Review by Tom Mead
Rhapsody of Fire’s extreme, exuberant and unashamedly orchestral take on symphonic power metal has delighted and exasperated Metal fans in equal measure since their 1997 debut album Legendary Tales. Into the Legend is the Italians’ 11th full-length release and is pretty much a case of business-as-usual.
This is the second album since the original band divided into 2 camps; vocalist Fabio Lione, keyboardist Alex Starapoli and drummer Alex Holzwarth kept the Rhapsody of Fire name, whereas lead guitarist Luca Turilli, session guitarist Dominique Leurquin and bassist Patrice Guers formed Luca Turilli’s Rhapsody. It’s an interesting situation, where both bands continue the legacy of operatic fantasy metal amicably. At first glance, it looks like fans now have 2 bands for the price of 1. However, while Into the Legend is by no means a bad album, there will no doubt be many fans wishing that Luca Turilli was still at the helm.
In many ways, Into the Legend has everything that fans would expect from a Rhapsody of Fire album; they are the kind of band whose sound is unlikely to change much. If you’re new to them, I’d warn you that it’s like learning to drive in a Ferrari; it’s fast, loud, takes a lot of getting used to and is anything but a gentle ride. Opening instrumental In Principio starts quietly, but it’s not long before a frantic string section and a choir join the party to create a melodramatic atmosphere that wouldn’t be out of place on an X-Factor results show.
Distant Sky and Into the Legend get things going properly; neoclassical guitar leads, catchy choruses and operatic choirs aplenty. Winter’s Rain, a mid-paced Kashmir-esque number, provides a slight break from the intense speed, with a distorted riff and a hurdy-gurdy creating a distinct, droning atmosphere. There are also softer moments on A Voice in the Cold Wind, with woodwind, harpsichord and whistles in the foreground creating a folk metal sound not too dissimilar from that of seminal Spanish band Mägo de Oz. So far, so good.
However, it’s in the second half of the album that the wheels come off Rhapsody of Fire’s winged chariot somewhat. Valley of Shadows starts off well enough, with an ominous opening riff, Wagnerian female vocals and dramatic Italian lyrics, but its repetitive nature means that, at 7 minutes, it outstays its welcome and is the first major sign that, on Into the Legend, the level of songwriting is not quite as high as it has been on previous releases.
There are various elements in the album’s closing tracks that you can’t help thinking would not have been allowed if Luca Turilli were still in the band; he was after all Rhapsody of Fire’s primary composer, conceptual mastermind and de-facto leader. Shining Star is a throwaway token ballad that serves no purpose besides giving your ears a rest; it is a far cry from the band’s great ballads of old, such as the duet with the late, great Sir Christopher Lee, The Magic of the Wizard’s Dream. And while Realms of Light and Rage of Darkness contain a Dream Theater-esque guitar/keyboard duel and a very catchy chorus respectively, they’re also both full of uninspiring Power Metal clichés.
The big letdown of Into the Legend is closing track The Kiss of Life; at 16 minutes, its shortcomings neutralise the album’s positive earlier elements. The epic “long song” is something Rhapsody of Fire have done several times in the past, it often being a prime opportunity to flex their creative and conceptual muscles to maximum effect. The Kiss of Life, however, runs out of steam fairly quickly. It could have been condensed into 5 minutes, but has been artificially drawn out by unnecessarily repeating earlier sections from the album, like some sort of musical Frankenstein’s monster. Repeating motifs to signpost certain themes is of course an oft-used technique in opera, and is one that Rhapsody of Fire have borrowed from that genre intelligently in the past. On The Kiss of Life though, and to a lesser extent on Into the Legend in general, the over-reliance on recycling existing motifs indicates that the band have struggled for ideas, with the outcome being that you wish the album was a good 15-20 minutes shorter.
In short, this is a bog-standard Rhapsody of Fire album, but it is nowhere near as good as it could be. While there is promise in the first half, the second half is full of incessantly repeated themes and examples of Power Metal clichés that the band has utilised much more effectively many times before. It is far too long but, when all is said and done, there is nothing here that fans of this kind of music would class as “bad” per se. Rhapsody of Fire are clearly still finding their feet in the post-Luca Turilli period of their career and, if they are struggling to write good enough songs, they should exercise some restraint next time so that only the necessary bits make the final cut.