Power Metal 101: Rhapsody
Previously in Power Metal 101, the venerable Masterlord Steeldragon introduced us to power metal pioneers Helloween! This week, we cross the Alps into the land of Italy. A region of rich musical history going back hundreds of years, Italy has spawned multiple symphonic power metal bands with a distinct style native to the country. However, one band casts a towering shadow over their Italian power metal brothers and sisters and has done a great deal to progress the genre of power metal. I am, of course, referring to the mighty Rhapsody.
Rhapsody originally operated under the moniker of Thundercross, before changing their name in 1995. They fought many a courageous battle under the Rhapsody banner until a treacherous lawsuit forced them to change their name once again in 2006 to Rhapsody of Fire. Later, Luca Turilli and Alex Staropoli would have a friendly disagreement on the future of the band, giving us Luca Turilli’s Rhapsody, and Staropoli continuing with Fabio Lione under the name Rhapsody of Fire.
Rhapsody’s style has not changed dramatically over the years. They are well known for their bombastic symphonic orchestrations behind Luca’s furious shredding. Until recently, all Rhapsody albums were based on the band’s own mythical legends: the Algalord Chronicles. Considering that a rhapsody is another name for epic poetry, their lyrical topics and musical style sync well with their image and name. Their style has very often been referred to as “flower metal,” a term used to describe overly cheesy symphonic power metal bands, usually in the Italian style. Operatic vocals, huge orchestrations, jaw-dropping solos, and epic imagery pervade Rhapsody’s music and the genre as a whole.
As we did with Blind Guardian, we will step through each Rhapsody album in chronological order, sticking with their main discography and ignoring any of Luca’s extremely similar side projects. Since a lot of the albums are very similar, there may not be as much to say about it, as opposed to Blind Guardian’s ever evolving sound.
When you are ready, polish your steel, mount your mighty steed, and let us begin the charge against the dark forces of the evil tyrant Akron!
Legendary Tales (1997)
The legendary debut: Legendary Tales (I couldn’t resist). This album solidifies Rhapsody’s trademark sound of shredding guitarwork from Luca Turilli, huge operatic vocals from Fabio Lione, and glorious keyboards and orchestrations from Alex Staropoli. A grand debut with little to no flaws (depending on how you feel about the ballads Forest of Unicorns and Echoes of Tragedy), Legendary Tales introduces us to the majestic saga of the Algalord Chronicles. Except for the songs previously mentioned, every song is set at a high tempo. Luca is quite capable of writing nice riffs here and there, but he mostly follows a very neoclassical style of composition. Most follow a predictable, yet alternating, pattern of verse, chorus, delightful solo sections, and another verse/chorus before closing out the song. This album also begins the trend of putting an epic track at the end of the album. If you’re a fan of symphonic power metal, this album will have you singing along on every song.
Listen: Warrior of Ice
Symphony of Enchanted Lands (1998)
A consistent sophomore album, Symphony of Enchanted Lands picks up right where Legendary Tales left off, which is AWESOME for fans of Rhapsody’s brand of symphonic power metal. As before, this album is packed full of catchy choruses, neoclassical riffs, Fabio, beautiful orchestration, Fabio, and brilliant guitar solos. Although I would highly recommend listening to the album as one piece on your first listen, you may want to skip the interlude/ballad Heroes of the Lost Valley/Wings of Destiny respectively if those really degrade the experience for you. The album closer and epic, “Symphony of Enchanted Lands”, is a noticeable step up from the previous albums epic, and will leave you thrilled for more. Also of note, Emerald Sword is, in my opinion, one of the greatest power metal songs ever written, and you would do well to listen to it a few thousand times.
Listen: Emerald Sword
Dawn of Victory (2000)
Unrelenting in quality, Rhapsody forges powerfully ahead with their third effort, Dawn of Victory. I have often heard this hailed as the most consistent Rhapsody album, considering that there are no filler tracks, interludes, or ballads, aside from the bombastic intro. The album begins with one of Rhapsody’s more intense tracks, “Dawn of Victory”, and plows through the remaining 8 tracks of fast, catchy symphonic power metal. As before, no change in style and extremely consistent in relation to their first two albums. The epic at the end, “The Mighty Ride of the Firelord”, is just as fantastic and full of power as Symphony of Enchanted Lands.
