Released By: AFM Records
Release Date: February 22nd, 2019
Genre: Symphonic Power Metal
Giacomo Voli – Vocals
Roberto De Micheli – Guitars
Alessandro Sala – Bass
Alex Staropoli – Keyboards
Manuel Lotter – Drums
1. Abyss of Pain
2. Seven Heroic Deeds
3. Master of Peace
4. Rain of Fury
5. White Wizard
6. Warrior Heart
7. The Courage to Forgive
8. March Against the Tyrant
9. Clash of Times
10. The Legend Goes On
11. The Wind, the Rain and the Moon
12. Tales of a Hero’s Fate
It’s always exciting to see a band deliver something truly special when all the odds seem to be stacked against them. One of my favorite albums of all time is Dream Theater’s Metropolis Pt. II: Scenes From a Memory, an album which could have been the end for the band if it had been a failure, following the negative reception and behind the scenes problems with Falling Into Infinity, while many other bands have also managed to deliver some great albums in similar situations. Italian symphonic power metal legends Rhapsody of Fire are the latest to fall into this category.
Once considered one of the all-time greats of their genre, producing such masterpieces as Legendary Tales, Dawn of Victory and Power of the Dragonflame, the band has gone through a lot of turmoil in recent years, starting with the departure of multi-instrumentalist and main composer Luca Turilli, which led to the solid but somewhat underwhelming Dark Wings of Steel, followed by an excellent return to form in Into the Legend. Just as the band seemed to be back on their feet, they ended up parting ways with longtime vocalist Fabio Lione, who has since reunited with Turilli to start their own new version of Rhapsody, with their debut planned for release later this year.
With keyboardist and songwriter, Alex Staropoli left as the only remaining original member (though guitarist Roberto De Micheli was around during the band’s early days as Thundercross, before leaving in 1993 and then returning in 2011,) things looked pretty grim for the band. It only got worse from there, following the release of Legendary Years, a re-recordings album featuring tracks from the band’s first five albums, as well as the first release to feature new singer Giacomo Voli and new drummer Manuel Lotter. It was very poorly received, with the general consensus being that Voli is a good singer, but he didn’t fit well on the classics, while the overall sound production and performances just weren’t up to par with the originals.
I’ll admit, I was very close to counting the band out for good around that point, and I doubt I’m the only fan of the band to do so. However, I was willing to give them one last chance to see how their first new album with their current lineup would turn out, and things looked more hopeful as soon as the first single “The Legend Goes On” was released, as it felt like a return to the fun, simpler sound of the band’s first few releases, while also feeling fresh. I was hoping it would be an indication of what to expect from the full-length album, but now that the Eighth Mountain has finally arrived, I have to say, my expectations haven’t been met: They’ve been greatly surpassed!
Ever since Staropoli took over as the band’s main songwriter, it’s felt like he’s been wanting to recreate the fun and energy of the band’s early days, still incorporating symphonic elements as always, but not going as fully overboard with them as the band had been on their last couple of albums with Turilli. Into the Legend came pretty close, aside from a couple weaker tracks, and now The Eighth Mountain feels like it’s fully accomplished the mission, bringing back the more simple sound of the band’s early days, while still sounding fresher, more energetic and more exciting than the band has been in a very long time. Obviously, the symphonic elements are still in full effect, with the album featuring the use of a full orchestra and two full choirs, but they feel more fluidly integrated into the music, instead of overpowering everything else, which allows the rest of the band to shine through.
And shine they do, with De Micheli, in particular, delivering easily his best performance since returning to the band. He delivers some heavy, energetic riffs throughout the album, as well as performing some very melodic and beautiful solos, and of course there’s some of the classic neoclassical shredding which falls perfectly in line with what the band was doing in their early days, particularly on the epic, super speedy track “Clash of Times”. Obviously, Staropoli is impressive, as well, with his keys being the main focus as always, providing some nice backdrops throughout the album, and adding a ton of atmosphere and feeling to the tracks. I’ll also say, while I agree with the criticisms against Legendary Years, the production here is as strong as ever, with everything coming through clearly and sounding powerful, so whatever went wrong on that release, it certainly didn’t happen this time.
Following a brief intro, the album officially kicks off with “Seven Heroic Deeds”, the kind of speedy, high energy track fans have come to expect from the band. It has some heavy, yet melodic guitar work, with slight hints at neoclassical shredding early on, as well as some fun verses, a very epic chorus, featuring heavy use of choirs, and overall it strikes a perfect balance between the metal elements and the symphonic arrangements.
Of course, the elephant in the room is Voli’s vocals, which also make a strong first impression, as he delivers a fiery performance during the verses, fluidly alternating between the kind of melodic, soaring vocals fans would expect, as well as some more intense and powerful vocals, especially on the second verse, where he briefly teases at some extreme vocals, and nails them. He especially shines on the chorus, where he shows his range perfectly, going from epic high notes to deeper notes, which is some he does wonderfully throughout the album.
