Rhapsody of Fire – Challenge the Wind Review

Italian Metal Legends Deliver Relentless Speed and Cinematic Brilliance....

Released By: AFM Records

Release Date: May 31st, 2024

Genre: Symphonic Power Metal

Links: https://www.rhapsodyoffire.com/

 

Line Up:

Giacomo Voli – Vocals

Roberto De Micheli – Guitars

Alessandro Sala – Bass

Alex Staropoli – Keyboards

Paolo Marchesich – Drums

 

Tracklist:

1. Challenge the Wind

2. Whispers of Doom

3. The Bloody Pariah

4. Vanquished by Shadows

5. Kreel’s Magic Staff

6. Diamond Claws

7. Black Wizard

8. A Brave New Hope

9. Holy Downfall

10. Mastered by the Dark

 

As a huge symphonic power metal fan, I’ve had a bit of a love/hate relationship with the Italian band Rhapsody of Fire over the years. However, I’ve been quite pleased with their more recent work, with vocalist Giacomo Voli fitting in perfectly and helping the band deliver two fantastic albums in a row. Following a rather lengthy period plagued by major departures and inconsistent album quality, it seems things have fully stabilized now, with the band keeping the same lineup from Glory for Salvation as they get ready to release their upcoming album, Challenge the Wind. Given how strong the previous releases were, I was confident in the band’s ability to deliver and eagerly anticipated hearing what they would come up with this time around. In the end, while I wouldn’t say this is one of their all-time best albums, it does indeed keep the winning streak going, and it’s one that’s sure to please many fans, especially those who prefer a certain side of the band, as I’ll explain below.

Over their long, storied career, Rhapsody of Fire has released plenty of albums with a unique approach or feel to them, such as the slower, lighter Triumph or Agony, the soft and cinematic yet still intense Symphony of Enchanted Lands II, the largely narrative-driven Rain of A Thousand Flames, and of course, their most polarizing album, the dark, somewhat watered-down Dark Wings of Steel. While the band has always offered a mix of speedy, melodic power metal paired with epic, cinematic symphonic metal, their albums have generally been quite varied and dynamic, with most albums featuring some ballads, some kind of epic, a sort of folk-infused track, and sometimes some more radical experiments. Challenge the Wind is somewhat of a unique beast in its own way in that it’s possibly their most focused symphonic power metal album to date. The vast majority of the album is relentless, fast-paced power metal backed by epic keys and huge symphonic arrangements. There aren’t any ballads to be found whatsoever, no full-on folk-infused tracks (though there are light folk elements on one track), and there aren’t any real experiments. Instead, it simply takes the core aspect of the band’s sound and doubles down on it, resulting in an album that in some ways feels like the most Rhapsody album to ever exist, though that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s their best album of all time. It is fantastic, though, and coming off Glory for Salvation, an album of spectacular tracks which didn’t always pair all that well together, this album definitely flows a lot more smoothly, aside from one rather puzzling choice right at the end.

Challenge the Wind is not one of the band’s more dynamic albums, but there is still some variety, with one track in particular being a bit lighter without losing the overall focus, while some tracks are much heavier and more intense, and of course, there’s plenty of more classic-sounding tracks, which strike a nice balance between melodic and heavy. At the center of the album is the massive 16-minute epic, “Vanquished by Shadows,” which can certainly stand proudly alongside the many other epic-length tracks the band has written over the years. One problem I mentioned having with the previous album was that it had an inconsistent tone and feel, and that is largely remedied here, with most tracks having a rather dark, sinister feel to them. I’ve never paid much attention to RoF’s lyrics, but it’s easy to tell they’re at a rather dark part of their ongoing saga right now, as this album deals with some very dark themes while still maintaining the same epic fantasy setting as always. I also find the tracks flow nicely together, with the one slower track coming immediately after the epic to calm things down for a bit, while the rest of the album is almost non-stop power metal goodness, with bits of prog here and there.

Performances are strong across the board, unsurprisingly. As always, keyboardist and band leader Alex Staropoli takes center stage, with his keys offering plenty of flavor and generally being the driving force of the music, along with the epic symphonic arrangements and choirs, which are every bit as epic-sounding and well done as ever. I find Roberto De Micheli’s guitar work to be rather understated at times, largely playing a secondary role and often being buried by drums, keys, and symphonic arrangements. However, whenever his guitar does emerge, it often sounds amazing, with some awesome, very melodic yet technically impressive solos, as well as some heavy, sometimes thrashy riffs and some pretty epic shredding on a couple of tracks. Drums are a major focus on this album, with many tracks moving at an absolutely rapid-fire pace, requiring Paolo Marchesich to be fully engaged, and he’s very much up to the task, delivering an explosive performance throughout the album while also doing a nice job of slowing things down and providing some complex rhythms when needed. Giacomo Voli is in top form as well, delivering a mix of smooth, intense, and powerful vocals as he did on the previous two albums, especially shining on some pretty spectacular choruses. He’s clearly in his element with RoF and fits the band perfectly. Production is also very good, with keys, drums, and symphonic elements all being high in the mix, while vocals are around the middle and guitars are often a bit buried but can be heard clearly when needed.

