Released: 2004, SPV
Reviewer: Lord of the Wasteland
I’m not usually a fan of the wizard/elf genres of metal but Rhapsody always manages to draw me in to their CDs. Maybe it’s the over-the-top production or the virtuoso instrumentation but the Italian quintet sure knows how to keep even the most anti-power metal fan interested in their music. With SYMPHONY OF ENCHANTED LANDS II-THE DARK SECRET, Rhapsody has picked up right off where the first chapter left off in 1998. All the fantasy elements are intact including dragons, kings, elves, prophecies, a “chosen one” and, of course, a resurrected god. The medieval theme is further infused by the band’s use of classical and baroque music headed up by guitarist/lyricist Luca Turilli and keyboardist Alex Staropoli. The band employed a forty-five member choir, the Czech Republic’s Bohuslav Martinu Philharmonic Orchestra and several baroque musicians to generate the musical mood of the period. Four studios in four countries with 150-200 people were necessary to bring this massive product to fruition. Most noteworthy is the fact that renowned actor Christopher Lee (Lord of the Rings) lent his potent baritone to narrate the story. This easily adds up to the most majestic production ever captured on CD, topping what Rhapsody has done on their past albums and placing the term “film score metal” into the heavy metal vernacular along the way. When the 73-minute opus is finally over, you will find yourself gasping for air at the spectacle that just unfurled before you.
Lee’s powerful narration gets the listener into the story with “The Dark Secret (Ira Divina),” a sweeping preamble to the story. The grandiose orchestral passages, lavish choir arrangements and booming narration personify the band’s “film-score metal” as it really does feel like a movie soundtrack. “Unholy Warcry” is one of the catchiest songs Rhapsody has ever done and Turilli’s solo must be heard to be believed. Fabio Lione’s vocals are nothing less than perfect and when intermingled with the choir, take on an almost angelic quality. The baroque ensemble is utilized on the instrumental track, “Elgard’s Green Valleys,” and if you close you eyes, you can almost see the minstrels playing their harpsichord and recorder at the river bank. Lione tackles the more operatic side of his voice on “Guardiani Del Destino” and again on “The Magic of The Wizard’s Dream,” a cheesy ballad that is beyond melodramatic (even for Rhapsody). This is the type of song that Rhapsody’s harshest critics base their argument on and its biggest fans love so much about the band. “Erian’s Mystical Rhymes (The White Dragon’s Order)” is a typical Rhapsody epic clocking in at over ten minutes complete with choir, orchestra, thunderous drums and a fantastic vocal performance from Lione. “The Last Angel’s Call” features a superb chorus and is ripe for single/video treatment. Besides “Unholy Warcry,” the highlight of the CD is “Sacred Power of Raging Winds.” Lione faces off in a vocal sparring match with the evil god, Krom, as Staropoli’s stunning keyboard work swirls through the track and Turilli kicks everything off with a smoking intro riff.
Rhapsody has done it again and raised the bar for themselves to a level that seems impossible to surpass. Of course, I’ve thought that about EVERY Rhapsody release and yet they top themselves each and every time. The scope of SYMPHONY OF ENCHANTED LANDS II-THE DARK SECRET is breathtaking and I felt like I needed a nap after the CD ended, which could be considered a bad thing to some. When is it “too much”? The CD is bloated, overproduced and melodramatic beyond belief but that is exactly what fans have come to expect from Rhapsody and won’t accept anything less.
**If possible, spring for the deluxe import version with the DVD. Included is the “Unholy Warcry” video (in three versions, no less), a brief documentary clip showing the making of the video, a 3 ½ minute piece showing the making of the artwork (that is a real sculptured dragon on the cover) and the real reason to buy this version: a fifteen minute documentary showcasing how the band put this whole beast together. Interviews with the band, as well as Lee and Manowar’s Joey DiMaio (executive producer), are interlaced with studio footage and narration by Turilli, who describes the album as “not fantasy, but a parallel dimension.” This DVD is a useful companion to the CD and fascinating to see the blood, sweat and tears that went into the production end of things.
KILLER KUTS: “Unholy Warcry,” “Erian’s Mystical Rhymes (The White Dragon’s Order),” “The Last Angel’s Call,” “Sacred Power of Raging Winds”