Released By: Limb Music
Release Date: Out Now!!
Genre: Symphonic Power Metal
Sara Squadrani – Vocals
Claudio Pietronik – Guitars
Simone Bertozzi – Guitars, Vocals
Martino Garatonni – Bass
Daniele Mazza – Keyboards
Federico Gatti – Drums
2. Impious Dystopia
3. Fantasy’s Wings
4. Aureum Legacy
8. The Hollow
9. Home of the Rejects
10. The Great Divide
I don’t know what the reason is for it, but it seems like Italian metal bands have some kind of special knack for writing amazing melodies. Some of my favorite albums over the past few years have come from the likes of Rhapsody of Fire, Elvenking, Temperance and Derdian, with all those bands standing out for their unbelievable ability to write catchy choruses with insane melodies pretty much at will. One other band, I’ve been following for a long time that has a similar ability is Ancient Bards, who instantly impressed me with their debut The Alliance of the Kings, which marked the beginning of their ongoing concept, The Black Crystal Sword Saga. It was a very fun album, filled with speedy, energetic power metal with some symphonic elements, which were greatly enhanced on the next album, Soulless Child, which saw the band push their sound much further and become really epic, in the same vein as later Rhapsody albums, while still retaining the fun aspects of their debut, to help make it a truly special album.
Sadly, I was a bit let down by their next release, A New Dawn Ending, which both failed in delivering the kind of climax its name would suggest, while also going perhaps a bit too far with more ambitious songwriting, resulting in the band’s first album that felt a bit uneven, with some great moments and some forgettable moments. I was hoping the band would rebound with their next release, and so when Origine – The Black Crystal Sword Saga Part 2 was announced, I was ready to give the band another shot, with hopes that they could recapture their former glory. Now that Origine is here, it has not only won back my fandom for the band, it has proven itself to be their best work to date, bringing back a lot of the fun, catchiness and huge melodies of their first two albums, while still being a bit bolder at times, and certainly being one of their most varied releases.
Newcomers to the band can expect something fairly similar to Rhapsody, except with the warm but powerful voice of Sara Squadrani in the lead role, as opposed to a male vocalist. Musically, the band plays the same kind of speedy, epic and very melodic symphonic power metal, though they push quite a bit further with the symphonic elements than the aforementioned band has done recently, especially with the ever-present choir vocals, which are extremely epic and help give a cinematic feel, along with the orchestral elements. However, while their previous release favored longer tracks and more progressive arrangements which sometimes pushed the power metal elements into the background, Origine is back to being a more straightforward release, with most of the tracks being very upbeat and heavy, while still having varied songwriting and a ton of surprises. Like their counterparts, they’ve managed to have perfect sound production, with the symphonic elements, choirs, lead vocals, and the metal instruments all being given a ton of space and everything sounds powerful and crystal clear, which is obviously required for an album with so much going on.
The biggest area that disappointed me on A New Dawn Ending was the songwriting, as the performances were all amazing across the board, as usual, but the actual songs were uncharacteristically hit and miss. Thankfully, that isn’t the case here, as every song on this album is absolutely perfect from start to finish. The album certainly gets off to a strong start, with even the opening narrative track having a memorable first line, and the music and narration go together nicely. However, the first true song is lead single “Impious Dystopia”, which is the kind of fast paced, hard hitting track the band excels at. It moves at a frantic pace during the verses, forcing Sara to sing while barely having a chance to catch her breath, but she sounds as smooth, melodic and powerful as always. During the first verse, fans are treated to some pretty cool growls from new guitarist Simone Bertozzi, who has brought some new elements to the band, both with his growls as well as adding some slightly heavier guitar work than normal, with the first example of this coming during a section after the first chorus, where it almost sounds like a metalcore breakdown, except in a much more epic way that somehow suits the band perfectly fine. These little bursts of inspiration took time for me to get used to, but over time I’ve come to love them, and I find they help add a new element to what would already be an amazing album. Both Simone and longtime guitarist Claudio Pietronik do an excellent job throughout the album, striking the right balance between fresh and familiar. The track also has an excellent solo section, with some amazing melodic guitar work, though the highlight of the track is Sara’s vocals, with the main chorus being amazing, very catchy and extremely melodic, and then the final run through is absolutely awe-inspiring, with some very powerful and emotional vocals, that help turn an already amazing song into one of the band’s absolute best to date.
