For anyone not familier with Rhapsody, let's get a few things straightened. They are probably the most brilliant, cheesiest band you'll listen to (and I mean that in a good way.) From their shameless use of choirs and orchestras to their fantasy-themed lyrics (more on which later) they create a sense of epicness unlike any other band I've ever come across.
The Dawn Of Victory album covers part III of the Emerald Sword saga. This is probably the darkest part of the story. As a brief overview, the "Warrior of Ice" is returned from the Ivory Gates with the Emerald Sword (a magic sword, analogous to The One Ring from Tolkien) and saves Ancelot from Akron's army. There is much celebration. However, many lords were captured and Akron threatens to put them to death unless he gets the Emerald Sword. So Arwald and The Warrior Of Ice go to the Darklands where Akron lives where they find the lords have already been put to death, and they are captured and tortured (thinking about it, they really should have seen that coming.) When they awake, they find Airin, Arwalds beloved princess, lying on a rock where she is brutally raped and killed. In the end, the Warrior Of Ice escapes, but without the Emerald Sword, or his friends.
Lyrically the album is clever, but not impressive. There are lots of lines which are shamelessly poetic ("Swans and birds in water games will call Airin's name!" for example) but it suits the style of the band and is another reason why we love Rhapsody. They can be forgiven, I think for overuse of certain adjectives, like holy, evil, dark, cosmic, magical and valorous, because English isn't their first language (they're Italian) and because everything's over the top already. The lyrics also include references to other albums and events, such as Tharos the Dragon, a character from Symphony Of Enchanted Lands and hints that Dargor may turn against Akron, as he does in Rain Of A Thousand Flames. Lyrically, the storyline may be simplistic and clich", but so are the storylines to some of the greatest operas, and it is, I think, well told. It's easiest if you don't try to take them seriously and listen to this more as a parody of heavy metal, although there is something very comic about the way the band seem to take this seriously.
1. Lux Triamphans is latin for "Light of triumph". This is a typical metal/operatic overture, with no guitar, and none of Fabio Lione's vocals yet. The style is very reminisnant of O! Fortuna from Carl Orff's Carmina Burana suite and it makes a dramatic opening.
2. Dawn Of Victory: the title track has perhaps a weak introduction until the horns come in. Lione's Italian accent is noticable, but only annoying if you want it to be. I find there's something quite charming about it. The feel is fast and upbeat. There is fairly heavy use of a double bass pedal, but it's tasteful and doesn't overpower everything. Good balance between the instruments is one good point on this album. The chorus is very singable, and had me humming it for days. Again, this is another good generalisation of Rhapsody. My main criticism is where the guitar solo doesn't sound entirely necessary and bits of it aren't especially well written. However, I did buy the album on the strength of this one track, even though it's not really the best on the album.
3. Triumph For My Magic Steel: this track is much more operatic. At the same time, however, influences from bands like Iron Maiden comes across in the way the vocals are used. It has excellent contrasts between chorus, pre-chorus and chorus, although it can be hard to tell how the verse and chorus relate to each other lyricly. The interlude is different again, bringing in church choirs. The guitar solo is much more lyrical as well on this track, then on the previous one, with a nice oriental/middle-eastern flavour to it.
4. The Village Of Dwarves: the best way to listen to this track is try not to take it seriously. From the baroque opening, slow and mournful, it opens up into an intro which reminds me a lot of Daviken, with celtic melodies running over it on an accordian. The verses take on ballad structure, and the chorus is great for barn dancing: so dosie-doe! See-saw! Change partner!
5. Dargor, Shadowlord of the Black Maintain: this is truly a good Black Sabbath, Iron Maiden type song. The intro is fast and furious and great for headbanging, while verses sounds like an excellent sing-a-long. Another very hummable chorus as well, but in a different way to the other choruses: it's remarkable how the band manage to achieve the same effects without sounding too samey. For example, listening directly to the solos in this one reminds me a lot of the title track, but it's not something you notice unless you actually listen for it. There is also something really haunting about the lyrics to the chorus of this one. I think it's to do with the juxtaposition of images in the line "We spread our heart to the kingdom of dust". That, however, is mostly the part of me which likes to take this sort of music seriously and enjoy it.
