“Okay. As I stand out here in the wonders of the unknown at Hadley, I sort of realize there is a fundamental truth to our nature: Man must explore.” – David R. Scott, Apollo 15, July 31, 1971 upon being the seventh person to ever set foot on the Moon.
Luca Turilli—the primary composer and guitar hero of various versions of [Luca Turilli’s] Rhapsody [of Fire]—represents one of two types of successful musicians, for me. If one groups successful artists by attitude toward change, I posit that you’ll find two attitudes that can be grouped as either high or low openness to experience. In the group “low openness to experience,” you’ll find bands like Iced Earth, whose founder and primary composer once told a group of fans that he had stopped listening to new music to not be influenced by anything that would change their sound.1 These bands are the stalwart soldiers of metal, producing album after album of solid riffs and ideas that work but that few would accuse of being adventurous. The second group, “high openness to experience,” fulfill the classic stereotype of the “flighty” artist: interested in creating something new, challenging and interesting and are always moving on to the next project. Here you find Alex Skolnick or the guys from Dodecahedron / Our Oceans,2 or Kristoffer Rygg from Ulver. These are musicians who long to do something else, who want to experience what’s out there and who aren’t afraid of experimentation.
Luca Turilli fits into the high openness to experience camp. He has never settled in one place for too long. Even the initial incarnation of Rhapsody was offset by solo records and side-projects. And when Turilli returned Rhapsody of Fire to the epic power metal fold on The Frozen Tears of Angels, it was because he had rediscovered his passion for neo-classical guitar and he wanted to do it better than ever. The downside, of course, is that Turilli can seem flighty. It can be hard to keep track of his projects. For example, he dissolved his most recent incarnation of Luca Turilli’s Rhapsody and went on a farewell tour having apparently given up on the style altogether.3 But thanks to the success of the collaboration with longtime bandmate and friend Fabio Lione,4 yet another new vessel for Turilli’s art has been born: Turilli / Lione Rhapsody. And the band’s debut album Zero Gravity: Rebirth and Evolution is out July 5th from Nuclear Blast.
Zero Gravity sports a recognizable core sound and musicians whose names longtime fans will recognize. With Turilli on keys and guitars and Fabio singing, the rest of the band is made up of longtime members of the [Luca Turilli’s] Rhapsody [of Fire] constellation. Re-emerging on the drums is Alex Holzwarth and he’s accompanied by Patrice Guers, the longtime bassist for various versions of Rhapsody. Similarly, Dominique Leurquin has continued as Luca’s replacement now that he is more keyboard player than guitarist. Together, these musicians are finely honed to drop the music you expect: pummeling rhythms, heavy riffing, bombastic orchestrations, cinematic choirs and, over all of it, the instantly recognizable wails of Fabio Lione. Summed up, Zero Gravity sounds like a rebirth and evolution of Rhapsody.5
The rebirth is clear, in particular, on the first half of the album. Tracks like opener “Phoenix Rising” and the third track “Zero Gravity” find the band kicking out chorus-heavy, guitar happy, memorable anthems that pulse with their unique drama. On the record’s first single, “D.N.A.,” Luca penned a fantastic metal duet between Elize Ryd of Amaranthe and Fabio. These tracks are heavy, catchy and fun. Still, nothing about these songs is surprising. Instead, the opening salvo of the album seems to drive a heavy metal bayonet charge up the metaphorical Pork Chop Hill of change. And even within the familiarity of these opening tracks, Zero Gravity leans away from the band’s time-worn formula and allows Rhapsody to lean in to their journey.
One clear evolution is that Turilli and Lione chose to avoid their most notorious tropes from the last two decades. Zero Gravity lacks a narrator, for example, instead, using clips from the Apollo 15 landing to set the feeling. Furthermore, the record makes use of a sound palette that is much more modern and electronic, combining classic orchestrations with electronic sounds similar to Michael Romeo‘s astounding War of the Worlds or the Mass Effect 3 soundtrack. Zero Gravity‘s b-side—following the orchestral track “Origins”—also showcases Rhapsody exploring a sound that is more progressive and experimental. Tracks like “Multidimensional” and “I Am” remind me of later–era Angra, with rotating time signatures or catchy choruses that lack the classic anthemic nature of Rhapsody‘s classic sound. But more impressive is Luca’s continued mastery of vocal and choral arrangements. Sometimes, this sports a progressive Queen vibe (“I Am”) or shows up as a quasi-pop-opera duet (on the aforementioned “D.N.A.). At its best, though, vocal and piano arrangements that swell with the romance of Chopin’s compositions and classic opera allow Fabio to open up his vocal performance. “Amata Immortale” is an operatic ballad which features a huge choral and percussion build and which shines. And “Arcanum (Da Vinci’s Enigma),” blends the orchestral and electronic to create an enormous, driving sound that is both classic Rhapsody and something more evolved.
On Zero Gravity, Turilli and Lione are speaking to the fundamental nature of true artistry: Humans must explore. As with anyone on a journey, Turilli, Lione and company have a starting point in the familiar metallic excesses of Rhapsody‘s sound, but Zero Gravity demonstrates that they are ready for much more. Zero Gravity is bombastic and it is huge. And, yes, it is without doubt a Rhapsody album. But there is a spirit of adventure here and, better than that, it has carved out the space for them to continue pursuing experimentation and new ideas. And it’s this evolution and development—most prominently displayed on the album’s second half—that really moves Zero Gravity from a very good or great work into the realm of excellence.
- This was long before I was Angry Metal Guy, when they were opening up for Megadeth. Given the album Megadeth was touring on, my friends and I bailed on that set and went to meet the guys from Iced Earth. It was one of the first times I was taught the lesson that one should never meet one’s heroes. ↩
- I mean, just think about that for a second. ↩
- And am I the only person who remembers the Rhapsody table-top roleplaying game that was advertised on their site but never came out? ↩
- There is a forthcoming interview where Luca discusses all of this. Watch this space. ↩
- Well, how ’bout them apples? ↩