Thursday, December 19, 2013

Rhapsody Of Fire-Dark Wings Of Steel

AFM Records

Not that it's a shocking revelation by any stretch of the imagination, but I'm not totally sold on the whole symphonic power metal scene. It's far from my favorite form of metal and I really dragged my feet getting around to this release. While I had never heard a whole full-length release from this Italian band I'm at least somewhat familiar with their sound thanks album samplers, compilations and (from years back) Sirius satellite radio. Still, I went in with an open mind and decided to just let the chips fall where they would. After a bit of research I discovered that this is the tenth full-length studio album from Rhapsody Of Fire and the first not to feature guitarist and founding member Luca Turilli. For fans of Rhapsody Of Fire (ROF for short from here on out) this has caused great distress as he appears to have been one of the group's chief song-writers as well as the individual who brought neoclassical influences to the band. Now, there is a ton of back-story to his departure and the history behind this band (which was initially formed as Thundercross in 1993 before taking the name Rhapsody in 1995 and then changing to Rhapsody Of Fire in 2006!) is quite long and varied. For fans of ROF there's simply no need to retread all of it. And for those of you who might be new to the group? Well, I'll leave that as homework as there are plenty of legitimate sites online where you can read all about the band's back-story and the many twists and turns that have taken place for this Italian band over the passing years (as well as the various side-projects that have sprung to life as a result). For now let's just look at this album and see if the sinister artwork up front (with the cool englossed dragon's head!) matches the actual music that lies in wait under the covers. With Luca Turilli having left the band the musical compositions now fall on keyboardest Alex Staropoli and his brother Manuel (guesting on this album with the Baroque flute, Baroque Oboe, Recorder and Duduk) while the lyrics were written by lead vocalist Fabio Lione (Angra, Hollow Haze, Vision Divine, ex-Symmetry, ex-Labÿrinth, ex-Kamelot (live), ex-Athena and ex-J. Storm). Besides Alex Staropoli and Fabio Lione, who both excel in their individual posisitions within ROF, the other current full-time members of the band are guitarist Roberto De Micheli (Sinestesia, ex-Steel Crown, ex-Thundercross) and the extremely talented Holzwarth brothers-bassist Oliver (Pergana, ex-Sieges Even, ex-Coldseed, ex-Looking-Glass-Self, ex-Sodom, ex-Val'Paraiso, Brutal Godz, ex-Paradox, ex-Blind Guardian (live), ex-Chinchilla (live), ex-Leaves' Eyes (live), ex-Tarja (live), ex-Demons & Wizards (live), ex-Power Quest) and drummer Alex (Dol Ammad, Pergana, ex-Sieges Even, ex-Looking-Glass-Self, ex-Val'Paraiso, Brutal Godz, ex-Blind Guardian (live), ex-Avantasia, ex-Luca Turilli's Rhapsody, ex-Paradox). By looking over the list of players involved with "Dark Wings Of Steel" it would be fairly accurate to say that there is a shit-load of experience here. In fact, there is an overabundance of talent to be found within this band so that's one point of topic we really do not need to spend an exorbitant amount of time on. Instead let's focus our attention on the actual music and what makes an album like this both inspiring and not so inspiring. As is apparently the case with most ROF albums this one features the use of real string instruments and a full orchestra. That certainly gives "Dark Wings Of Steel" a grand feeling and creates an overall epic vibe. Granted it's more of a dark, almost melancholy, vibe but it's epic nonetheless! Also, the band employees a small choir (which was scored by Vito Lo Ré) which adds to the sweeping nature of a release like this. These small elements, which are probably fairly atypical in regards to symphonic power metal, do add to the overall listening experience of an album like "Dark Wings Of Steel". Especially when it's just you, a quiet room and a comfortable pair of headphones! That said I'm not sure how to feel about these elements in regards to an album like this. I'm usually of the mindset that classical music and classic heavy metal shouldn't mix. While I love both it's just not a combination I enjoy together. It's similar to how I love bacon and love chocolate. Both a great, but do they really need to be mixed? Here though I felt as if the band's attempt to enhance the more metallic nature of their music helped keep things flowing. For a band that was apparently also known for adding neoclassical elements to their sound-scape with album number ten it sure sounds as if the band is looking to make a drastic change towards more of a even-keeled, traditional power metal style. ROF doesn't always pull it off, but even when they fail they still come off as a band that is trying to make the most of their new line-up and new direction. Tracks like "Rising From Tragic Flames", "Angel Of Light", "Tears Of Pain", "Fly To Crystal Skies" and "A Tale Of Magic" are more power metal then symphonic power metal so while it might just turn off fans of old (which would be understandable) new listeners could likely take their place. Is it an album I'd suggest for your everyday power metal fan though? Likely not. Truthfully there might not be enough "punch" to entice fans of good, old-fashioned power metal into trying out "Dark Wings Of Steel". Still, I like the effort here and how the band makes the most of what could have been an utter disaster (guitarist and founding member Luca Turilli leaving the band and all). It will be interesting to see where a band like ROF goes from here.

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