Listen: Dawn of Victory
Rain of a Thousand Flames (2001)
Albeit an album with a style consistent to previous Rhapsody albums, this one veers into a bit of experimentation. The riffs and drums are far more demanding, even technical, than the preceding albums. The title track wastes no time demonstrating this, with one of the fastest and most technical riffs Luca has ever penned under mind-melting drums. The rest of the album switches between interludes, epics, and storytelling. Another point of note is the much darker lyrical themes present in this album. Unlike previous albums, this one does not include back to back catchy sypmhonic power metal tunes, but it does grace us with two epics: Queen of the Dark Horizons, and a cover of Dvořák’s 4th movement from his 9th Symphony (Symphony for the New World), The Wizard’s Last Rhymes. This album is probably the weakest of Rhapsody’s first five albums, but it is nonetheless a powerful work.
Listen: Rain of a Thousand Flames
Power of the Dragonflame (2002)
My personal favorite, and possibly the greatest Rhapsody album (including Luca Turilli’s Rhapsody and Rhapsody of Fire), Power of the Dragonflame marks the end of a golden era for the band. Power of the Dragonflame combines everything you’ve loved about the previous albums into an exceptionally well-written, arranged, and performed album. Even the lone ballad on the album is way above average for a Rhapsody ballad. The rest of the album is consistently catchy, fast, and epic as balls. The songwriting explores some diverse territory, such as in the medieval/folky March of the Swordmaster or the lofty Steelgods of the Last Apocalypse. The long, dramatic track at the end, Gargoyles, Angels of Darkness, is easily their best epic song. Everything about this album rips. You won’t be able to find a flaw between the solos, riffs, orchestrations, vocals, and drumming. This album not only marks the end of this era of Rhapsody, but also closes the story of the Emerald Sword Saga.
Listen: When Demons Awake
Symphony of Enchanted Lands II – The Dark Secret (2004)
While still a good album, Symphony of Enchanted Lands II lacks the riffs and power of previous Rhapsody albums. This notes the beginning of a noticeable effort to create a more symphonic, even theatrical style for Rhapsody. Luca does still have some sweet riffs/solos here, such as the incredible Unholy Warcry, but overall, Luca’s guitarwork takes a back seat to the beautiful orchestrations, Staropoli’s keys and synths, and Fabio’s vocals. Also of note: Chirstopher Lee lends his expert voice acting on this album, further cementing Rhapsody’s transition to a more cinematic style. Lee even sings on The Magic of the Wizard’s Dream! Overall, it’s a good time to switch, as the Emerald Sword Saga has completed, and a new chapter has begun: The Dark Secret Saga. Expect a slower, more orchestral approach to the familiar Rhapsody style with this one.
Listen: Unholy Warcry
Rhapsody of Fire – Triumph or Agony (2006)
The stylistic differences from the last album are in full swing here, with Luca taking an almost lazy approach to riffs and solos on this album. This also marks the first album under their new moniker, Rhapsody of Fire. Fortunately, like Symphony of Enchanted Lands II, the symphonic arrangements are even more powerful than ever here. This album is presented in a very cinematic style. If you close your eyes, you can often see and feel the atmosphere envelope you as the story and music progresses. There are a couple tracks that can stand on their own, but most tracks simply support the album and story; at least, until we get to the end. Probably Rhapsody’s second best epic track, The Mystic Prophecy of the Demon Knight hearkens back to the olden glory days of Power of the Dragonflame. Even still, many fans, myself included, avoid this album due to the somewhat boring, yet mature approach to Rhapsody’s signature sound. Luckily for fans of the older style, Triumph or Agony does not mark the point of no return.
