"Challenge the Wind" (AFM Records; 2024)

Reviewed by R. Scott Bolton

It's hard to ever say anything bad about Rhapsody of Fire. Their legacy is undeniable, their sound instantly identifiable. They've been called the Kings of Symphonic Metal, and it's difficult to think of them as anything but that. And "Challenge the Wind" does nothing to change any of that.

"Challenge the Wind" is a sprawling, epic symphonic metal album with ultra-complex production, fiery guitars, furious rhythms and classic storytelling. It's bigger-than-life, like most of the recordings that Rhapsody of Fire has produced, and it's irresistible. Once you start this album, odds are you're going to finish it, time after time.

Want proof? Just listen to Track 4, "Vanquished by Shadows," clocking in at over sixteen minutes. It's a musical novel all wrapped up in one (admittedly lengthy) track. Every element of symphonic metal is put to use here, from the heavy keyboards to the stabbing synth stings to the swirling guitar riffs and leads.

"Challenge the Wind" never disappoints, especially if you're already a Rhapsody of Fire fan or a fan of symphonic metal in general. It's got everything you're looking for, just over an hour of great music.

But ... (you knew there was going to be a 'but,' didn't you?), sometimes the band comes perilously close to self-parody. It doesn't happen here but it sometimes swerves off in that direction. I'm hoping that ROF can avoid this completely in the future.

As I said, that's a non-point with "Challenge the Wind." There are moments when the band veers into that dangerous self-parody territory but they never quite cross into the other lane. As it is, "Challenge the Wind" is another stunning collection of tunes from a band that defined a genre and that still has the chops to keep it going.

For more information, check out http://www.rhapsodyoffire.com


"I'll Be Your Hero EP" (Steamhammer / SPV; 2006)

Reviewed by R. Scott Bolton

The letters "EP" are right there in the title of Rhapsody of Fire's "I'll Be Your Hero EP," but this "EP' is a monster, with eight tracks and almost forty minutes of symphonic metal. Then again, who would complain when you get more music instead of less.

The EP begins with a new track, "I'll Be Your Hero" (strangely enough) and I have to admit I'm a sucker for a good symphonic metal anthem. "I'll Be Your Hero" soars out of your speakers on musical wings, hooking you instantly with its vibrant tone and fist-pumping potential. Next up is a re-recording of the band's "Where Dragons Fly," which surprises due to its plugged-in Renaissance Faire sound. To paraphrase Quentin Tarantino, it gets medieval on your ass.

The next two tracks are two live tracks and I was floored by this band's ability to deliver their massive sound so well in a live setting. You'd be hard-pressed to tell a live version from a studio recording and in a good way.

The last four tracks are "The Wind, The Rain and the Moon." Yes, you read that right. The remaining four tracks are the same song, but sung in English,

The bottom line here is that, despite the fact it's probably too big to be called an EP, "I'll Be Your Hero EP" does exactly what an EP is supposed to. It drives interest toward the band's next full-length album which, based solely on the blood-pumping first track, I can't wait to hear.

For more information, check out http://www.rhapsodyoffire.com

"Triumph or Agony" (Steamhammer / SPV; 2006)

Reviewed by Edwin Van Hoof

Rhapsody Of Fire? Who the hell are they? Well, Italian epic metal frontrunners Rhapsody had to add the “Of Fire” to their moniker due to a long lasting legal battle in regards to their original name. Now the main question is more important: Would all of the hassle of the last years reflect onto the band’s unique metal sound?!

For “Triumph or Agony” the band, unfortunately, didn’t add the anger built up inside over the name change, nor did it affect the band’s signature musical opinion in any other way. Thus we are left with an album we have heard before, penned by the same quintet. To me, it is rather disappointing to hear the band stuck in the same position without willing to add some spice to life.

Rhapsody Of Fire still blend their Teutonic power metal with epic movie score-like orchestrations, a blend that made these Italians famous in the first place. And they still do it like no other band can. However, it is in the upbeat passages that the metal battlers truly start to shine.

The main course of the album is heavily orchestrated and nearly angelic metal, yet it hardly ever comes to life nor does it punch you in the head to awaken you. The opening is grand and epic, with a spoken storyline that builds up tension toward the raging title track, where the pedal really goes down for the first time. The dramatic orchestrated midsection takes away the pace slightly, which also happens during the following “Heart of the Darklands.” Thus far it is arms wide open for fans of melodic metal. From then on, it all starts to crumble. 

The fast pace is taken out, only to re-appear occasionally and then to fade away pretty soon after. The remaining tracks are packed with piano and keyboard-driven. They are slow movers with loud and pompous choirs and tightly woven guitars and keyboard arrangements. Minstrels and flutes drop by to empower the baroque arrangements all of which color the landscape of the dark and roaring medieval times. In that they succeed brilliantly. But "Triumph or Agony" also starts to lose your attention. “Il canto Del Vento” had me slowly fading off to dreamland. If it wasn’t for its classically sung section, I would still be asleep right now.

The wake up call comes with the wonderful and amazing power metal hymn “Silent Dream” which breaks lose from the typical pattern of arrangements and leans more toward classical US power metal and even NWOBHM! That, inflicted by this fine tune's feeling for drama, expression and epic arrangements, creates a unique track which instantly captures your attention as we stroll onwards to the band's 16-minute track that follows. Again we have to struggle through two ballads before we are introduced to “The Mystic Prophecy Of The Demon Knight.” Indeed, "Demon Knight" has a new tale to tell. The song reflects best the abilities of Turilli, Lione and Staropli and their "interchangeable" metal companions. It is packed with drama and theatrical elements well molded into a story which could fill a complete album. Though it is broken by interludes and features some lingering moments, (such as the storyboard interludes and more thematically choirs and orchestrations), the whole saga and its theme are very well arranged. It perfectly states what can be expected from the Italian rockers. The album ends with “Dark Reign of Fire” which is packed with loud and pompous opera elements and chants. Again, it dies out lingering and in drama, but most likely with a reason.

Unlike Kamelot, for instance, Rhapsody of Fire rarely explodes or unleashes their fury, which they buildup toward with a lot of tension and drama. All is perfectly produced and presented with exceptional musical craftsmanship, but it tends to die out on you as you listen through the album. The louder and more metallic tracks keep you focused and make you drawl for more. The rest, unfortunately, is like a flame dying out. 

Devoted fans of the band will most likely love this record, much like they devoured its predecessors, but I’m afraid "Triumph or Agony" won’t attract many more new fans.

Rhapsody of Fire: Fabio Lione – vocals; Luca Turilli – guitars; Alex Staropli – keyboards; Patrice Guers - bass; Alex Holzwarth - Drums. 

For more information, check out http://www.rhapsodyoffire.com

Rating Guide:

A classic. This record will kick your ass.

Killer. Not a classic but it will rock your world.

So-so. You've heard better.

Pretty bad. Might make a nice coaster.

Self explanatory. Just the sight of the cover makes you wanna hurl.

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