It’s sometimes hard to keep up with the entity we call [Luca Turilli’s] Rhapsody [of Fire]. Starting in the late ’90s, these Italian cheese-mongers took the power metal world by storm with their bombastic, orchestral take on the genre. The young, bright-eyed Italian maestros reeled off four albums that added an epic, operatic flair to the neoclassical metal of the 1980s they’d grown up on. While the band’s near-demise at the hands of functional psychopath Joey Demaio is one of the greatest scares of my adult fandom, Rhapsody of Fire‘s return from near annihilation was celebrated with two excellent records and an EP in short succession and all was well in the land.
Then tragedy struck. Rhapsody of Fire as we knew it was finished after an amicable break, with Luca Turilli leaving the band. Turilli and Alex Staropoli would each get their own version of the band—with Turilli’s staying on Nuclear Blast, and Staropoli’s moving on to AFM.
With the band being as melodramatic and operatic as its music, it only followed that Rhapsody of Fire raised this story’s tension by dropping a steaming pile of proverbial dragon dung in 2013, while Luca Turilli’s Rhapsody nailed its debut. Dark Wings of Steel marked Rhapsody of Fire‘s first bad output since the Magic Circle days, and I was left discouraged. The album was only a shade of the band’s former glory, with simplistic and uninteresting songs and flat, muddy production. Worst of all, the guitar work took the biggest hit, as though replacing Mozart with Salieri. Frankly, I had trouble mustering up the energy to even listen to the album enough times to write a review.1
Into the Legend marks the 2nd full length record from the Luca Turilli-less Rhapsody of Fire, and Rhapsody of Fire isn’t about to miss again. They’ve come loaded for bear… with orchestras. The timeline on how long Into the Legend took to prepare is unclear—7 years in four different studios? But I’m not sure how that makes sense—but the end result of these gargantuan exertions is a colossal 70 minute album packed to bursting with every instrumentalist they could muster.
The exertions seem to have come on the recording side of the record, however, as no exertions were exerted to make this album sound like anything other than a [Luca Turilli’s] Rhapsody [of Fire] album. Start with the epic orchestral introduction; knock out 9 above-average-to-excellent power metal songs backed by choirs, threaded with buttloads of sweep picked arpeggios [How can less be more!? – Yngwie]; and close it out with a testicle-crushing 16-minute epic. The only difference is that Staropoli and crew seem to agree with everyone else in the world that voice overs are cheesy as hell and have removed them.
To be fair, there’s no reason to expect Rhapsody of Fire to change. Into the Legend is intentionally crafted to sound like the first four Rhapsody records, with songs resembling the earliest material. Several of them feature the once ubiquitous, choir-laden anthemic choruses, which hearken back to days of yore (read: 1997). This is a wise approach for the Fabio Lione-fronted Rhapsody of Fire, because this is the material where he shines the brightest. The album opens with “Distant Sky,” which puts the choirs on display immediately and the band never backs off—”Winters Rain,” “A Voice in the Cold Wind,” and “Rage of Darkness,” all feature these trademark choruses. And they’re not against revisiting other hits, as well: “A Voice in the Cold Wind” is the obligatory “Village of the Dwarves” reference, while “Shining Star” is an old school orchestral ballad, but also the album’s worst moment due to Fabio missing a couple of pretty sour notes in the chorus.
The orchestrations are a highlight of Into the Legend and the use of a real orchestra, the different choirs, and other ensemble instruments, makes for an engaging listen. The sound is lush, but I question—as usual—the need of crushing the master here to a DR7 given the space and dynamics of an orchestra. Still, Alberto Marin (mix) and Maor Appelbaum (mastering) manage to get something more akin to Turisas‘s loud, but well-produced, Stand up and Fight, rather than Fleshgod Apocalypse. The use of a real orchestra also differentiates this album from earlier Rhapsody of Fire, which often scored a level orchestral alacrity that only an orchestra made up of 150 Antonio Vivaldis could ever have performed. This more grounded, realistic sound makes Into the Legend sound epic and mature.
There are, of course, things that don’t work as well. Nowhere is Turilli’s absence more noticeable than in the guitar work. Roberto de Micheli is a virtuoso guitarist in his own right—check that solo in “Rage of Darkness” if you had any questions about that—but Luca is a special guitarist, and de Micheli’s solos never quite drive me into the upper echelons of guitar-solo-induced rapture. The other thing that stands out about the composition on Into the Legend is the extent to which Staropoli composes in sentence fragments rather than full sentences, or even paragraphs. Songs like “Distant Sky,” “Into the Legend,” “Valley of the Shadows,” and even closing epic “The Kiss of Light,” start with simple phrases, as though written from guitar. Made up of two or three notes and quite repetitive, these licks seem out of place and oddly elementary for a band so invested in bombast that they put a dragon on every single record they’ve produced.
It’s obvious, however, that Into the Legend is a worthy successor of the Rhapsody of Fire legacy after that little hiccup back from 2013 of which we shall never speak again. Into the Legend is substantive chapter in Rhapsody of Fire‘s ongoing dissertation on the Malmsteenian thesis that “more is,” indeed, “more.” These, the venerable Italian statesmen of orchestral metal, make their case with all the bombast and majesty we’ve come to expect.