Listen: Heart of the Darklands
The Frozen Tears of Angels (2010)
Reinvigorated after two albums of languor, Luca’s shredding has returned to us stronger than ever before! Retaining the grandiose orchestrations of the previous albums and regaining Luca’s total domination of all things guitar, The Frozen Tears of Angels breathes new life into the lungs of the mighty warriors! As soon as the intro ends, Turilli wastes no time at all letting us know that he is back with a vengeance. Nearly every song on this album plays just like Power of the Dragonflame: catchy chorus, ridiculous fretwork, and symphonic keys/orchestrations. Luca doesn’t even let us rest on the ballads, dropping us a brilliant classical guitar piece, Danza Di Fuocco E Ghiacco. While this album’s epic piece, The Frozen Tears of Angels, isn’t as overwhelming as previous epics, this album has an accompanying EP of one song split into 7 parts to satisfy that need: The Cold Embrace of Fear. And, just because, here is a bonus track that is just Luca Turilli shredding for 4 minutes: Labyrinth of Madness. Eat your heart out, Jeff Loomis.
Listen: Reign of Terror
From Chaos to Eternity (2011)
With plenty of steam left over from Frozen Tears, Rhapsody closes the Dark Secret Saga, and their entire Algalord Chronicles plot, with the final album written by the full lineup: From Chaos to Eternity. First thing you may notice is the slight change in guitar tone, possibly from the addition of
notorious douchebag guitarist Tom Hess on rhythm guitar. Luca still retains his shredding from the last album, albeit a bit reined in. Aside from the guitar tone change, not much has changed from Frozen Tears in terms of style or quality. This album also contains Rhapsody’s longest epic, Heroes of the Waterfalls’ Kingdom, which neatly closes the story that weaves all Rhapsody albums together.
With this album, a great chapter closes for Rhapsody. The Algalord Chronicles are complete. Luca and Alex decided to split the band into two Rhapsody’s (Rhapsody of Fire with Fabio/Alex, and Luca Turilli’s Rhapsody) after the release of this album.
Listen: From Chaos to Eternity
Luca Turilli’s Rhapsody – Ascending to Infinity (2012)
Beating ROF to the punch, Luca Turilli’s Rhapsody represents Luca’s vision for the future of Rhapsody. Noticeably more cinematic in musical style, Ascending to Infinity features a collection of songs based on various mythical topics, such as Atlantis, Angels, and Excalibur. Even with these changes, this still sounds just like a Rhapsody album. Every song is good to great, with Alessandro Conti flawlessly stepping into the role of lead singer. Well, all songs are solid except Luna. Avoid that one at all costs. In traditional Rhapsody style, the album is closed with an epic: Of Michael the Archangel and Lucifer’s Fall, which easily ranks among the best of Rhapsody’s epics. Expect the same sugary catchy choruses, guitar solos, and orchestration you’ve come to expect from Rhapsody here.
Listen: Dark Fate of Atlantis
Wiki: Ascending to Infinity
Rhapsody of Fire – Dark Wings of Steel (2013)
It is sad that Alex Staropoli’s first Rhapsody album is such a dud. While not quite a train wreck, this whole album comes across as “good enough.” Fabio delivers as powerful a performance as ever, but even the best singers can’t save a boring, poorly written album. Fortunately, Tom Hess was kicked out of the band before the album, saving us from a potentially worse album. Expect all the things you love about Rhapsody, but with subpar writing/delivery, recycled riffs, and general disappointment.
Listen: Rising from Tragic Flames
Wiki: Dark Wings of Steel
Rhapsody have established themselves as a top tier power metal band through a mostly consistent discography. Thanks to Luca, Alex, and Fabio’s extraordinary vision of pushing power metal further into the symphonic realm than ever before, power metal has been able to evolve and be inspired by these mighty warriors valiant efforts.
What’s your favorite Rhapsody song? Do you think I’m wrong about how great/terrible any of these albums are? Is Tom Hess the most annoying guitarist ever? Tell me what you think in the comments below!