Fresh off a 4 year period of sheer musical limbo not all that different from what befell HELLOWEEN in the late 80s, RHAPSODY OF FIRE have returned, and unlike the former band, in full form to boot. The slowly developing “Dark Secret” story that has seen the band putting pomp before punch has now received a good shot in the arm, culminating in a more streamlined, but still wickedly elaborate opus of high flying, classically inspired power and glory. The storytelling has been scaled back a little to make room for more music, and likewise, the music resembles the old days of the “Emerald Sword Saga” where Metal came first and the symphonic element was a potent flavor additive rather than the main course.
The principle change that has brought things back up a notch is that Luca Turilli’s obsession with synthesizers ala his DREAMQUEST side-project and the slow atmospheric half-ballads that culminated in his failure of a 3rd solo studio album has cooled off a bit, making room for a fresh yet all too familiar barrage of Kai Hansen meets Beethoven riffs and blurring Malmsteen inspired leads. The solos tend to walk a line between being catchy and being pretentiously elaborate, and surprisingly tend to focus almost exclusively on the guitar, leaving Staropoli mostly in a support role. The songs are generally meatier with guitars and all of the large scale orchestra and period instrument additions to the arrangement have been scaled back to make room for a plainer keyboard accompaniment.
In general terms, “The Frozen Tears Of Angels” sounds like it’s reaching back to the highest point in this band’s and Turilli’s career circa 1999-2002, particularly when looking at the character of the listen. While this carries with it a wide gap between the heavily formulaic “King Of The Nordic Twilight” and the aggressively complex “Power Of The Dragonflame”, this wide compositional array is fully represented at various points of the listen. It is tempered a bit by a darker mixing job that almost resembles something heard out of CHILDREN OF BODOM in their earlier days, or perhaps one of the darker sounding power metal bands out of Finland, and the melodic contours lend themselves to a somber character, even more so than the most chilling moments heard on “Rain Of A Thousand Flames”.
In spite of the somewhat innovative presentation of the band’s sound, it should be noted that this is a much more formulaic album that what has been the trend since 2004. The plurality of epic songs has been peeled back to a singular closing number bearing the album’s title, which is more in line with the band’s roots, and in this case, proves to be a rather impressive hybrid of the keyboard heavy title track of “Legendary Tales” with that of “Kings Of The Nordic Twilight”. There is a more elaborate folk number in “Danza Di Fucco E Ghiaccio” that brings the period instrument heavy approach of “March Of The Sword Master” in harmony with a upper tempo dance feel somewhat akin to “New Century Tarantella”. The token ballad “Lost In Cold Dreams” is noteworthy for a more acoustic guitar oriented approach to a restful sound between the triumphant yet troubled sounding louder sections. And between it all, scores of fast paced Power Metal with a set of unforgettable riffs and soaring vocals.
Everything on here is basically top notch, but for the first time in a while this band actually outdoes themselves and offers up 2 classics that will keep their fans buzzing even after the next chapter of this current series. Although occasional ventures into Extreme Metal have been popping up in this band’s work for several years now, “Reign Of Terror” takes it just shy of WINTERSUN territory between Lione’s toneless shrieks and the misty exchanges of keyboard and lead guitar flash. Likewise, occasional dabbling into progressive shred work is not unheard of insofar as these guys are concerned, the spellbinding instrumental bonus track “Labyrinth Of Madness” shows a very Avant-garde approach to neo-classical composing out of Turilli that would probably leave the likes of Petrucci and Vai with question marks floating around their heads.
The now cliché quote “What doesn’t kill us makes us stronger” does seem to apply hear, as RHAPSODY OF FIRE definitely got something back in them that hasn’t been heard in quite a while. Perhaps anyone who is able to go into the arena of legal jousting with the likes of Joey Demaio can rekindle their creative flame, although I wouldn’t want to anyone any ideas as I’m sure the courts of the world have enough legal struggles to preside over. Many have come and gone since the resurgence of Power Metal in the mid 90s, but RHAPSODY (OF FIRE) has been one of the few to keep it together and not lost their identity in the process. So let the kings of Metal shout their prayers to the 4 winds, but in between we can also find some time to get in some good dragon slaying.
(Online October 5, 2011)