Having released their debut album back in 1997, Italy’s Rhapsody of Fire can now be placed in the ‘veteran’ category. Having said that, only keyboardist Alex Staropoli remains of the original line-up with guitarist Roby De Micheli the next longest-serving member, with 8 years service.
Despite this revolving door (11 former members) Rhapsody of Fire has managed to maintain consistency of sound, theme, and performance.
This is no more evident than on The Eighth Mountain, a symphonic power metal triumph out now on AFM Records.
An important change has been the acquisition of new vocalist Giacomo Voli, who joined shortly after the release of 2016’s Into the Legend. Founder member Staropoli had this to say, “Giacomo is like a breath of fresh air for the group and his expressive voice has been a great inspiration to my compositions. That’s one of the reasons why our songwriting sounds more positive again. A number of passages on Dark Wings Of Steel seemed too sad and minor-oriented to me in retrospect. The Eighth Mountain, on the other hand, features much more optimistic major-key atmospheres.”
The Eighth Mountain follows the popular Rhapsody of Fire tropes of fantasy-based lyrics, epic choruses, and heavy, fast melodies. For added atmosphere, the band enlisted the help of the Bulgarian National Symphony Orchestra, who themselves have contributed to more than 600 movie soundtracks. This orchestral addition was a masterstroke and elevates The Eighth Mountain to new heights.
After the 40-second requisite scene-setting intro, “Abyss of Pain”, The Eighth Mountain hits the ground running with “Seven Heroic Deeds”. When I say ‘hit the ground running’ what I actually mean is ‘hit the ground running like The Six Million Dollar Man’ (One for the teenagers there).
The orchestra is in on the act from the start followed by a great run from De Micheli. Add to that a 20-piece choir giving us more depth than we can handle with Omen-like chorals, and all before Voli has sung a note. I’m knackered already. With all the different elements you’d expect something of a dog’s dinner but the whole piece is put together so well that it marries up perfectly, each element supporting the others.
“Master of Peace” has a more traditional power-metal feel, with machine gun drumming from Manu Lotter rattling it all along. Voli has certainly got what it takes for this type of music, supplying vocals with power and emotion. Big booming choruses and a fast-as-fuck solo top it off oh-so-well.
The metal keeps on coming apace on “Rain of Fury” with Lotter once again taking the lead with partner in crime Alessandro Sala on bass. Staropoli also gets a healthy look-in, playing some cracking keyboard runs. Check out the video below. “White Wizzard” is less metal and more classic rock, but still with inspiring vocals, chorus, and a great solo.
We get all medieval on “Warrior Heart” and it’s a fine addition. Rhapsody of Fire enlisted the services of specialist musicians playing medieval instruments. There’s still the metal element but with an overall medieval rhythm, think Blackmore’s Night on steroids.
With “The Courage to Forgive” we are treated to another dose of metal meets chorals and it really works a treat again. Voli is on top form, as is De Micheli.
Rapid-fire riffs kick off “March Against the Tyrant” before things suddenly slow to a gentle jog with the medieval instruments. Voli shows he can do ‘tender’ as well as power, but as this track is over 9 minutes long, there’s plenty of time to fit everything in, as indeed he does. Rhapsody of Fire maintain the pace throughout this track which is top-notch and hits the bullseye all the way. These tracks aren’t so much songs as exquisite, complex compositions. Staropoli, who is the main songwriter, must be commended.
Power metal reigns on “Clash of Times” and with more twiddling than you can shake a stick at. Top stuff.
“The Legend Goes On” is very reminiscent of early DragonForce, the current titans of the genre. This comparison is not an exaggeration. As a breather before the big finish, we have “The Wind”, a moody effort full of angst which is especially shown in the guitar work. Backed once again by the orchestra this is a beautiful track.
Now for that big finish, in the form of “Tales of a Hero’s Fate”, clocking in at almost 11 minutes. After a raucous start of fast riffing overlayed with choral work, Giacomo Voli sings in a fashion he hasn’t done so far. He goes all Bruce Dickinson at his shouty gravelly worst, but fortunately, it doesn’t last long and soon he’s back to his smooth powerful best. The track, for the most part, carries on the job which has gone before; orchestrations, big vocals, fast riffing and the choir. That is until the intervention of the spoken word section performed by acting legend Christopher Lee. (How that happened I don’t know as he died in 2015). The last 2:45 is dedicated solely to this narration which could be seen as a fitting end but to me, it’s hardly Orson Welles on Manowar’s classic “Dark Avenger”.
The Eighth Mountain is a must-have if you’ve even just a passing interest in power metal. This album has got everything and with the addition of the orchestra and choir, it has more depth and interest than most albums of the genre. Highly recommended.