My followers might know I'm something of a Rhapsody of Fire fan. Their epic, symphonic sound and multi-album-spanning fantasy saga rather captured my imagination when I was first discovering the world of metal, several years ago.
A couple years ago, however, they wrapped up the story they'd been writing since the band's debut (ten albums in all), and soon after announced the band was splitting in two, with lead guitarist Luca Turilli founding his own band called Luca Turilli's Rhapsody.
I must admit my interest in the band(s) has somewhat waned after these events. But I've still been buying their new albums. I wrote about Luca Turilli's Rhapsody's debut Ascending to Infinity earlier this year. It was an... interesting album, if not quite what I might have hoped for in all ways. And now the remaining members of Rhapsody of Fire have released their first studio work since the split, titled Dark Wings of Steel.
Long-time members Fabio Lione (vocals), Alex Staropoli (keyboards) and Alex Holzwarth (drums) remain in Rhapsody of Fire, while bass duties were taken over by Alex Holzwarth's brother Oliver, and guitars by Roby De Micheli (following Patrice Guers and Luca Turilli's departure). Perhaps largely due to Lione's familiar vocals this still feels like the 'real' Rhapsody to me, so I was particularly interested in what direction they would take. Turilli's skilled guitar playing was of course a major part of the original Rhapsody's sound, but De Micheli does a competent job, I think. There might be less emphasis on neo-classical shredding and a little more focus on heavier riffs, but it's still decent metal.
One of my first impressions when listening to the album was that there seem to be many relatively slow numbers. While there are a few tracks more reminiscent of the fast paced power metal of Rhapsody's early works (like 'Silver Lake of Tears', which is probably one of my favourites off the album), the overall atmosphere seems perhaps a little more atmospheric, even sombre, which is also reflected in the lyrics, now written by singer Lione. Alas, there's no new epic fantasy saga here, but rather more abstract, poetic explorations often dealing with sorrow and melancholy. But the work still remains pretty 'epic' in nature, of course, with its choirs and orchestral arrangements.
Comparing the works of the two Rhapsodies isn't really fair, but can't really be helped, I suppose. Overall, I think Dark Wings of Steel feels like a somewhat more straightforward and cohesive metal album. It's not trying too hard, which maybe works in its favour, although Ascending to Infinity's sometimes over-the-top pomposity is entertaining in its own way, as well... It's interesting really how different these two albums feel while both still clearly displaying their roots.
So yeah, although I rather miss the storytelling of the classic Rhapsody of Fire albums, Dark Wings of Steel isn't a bad little album. I had very little expectations when I bought this album, but I can't really say I'm disappointed. It's obviously not going to live up to the first few albums of the band, and there's certainly room for improvement (particularly in the lyrics, which, alas, failed to make a deep impression on me), but I find myself enjoying listening to the music, which is of course what really counts.