's a bloody dragon isn't it? Right there on the front cover! They just can't resist it can they – they're obsessed! I had to look twice though, making it grey and almost spectre-like has disguised it a little (I suppose it's better than making it wear sunglasses and a false moustache...), but it did make me wonder if this was an omen? Was the music within less obvious, less typically Rhapsody
? Maybe I'd have to scrap the review I had mentally pre-prepared; Rhapsody Of Fire
, Dark Wings of Steel
; Dragons, Symphonic Metal
, Dragons, Overpowering Keyboards, More
Dragons, Operatic vocals, Even More
Conceptual Story, Dragons, Dragons, Dragons.
But things really have changed! Now, it's OK, don't worry young Robby - sat there in your Emerald Saga
pyjamas, cross legged on your bunk bed and clutching your cuddly furry dragon in anticipation - it's still unquestionably ROF, but a steady shift in attitude hinted at on the last couple of ROF releases seems to have really taken hold. Rhapsody Of Fire
2013 are darker, the time signatures are more diverse, the arrangements less frantic and they just sound more mature. And
certainly better for it! There's no lyrical concept story either!!! Thank goodness there's a Dragon
on the cover or I would think the band had totally lost their minds!
For a band that started life so unique, I began to find Rhapsody
(as it was then) just a bit predictable. Everything I loved about Rhapsody
in 1997 was getting rather tiresome after 7 similar releases in 10 years. I also worried that the departure of guitarist Luca Turilli
would confound matters, but now it looks like it might just have been the catalyst that was needed. Yes there's the usual intro piece to kick things off, but this time it's a little more subdued, slightly sinister, a touch foreboding. And
I also accept that 'Rising
From Tragic Flames
' has many of the usual traits of an opening ROF track, full to the brim with pomposity, soaring keyboards, lightning guitars and double-kick drumming. Where things really start to get interesting is on the next track 'Angel
Of Light'. This song actually...grooves! I never thought I'd say that about a ROF track, but it's true. It has Fabio Lione's trade-mark grandiose vocals, but with it's plodding, catchy main riff and interesting arrangement, the track has so much...room! I like this. This is one of the best songs I've heard them do in ages! OK guys, you have my attention...
But can they hold it? 'Tears Of Pain
' has such an obviously ROF neoclassical guitar riff intro, you are just counting the seconds until the double-kick-fest and overblown keyboards explode in...but no! Half-time drums - totally unexpected - and a dark, chuggy verse (with plenty of orchestration though!). The chorus is still a huge choral event, but it sounds a bit less obvious after what has gone before. 'Fly To Crystal Skies' continues the trend, also blending touches of Kamelot
to great effect. The Kamelot
comparison continues on the intro to 'My Sacrifice
', with Lione really toning his vocal delivery down. The rest of the song is another surprisingly sedate affair with an almost understated chorus (for ROF!).
There's a return to galloping Power Metal
on 'Silver Lake Of Tears
', a much more traditional ROF track – but more welcome when it's one of only two in this style on the album. Next
is a truly heartfelt, native-sung ballad with fabulous violin work and then 'A Tale Of Magic' is another great track with an underlying groove to it. I start to realize that it may have dawned on ROF that they've written fast, manic, intense Epic
Symphonic Power Metal
tracks for years, their back catalogue is crammed with bombastic crowd-pleasers. But there's only so many the band can play live so why write even more? This gives them the freedom to explore other avenues...without losing their trade-mark sound of course.
Actually, the title track is an apt and decisive link between old and new, there are choirs, huge orchestration, great riffing, operatic vocals but interspersed with interesting time-changes and segments. 'Sad
' rounds the album off in splendid style - it's a true anthem, an epic with a massive sing-along chorus that is sure to be a live favourite immediately. And
it's mostly mid-tempo again!
It's never been in any doubt that ROF have some talented musicians, but the way they have come together on “Dark Wings of Steel
” is very commendable. The contribution of the Holzwarth brothers' rhythm section is fabulous. New guitarist Roberto De Micheli refuses admirably to cower under Luca Turilli
's shadow and the overbearing forces of Lione and Staropoli...just don't seem quite as domineering and overpowering any more. It all works rather well! I really had decided Rhapsody Of Fire
had nothing more to offer that would interest me. I probably wouldn't even have bothered listening to this if I hadn't been lucky enough to review it. Rhapsody Of Fire
are by no means a spent force – and OK, there's still dragons...but they are just a bit meaner now.
what's that young Robby? You are still clutching your cuddly furry dragon but it now actually breathes real fire and you've burned down next door's Leylandii hedge? Nice one – deserved! But mate, you are 37, so at least lose the dragon duvet cover...