is almost certainly an allusion or tribute to fantasy author (sorry, “epic” fantasy author) George R. R. Martin, falls on the complete opposite side of the spectrum to its predecessor. Instead of adding to the band's trademark sound with shrieks and aggression it, the track has them abandoning it altogether to enlist what ultimately ends up as a seemingly traditional Italian jig. Though it does employ a distorted guitar, it's used only in accordance to a flute and as the song takes on more of a polka-tone Turilli uses his six strings to all-but replace the wind instruments altogether.
After another speedy number, “Lost In Cold Dreams” re-introduces fans to the Rhapsody of Power Ballads and while it evokes memories of “The Magic of the Wizard's Dream” (perhaps to sour reactions), the decision to withhold Lee from singing and to replace him with quieter backing vocals takes what could have been a near-replica and improves it to the point where familiarity no longer matters. The song is ultimately a little too melodramatic for its own good, but considering the band and the circumstances, that's kind of the point. “On The Way To Ainor” displays a newly emphasized Queen influence in how it compliments Fabio Lione's love of over-singing with multi-layered vocal harmonies.
The album ends in epic fashion with the overlong “The Frozen Tears of Angels”, and if you've tuned out by then it is entirely forgivable. While the album's title track uses the occasional guitar-screech and groovy piano climbs in an attempt to remain interesting, The Frozen Tears of Angels
falls victim to the same truth that faults even the strongest of Rhapsody albums: there's simply too much of it. At just over 53 minutes long, it's one of the shortest albums in the band's discography but the 53 minutes is a long time no matter how you time it and ending on an 11 minute epic is going the extra mile to lose your audience.
As a result, The Frozen Tears of Angels
is an album perhaps best enjoyed in sessions or fragments. Songs like “Reign of Terror”, “Danza Di Fuoco E Ghiaccio” and “On The Way To Ainor” are best served for frequent listening but with nary a weak track in the bunch, Rhapsody have outdone themselves. It's just too much for one sitting, and while that threatens to disrupt their narrative arc, you'd be lying if you said you had any idea what was going on at this point anyways. Fans of cheesy metal, your kings have returned. Now if only they could give Manowar the kick in the a
ss they deserve.
*having never known anyone who used the online music distribution software of the same name, and as someone who truly believes the ensuing lawsuit was absurd, I will continue to refer to the band by their true name.