6. The Bloody Rage Of The Titans: Ok. From the sound of the title, you were expecting a fast, violent, angry intro, right? Wrong. Instead a slow piano part with building orchestration, building beautiful imagery up. This then cuts out into a celtic violin riff over double bass and guitar. This song seems to have trouble with having the verses and chorus relate to each other, with the chorus being about the rage of the titans, while the verses are about the passing of winter and the coming of spring. The interlude here is very atmospheric with baroque singing, and really complex orchestration making it very tricky to keep track of any one melody or idea, but instead building into an overall impression.
7. Holy Thunderfoce: I love this track. This track is the part of the story where the hero's have realised they've fallen into a trap and decide "We're going to be killed, but at least we can take some of them with us" and go on a killing frenzy. It's the best song to charge into war to since Iron Maiden recorded The Trooper. Violent, moshpit-worthy intro. The verses themselves very stacatto and building into a fanstastic chorus. The orchestra is less prominant then in other parts of the album, with guitar and drums taking a much stronger role. Almost my favourite on the album...almost.
8. Trolls In The Dark (instrumental): A much more interesting instrumental then I've often heard. At a little over two and a half minutes it doesn't drag too much. The intrumental style doesn't, I feel, fully do justice to Rhapsody, but it does give a useful break from Lione's voice which might otherwise start to get tiring. I have to admit I'm not really a fan of instrumentals.
9. The Last Winged Unicorn: most clich" title on the album (since when have unicorns had wings anyway?) which made me not listen to this properly at first, but when I did listen to it, this song went straight up to becoming one of my favourite songs of all time. The intro build up beautifully into the verses, which are about Airin's rape and torture of the heros. Musically they have such an effect, especially when contrasted with the images in the chorus. The real highlight here is the long interlude: it goes from baroque singing, before adding a call-and-response with church choirs and then a voice over which is horribly clich" to the point of comedy and then a beautifully sung line in tribute to Airin and a superbly beautiful solo, reminscant of Gers in Iron Maiden's Blood Brothers, but much more fully realised and with a much more interesting backing.
10. The Mighty Ride Of The Firelord: the longest track on the album to finish it. If you listen closely enough to this you will here lots of musical references to other tracks on the album. The intro build from a soft piano into riffage many bands would be green with envy over. There are fantastic hard-soft dynamics in here and really strong rhythmic vocals. Heavy influenfles from opera can't be escaped as ever, but opera rocks, so that's good. The chorus is strong and powerful, suprising because it is much slower then the verses preceding it. It's also noticable for the line "Sing the epic symphony..." I'll let you draw your own judgements. The interlude seems to "borrow" parts from everywhere else on the album. This is clearly deliberate and works really well to bring the album together as whole. The Lux Triumphans reference works amazingly well this late in the album, and the voiceover is less cheesey the the Last Winged Unicorn, although that doesn't say much. Some could argue that this track drags on a little, but for me they manage get the length right, to do a full exposition on the ideas in it and in the album and not get too repetitive.
Conclusion: If you don't already own a Rhapsody album, this is an excellent place to start. Many Rhapsody fans consider this their best work to date. Buy this album.
* Luca Turilli - Guitars, songwriting
* Fabio Lione - Vocals
* Alex Staropoli - Keyboards, songwriting
* Alessandro Lotta - Bass
* Alex Holzwarth - Drums
* Epic choirs - Robert Hunecke-Rizzo, Thomas Rettke, Miro Rodenberg, Cinzia Rizzo, Florinda Klevisser
* Church Choirs - Helmstedt Kammerchoir conducted by Andreas Lamken
* Female Baroque voice - Constanze Backers
* Childish voice on "Trolls in the Dark" - Laurence Vanryne
* Baroque recorders - Manuel Staropoli
* Lead Violin - Maggie Ardorf
* Drums - Thunderforce