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Rhapsody of Fire

Triumph or Agony

Review by Gary Hill

This type of metal has always been a mixed blessing for me. On the one hand I do appreciate the musicality and power that it manages to evoke. The other side of that coin, though is that it always feels a bit overdone and pompous – almost to the point of being silly. Don’t get me wrong, this music is incredible. It’s just that you sort of feel like you need to hide yourself away to listen so that no one knows you are listening to anything this over the top. Those looking for music to accompany their newest Dungeons and Dragons campaign probably need look no further.

Just to clear things up a bit (for those who haven’t heard) this is the band that used to be called simply Rhapsody. It seemed that there was a conflict involved with that name so now they are known as Rhapsody of Fire.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2006 Volume 5 at

Track by Track Review

This introductory segment combines symphonic instrumentation and epic choral vocals to produce a powerful (if a bit over the top) musical adventure. This is definitely very prog rock oriented.
Triumph Or Agony

They pound in on this one with an epic metal texture that feels worthy of the most immense stories you could possibly imagine. This is the stuff of which legends are made. The vocals are of the epic metal variety, too. This is technical fast paced metal. It’s as challenging and entertaining as it is pompous.
Heart of the Darklands

Neo-classically tinged guitar lines that would make Yngwie Malmsteen proud lead this one off. It’s more frantic epic metal. This has some tasty guitar work woven into the arrangement.
Old Age of Wonders

Renaissance instrumentation and musical styles lead this one off in balladic fashion. The vocals enter in this same motif and the cut is on its way. Mind you, this doesn’t go stomping out, but rather saunters slowly down the road. The first couple minutes of this could fit into any movie of the Renaissance era. When it turns into a bouncy sort of folk tune from that period I can’t help it but think of Spinal Tap’s “Stonehenge” just a bit. This is all right, but could be subject to the “skip” button.
The Myth of the Holy Sword

With a title like this you’d expect it to be way beyond the realm of “down to Earth.” Truth be told this is one of the most straightforward and effective cuts on the disc. Don’t take that to mean that it’s free from neo-classical and epic proportions, because that would be a mistake. I’d say that it’s more of a case of those elements not taking control of the piece as much as they do on some of the other music here. Instead they simply serve to augment a smoking heavy metal jam. The mellower renaissance ballad segment that comes later is a bit much, but they follow it up with a smoking guitar solo movement.
Il Canto del Vento

This ballad-like track suffers a bit from its pompous nature, but it’s packed with emotion. That makes it more palatable. The vocal arrangement on the later parts of this cut are rather awesome.
Silent Dream

A powerful symphonic metal approach kicks this off in fine fashion. As it pounds out from there this one is another of the most potent tracks on the album. In fact, I might go so far as saying that it’s my favorite.
Bloody Red Dungeons

More symphonic textures lead this one off and carry it for a time. As it jumps out into the true metal of the song proper, though, this becomes another point where they really get it right. This one is a kicking and emotional metallic journey. The vocal arrangement later, with the choral vocals risks going over the top but somehow seems to work quite well. The guitar soloing on this one is exceptionally tasty, too.
Son Of Pain

This is a very pretty balladic number. It’s not really over the top, and, in fact is one of the most sedate pieces of music on the disc.
The Mystic Prophecy of the Demon Knight

Just one look at the length of this track (over sixteen minutes) and the fact that it’s divided into five separate segments will tell you that this is an epic piece. A ballad-like structure leads this off. After a time they launch into a pounding piece of metallic fury. This is meaty and manages to pull a Celtic texture into the mix. They augment it with symphonic instruments and layers of vocals. They move through various incarnations of the themes, powering it out and dropping it back. It’s amazing listening to some of the treatments here that it doesn’t feel over the top – but it doesn’t. About five and a half minutes in they turn the corner into the most incredible piece of symphonic progressive rock tinged metal you could ever imagine. It just doesn’t get better than this. A swirling of operatic vocals gives way to something that feels rather like the Peter Gunn theme. Then it moves back through another operatic vocal segment before launching into an extremely symphonic movement. This ends with a sedate atmospheric section with a spoken recitation over the top feeling like it comes from some fantasy film. They twist this and power it into a dark sounding epic texture. Dialog is read over the top of this backdrop. About nine minutes in everything but the spoken dialog drops away. Then the most frantic and straight ahead metal of the whole disc explodes out from there. They accentuate it with more epic vocal choirs. Extremely theatrical this seems to combine the most epic of sounds with something akin to King Diamond. More dialog emerges later along with more movie soundtrack types of sounds. After a time we get dropped down into the midst of the storyline. It seems as though our heroes have found themselves in grave danger. This gives way in short order to an operatic ballad movement. As pounding film soundtrack sounds lead the way a narrator (seeming to be doing his best Christopher Lee) foretells the fate of the heroes. The song weaves into more powerful operatic, cinematic music gone metallic. This segment pulls the track directly into the next piece, which really is more of this number.
Dark Reign of Fire

Coming straight out of the previous epic, this drops back to more operatic vocal interplay, then builds up in symphonic fashion from there. They eventually resolve this out into a very evocative ballad. The narrator returns and sets up a sequel. Then the track seems to end, but instead a new narration with powerful symphonic tones moves it on from there. The most amazing thing about this one (both the previous epic and “Dark Reign of Fire” as one unit) to my mind is how well this works. If it were just a little less bloated and over the top it would be the most powerful piece on the disc. As it is, some of these segments simply scorch. It’s just that there is probably six or seven minutes of filler and stuff that doesn’t quite gel. This really comes close, though. Despite its shortcomings this thing is potent. It is without question the second best cut on the disc. This becomes dark with the whispered vocals that run over the top, but it is also quite beautiful. While the symphonic mode that ends this might not be the most obvious choice it makes for a great disc closer.
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