Following up such a strong opening is tough, but second single “Fantasy’s Wings” does a great job of it. This track is a bit more relaxed, and it has a slight folk influence to some of the melodies, making great use of the orchestral elements throughout. It moves at a nice pace, without ever fully speeding up, and it does a nice job alternating between soft and louder sections, though it never gets particularly heavy. It’s another track which showcases Sara’s amazing vocals, which are paired up with some cool backing growls during the chorus. It has an excellent instrumental section, with the orchestral elements taking over for a while, before giving way to a big, epic solo, but the highlight is again the final chorus, with the choir vocals starting things off in an epic way, before Sara comes in and kills it once again. In a somewhat similar vein is “Aureum Legacy”, a track which starts off softly, before the orchestral elements take over for a while, and then it settles down into near ballad territory, with some soft, but excellent vocals during the verses. It’s another track which alternates nicely between soft and heavy passages, and it has yet another amazing chorus, with some very emotional, yet powerful vocals, which of course only gets better during the final run once again. The song speeds up near the end, with an epic instrumental section, followed by choirs and then the track finally closes with a speedier, even more, epic final run through the chorus, which is absolutely stunning.
One thing Ancient Bards have excelled at from day one is their ballads, with tracks such as” “Lode al Padre” and “All That is True” being among my favorites by the band, as well as being among the best ballads I’ve ever heard on any kind of metal album. This time around, they’ve offered up “Light”, the third single for the album. It’s a more simple track compared to some of their other ballads, but it’s still absolutely beautiful, with some nice symphonic arrangements and some great piano melodies from keyboardist and main songwriter Daniele Mazza, giving way for Sara’s ever-enchanting voice to steal the show. As always, she sings very softly and beautifully during the verses, before opening up in a big way during the chorus, and then in the second half of the track comes a very emotional and beautiful guitar solo, followed by some very powerful vocals to close out the track.
After a couple of soft and relatively slower tracks, the band brings the energy level back up to the max on “Oscurità”, It starts out quietly again, with some epic symphonic arrangements accompanying Sara’s vocals, but then things get dialed up to the max in a hurry, with the full band kicking in, and the tempo quickly picks up. Once the songs get going, it’s the kind of speedy power metal track the band has been great at since their debut, except with a slightly harder edge to it, and the second half has some crazy instrumental work from both guitarists, as well as some growls thrown in here and there, to help make it more epic. It feels like a perfect blend between old and new, overall. Two tracks later is a cinematic interlude track, “The Hollow”, which is dominated by epic symphonic arrangements and choirs and is a pretty cool track, which comes in between the two tracks on this album that feel the most like the band’s debut. First is “Titanism”, a very speedy track where the main melody sounds very similar to some of the band’s past work, while even the verses and chorus feel familiar, while still being fresh enough to work on their own. It’s an extremely fun and catchy track, of the kind the band has always excelled at. On the other side of the interlude is “Home of the Rejects”, which is similar in tone, though it sounds a bit more fresh, due to some slightly heavier guitar work. Both tracks are excellent, though, and both have amazing choruses and instrumental work, as always.
Closing out the album is the near 15-minute epic “The Great Divide”. I’ll admit I was nervous going into it the first time, because while the band had been pretty good at longer tracks in the past, I found the two longest songs on A New Dawn Ending to be a bit disjointed and somewhat ruined by excessive narration, but thankfully this time around, they managed to put together their best epic length track yet, and one which has several huge moments throughout, and has several tempo changes and surprises, including some guitar work early on that sounds very similar to DGM guitarist Simone Mularoni’s style, a huge, cinematic chorus with a great use of choirs, an epic growled section, a really epic cinematic interlude, and of course a ton of great instrumental work throughout. However, the most important is, the song stays coherent throughout, managing to pack in a ton of big moments without ever losing focus, or getting bogged down by anything excessive. It effectively ends up feeling like a track that actually earns its epic length, as opposed to being either a normal track stretched way past its limits, or a mish-mash of ideas haphazardly thrown together. Similar to the recent Rhapsody album, the only bit of narration on this track comes right at the very end, and while it is hilariously cheesy, it at least isn’t distracting, due to its placement at the end, and so it doesn’t take away from what is easily one of the band’s best songs to date.
After A New Dawn Ending, I was a bit worried about the future of Ancient Bards, and whether or not they would potentially drift further away, trying so hard to outdo themselves that they lost the fun and magic of their first two releases. Thankfully, that hasn’t happened at all, as instead the band has managed to strike the perfect balance between bringing back a lot of the fun, energetic power metal and huge melodies of their first two releases, while still throwing in some surprises, as well as producing easily their best epic length track to date. Fans of the band are sure to love Origine, while symphonic power metal fans, in general, are highly recommended to check this release out, as it manages to slightly edge out Soulless Child to be their very best release to date. In a time where Ancient Bards and Rhapsody of Fire, two bands with similar sounds, have released two albums so close to each other, one may wonder who the winner is. The answer for that one is very easy: All fans of symphonic power metal, in general, are the winners, as getting to hear such masterful albums of this type so close together is the kind of huge treat that doesn’t come along very often. Hopefully, the band continues to do what they do best on future releases, so all remaining installments of The Black Crystal Sword Saga can be as epic as this one is!
Written by: Travis Green