Fans may already be familiar with the next couple tracks, as both were recently released as singles. First is “Master of Peace”, a fast paced track which kicks off with some heavy rhythm guitar work, which carries on through the verses, where Voli shows off his range some more. The highlight of the track is the spectacular chorus, which is equal parts epic, melodic, powerful and absolutely beautiful, featuring some of Voli’s best vocals on the entire album, where he just knocks it out of the park, though the wonderful, very melodic solo later on is also amazing. The second in this set of singles is “Rain of Fury”, which showcases some epic symphonic arrangements early on, and moves at a very furious pace throughout the verses, giving way to another melodic and absolutely sensational chorus. It’s the kind of epic, speedy and melodic the track the band has always specialized in, and while I prefer the previous track slightly, both tracks are both amazing on their own, as well as a great indication of what to expect.
The momentum continues with “White Wizard”, a track which begins with some soft and beautiful keys, before the rest of the band joins in and the pace picks up a bit. It’s not quite as frantic as the previous three tracks, but still moves along at a nice pace during the verses, before picking up big time for what may actually be my favorite on the chorus on the album, as the keys and symphonic arrangements are especially effective here, while Voli’s vocals are as powerful and melodic as ever, and the chorus itself is just insanely catchy and fun, and so it’s simply a magical chorus, overall. The brief instrumental interlude, later on, is also great, and overall, the track is one of my favorites on the album.
Following four amazing tracks, the band slows down briefly on “Warrior Heart”, a classic medieval folk-infused ballad along the lines of “Forest of Unicorns” from the band’s debut. It’s a relaxing and beautiful, yet still epic track, where Voli again shines with some deep and very soft vocals, which carry the verses well, before opening up with some epic and powerful vocals during the choruses. The folk instruments are also very beautiful, and the track is instrumentally very calm and relaxing, while still being very entertaining.
The pace picks up again and doesn’t slow down much for a while, starting with “The Courage to Forgive”, a more progressive and epic track. After an extended intro, the track gallops along at a mid-pace for a while, before speeding up for another spectacular chorus, with excellent use of the choirs, as well as more great vocals from Voli. The track does a great job of alternating between slow and fast passages, a trend which continues on “March Against the Tyrant”, the first of two longer tracks on the album. It starts off with some blistering lead guitar work, before slowing down and delivering a very nice extended soft section, featuring more very soft vocals as well as the return of medieval folk elements. The track builds up momentum for a while, slowly getting heavier as it goes along, and then it speeds up for yet another incredibly epic chorus, featuring heavy guitar work and some more outstanding vocal melodies. From there, the track stays heavy, but it continues to alternate nicely between fast and mid-paced sections, with some great instrumental work, both from the band and orchestra. I’ve struggled somewhat with the band’s longer songs in the past, but this track is a clear winner, and stands as my favorite here, thanks to its excellent arrangements and chorus.
Fans of classic Rhapsody are sure to love “Clash of Times”, another fast and furious track, which features some of the best guitar work on the album. It maintains an intense pace throughout its verses and chorus and is amazing throughout but the highlight of the track comes around the halfway point, where De Micheli goes all in with epic neoclassical shredding, and the result is absolutely brilliant. The hits just keep on coming with lead single “The Legend Goes On”, another track which strikes a perfect balance between heavy guitar work, epic symphonic arrangements and keys, frantic tempos and an outstanding, very catchy chorus. Following that is the second and final ballad, “The Wind, the Rain, and the Moon. It’s a beautiful track, heavily dominated by orchestras and vocals. It has a slight film score feel to it, with the orchestras providing a beautiful backdrop, while Voli delivers some of his softest and most theatrical vocals on the album, once again stealing the show, especially during the chorus.
Closing out the album is the over 10-minute epic, “Tales of a Hero’s Fate”. I’ve mentioned before that Rhapsody epics can be very hit and miss, so expecting them to nail two on one album may be too much to ask for, right? Wrong! The track begins with more heavy guitar work and epic symphonic arrangements before the music suddenly turns darker and were treated to some very sinister sounding growls, which actually sound pretty awesome. The track stays speedy throughout, with another great chorus, where the choirs are used to great effect, and it’s an amazing track overall, with strong vocals from Voli, as well as some great instrumental passages, which range from very heavy to very beautiful, dramatic and melodic, and for the first 8 minutes, it’s an absolutely perfect Rhapsody epic, moving from highlight to highlight, without losing focus or repeating itself too much, as some of their past epics have done. After around 8 minutes, the song effectively ends, as the album closes out with some narration from the late Christopher Lee. I usually dislike narration in music, as it can be distracting, and Rhapsody, in particular, have been known to overuse it a lot in the past, but thankfully, in this case, it only appears right at the end of the album, so it isn’t as distracting as it could have been, and the song is still given more than enough time to fully develop, so the narration ends up feeling like a nice epilogue to a truly outstanding album.
When I heard Fabio Lione had left Rhapsody, I thought for sure that would be it for me, as I figured there was little chance of the band recovering from losing so many important members, at this point. Going into The Eighth Mountain, I told myself I would have been happy if it was just a solid release, but it unexpectedly turned out to be an absolute masterpiece, the likes of which can easily stand up to any of the band’s past works. Longtime fans of the band may be in for a shock when they hear just how epic, energetic, melodic and at times beautiful this release is, while anyone looking for great symphonic power metal is highly recommended to give this a listen, as it’s easily the best album of its kind released in quite some time. It’s the kind of truly shocking and invigorating release that instantly cheers me up every time I listen to it, and I can only dare to hope that the band could possibly deliver more epic releases of this caliber in the future
Written by: Travis Green