One thing Challenge the Wind absolutely nails is how to start an album off. It comes out flying with three blazing-fast scorchers right out of the gate, and all of them are fantastic songs in their own right while flowing together perfectly. Kicking things off is the title track, which opens up with some heavy rhythm guitars before the drums, keys, and symphonic elements take over as the track moves at an unbelievably fast pace through its opening verse. Voli delivers smooth and powerful vocals as the tempo never lets up for a second, leading into an intense, epic, and melodic chorus with some fantastic choir vocals. The frantic pace continues throughout the track, with guitars being buried in the mix while everything else sounds fantastic. Micheli is finally given a chance to shine in the middle with an excellent solo. Next up is “Whispers of Doom,” which opens up with some nice melodic guitar work, quickly taking a dark, sinister turn, becoming heavier as the opening verse begins, accompanied by sweeping orchestral arrangements. It maintains a brisk pace throughout, and if anything, it’s even more epic and huge with its symphonic arrangements than the opener, though it also has more guitar work throughout, with the solo section in particular opening up with a nice neo-classical passage before turning into some epic shredding. The chorus is also fantastic, moving at a rapid pace while having huge vocal melodies and symphonic arrangements. Closing out the opening flurry is “The Bloody Pariah,” which opens on a slightly calmer note with some soft and rather atmospheric keys before the symphonic arrangements and drums come out in full force for a rapid-fire sequence. The verses on this track are slightly slower, though still quite upbeat, and there’s a nice slowed-down section with marching drums and heavy guitar work, leading into yet another epic and catchy rapid-fire chorus with some spectacular vocal melodies and an amazing performance by Voli. It also has one of the best, most extensive guitar solos on the album.

Following that intense opening sequence, the band unleashes the spectacular 16-minute epic, “Vanquished By Shadows.” As the name implies, it’s another track with a very dark feel to it, and it’s also quite heavy at points. It opens up with some rather thrashy guitar work, moving at more of a moderate pace through its opening section, and some very sinister-sounding harsh vocals are used. I’m not sure if they’re done by Voli or someone else, but either way, they sound fantastic, and the entire opening section is one of the highlights of the album. It eventually leads into a speedy chorus with more rapid drums, heavy guitars, and powerful clean vocals. It’s very epic, melodic, and catchy while maintaining the dark feel of the opening section. The track takes many twists and turns throughout, with the middle portion largely being mid-paced and cinematic, while some of the instrumental parts in the second half are speedy and feature some very technical guitar work. There’s also some very brief acoustic guitar sections, though those don’t last long and are nothing more than a short-lived reprieve from the intensity of the rest of the track. There’s a really cool, very twisted-sounding atmospheric guitar riff they use several times throughout the track as a sort of transitioning piece, and it’s one of my favorite parts of the track. Overall, it’s an amazing track, probably my favorite on the album, and while it’s hard to say where it ranks among the band’s many epic-length tracks, it’s definitely somewhere in the upper half.

Moving into the closing sequence, “Brave New Hope” is the cheeriest, most upbeat-sounding track on the album, though it somehow still flows naturally between two darker tracks. It opens with some nice melodic guitar work, leading into a soft opening verse with light drum work and a restrained tempo. This builds up to a blazing fast chorus with some spectacular, uplifting vocal melodies and one of Voli’s best performances on the album. It’s a track that balances slow and speedy passages very effectively and is yet another instant winner.

Next is “Holy Downfall”, which once again opens with some rather dark, technical guitar work and maintains a thick atmosphere throughout, with some heavy, dark-sounding guitar work. It effectively uses a stop/start pattern, with slow portions carried by creepy vocals and dark guitars mixed with speedy sections. This continues throughout the verses, eventually leading to a speedy, melodic, and very classic-sounding chorus, which stands as one of my favorites on the entire album.

Throughout the first nine tracks, this album is fantastic and has a smooth flow, seamlessly moving from one track to another. However, it ends on a rather puzzling note, with “Mastered by the Dark” effectively taking one of the soft acoustic passages of “Vanquished by Shadows” and using it to transition into that track’s middle portion, which is presented in its entirety with both the music and lyrics seemingly identical. The thing is, it’s an amazing sequence, and it’s especially effective within the context of the epic-length track it’s taken from, but it’s not quite as effective on its own. I’m not sure why the band chose to break it up and reuse it like that, especially as the closing track. That’s two RoF albums in a row where I’ve been left a bit confused by the ending.

Aside from that one minor disappointment, Challenge the Wind is a fantastic album and represents another major triumph for Rhapsody of Fire, who have been on quite the resurgence as of late. I still think The Eighth Mountain is the best album from the band’s current era, but this album is a close second. While it may not offer up the full spectrum of sounds some fans may be expecting, others will likely be thrilled by its relentless, continuous focus on speedy, cinematic-sounding symphonic power metal, broken up only by one slightly softer track and a massive, complex epic-length track in the middle. It’s clear the band is firing on all cylinders right now, so it’s an exciting time for longtime fans like myself. Any symphonic power metal fan who hasn’t heard RoF yet will likely find a lot to enjoy on this album.

 

Ratings: 9/10

Written by: Travis Green

My Global Mind – Staff Writer

Travis Green is a Canadian based writer for My Global Mind, with a particular passion for power metal, as well as an interest metal in all its forms.

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