Thursday, July 11, 2013

Rhapsody - Dawn of Victory (2000)

This is a truly handsome set, and one of the only Collector's Editions in my collection. I cannot remember how much I pauid for it, but it is only worth around $70 now anyhow, so not exactly hidden treasure. Anyhow - there's no changing the fact that it is jolly fine packaging. Alas, the sleeves for the two discs are flimsy and card, so they live in a separate place from the 65 page hardback book.

The book starts with an introduction from a wizard called Aresius of Elgard. Ancient (but not too much, eh) wizard of the enchanted lands. But before we get into the plot, we are treated to a double page spread of the band, in full Rhapsody glory, mediaeval tunics, a throne and swords. Very, very D&D.

After that, we are into the plot, which follows on from the previous album/s. This is the third chapter in the Enchanted Lands trilogy.

First chapter = hellish evil army, lead by "Black King".
Second chapter = Heroic "Warrior of Ice" finds and wields the magical "Emerald Sword".
Oooh, a map!

I smell cheese - loads and loads of juicy cheese. Let's highlight the tropes in the plot:
- Black King with evil army
- valiant hero
 - Lands of Chaos
- Ivory Gates that can only be found by three keys (of wisdom)
- Magic sword (can only be wielded by one whose heart is true.
 Also, for some reason, lots of characters starting with "A".

Now, onto the third chapter. The valiant warrior has his magic sword and an army and is about to face off against the Dark Lord Black King.
And rape.... why oh why do these things always involve rape?  Followed soon after by death. But in her case her death saved the rest of them. Let's stop reading and let the music speak for itself!

"At the Court of King Chaos only blood can write its own tragedy...." begins "Lux Triumphans", with choirs, symphonic structures and an epic build up into the "Dawn of Victory". Surging guitars, like horses thundering across the plains. Charging the enemy. Triumphant melodies. Vocals mid-tenor, soaring with passionate power. You can see the hero riding forth on his massive steed, sword raised and hair blowing in the wind, like something out of a cheesy romance novel. Heavy on the pompesity.

Lots of keyboards, maybe even a harpischord, builds an indestructible wall of epic sound. I"m going to use the word "epic" as much as possible! Vocals smoother, as the Warrior celebrates "The triumph for my Magic Steel" (I kid you not). He parades across his Enchanted Lands, his army following, the enemies heads speared on their pikes. The next target is in his eyes, and his army ride to further victory (hopefully).

Gentler now, it's time for a little romance, and a homecoming, as we find our way to the "Village of the Dwarves". Keyboards mimic bagpipe rhythms, nifty! Vocals decidedly more folksy, with penny whistle accompaniment. Lovely, lilting reel of a rhythm. A charming blend of folk whimsy and modern instrumentations.

Time for the next battle this time in "Dargar, Shadowland of the Black Mountain". It begins with a thunderous roar of instrumentations and a cry of victory? Defiance? Dargor has been twisted into a disciple if evil. Cascading chorus, like a stampede across the lands; leaping, slashing, fending off the enemy.

Starting soft and slow, "The Bloody Rage of Titans" celebrates the beauty of the Enchanted Lands - where unicorns once roamed.  After a gentle and soothing intro, it surges into a dramatic and bloody war, vocals tinged with loss and a hint of despearation.

Another dramatic and pompous flourish as we rip roar and rage like a "Holy Thunderforce". Chaotic and violent. Vocals harsh-edged, cutting vicious as a sword. This is a battle hymn anthem. Dramatic harpsichord.

"So we'll fight against the wind for the glory of the kings to defeat the evil enemies..."

Creepy children's choir lead us down into the instrumental "Trolls in the Dark". A surging maelstorm of darkness and treacherous shadows, blood running in the night. Pounding rhythms. Choirs. Guitars ripping up a tornado. Dramatic and dangerous.

Harpischords again as, triumphant now, the horse rises into the sky, flying! Not only has it developed wings, but it is also the "Last Winged Unicorn". Oooh, an alicorn. And flying unicorns breathe innocence. Dragons, eat your heart out, this unicorn will breathe innocence at you. Okay, sarcasm aside, it's a powerful song, rising in triumphance and victory with harpsichord intermingling with guitars and choirs rising and falling, the tempo filled with great flourish and an epic cascard of sound and celebration. It is easy to imagine the great and fearsom last winged unicorn rising from the holy sea of golden flames and racing across the skies.
Is it a phoenix? Mythologies all getting entwined and confused!

Time for celebration, as "The Mighty Ride of the Firelord". I assume that this is the Warrior of the Ice riding on his fiery winged unicorn/phoenix. The symphony builds and builds in scale and power, surging with mighty and an epic wall of sound. Flutes flicker across, like dancing dragonflies, harpsichords shimmer and the vocals soar above it all like a wicked edged sword. Choirs rise like flickering flames. Rhapsody are a very easy band to get metaphorical about.
And it just keeps on going.
For nearly 10 minutes.

There is one word to describe Rhapsody. Epic.
And another. Pretentious.
But despite that, they do what they do with extreme skill and ability and they have totally taken the "epic symphonic power metal" genre and made it their own. So what if their lyrics reek of double cheese pizza with extra cheese on top? Isn't that true of every power metal band? Rhapsody are the Manowar of the modern metal scene - bringing a deliberate level of pompesity and a wall of dramatic and powerful sound. All the rest (Skylark, Olympos Mons, Faeryland etc) fall beneath the hooves of their mighty phoenix-alicorn and get burned to ashes in their wake.

It's strange how keyboards, entirely electronic sound, can succesfully capture a mediaeval vibe.

Rating = 9/10

PS: The rest of the book is suitably impressive. In fact, the very next pages give a breakdown of what the band are trying to achieve with the sounds - which would have been good for me to refer to whilst writing this dissection. *sighs* Then there is some interviews with the band members.
Oooh, they use "bombastic" - I forgot to use that adjective!

Also, I think I am getting violins confused with harpischords, there's apparently lots of violins on the first two full tracks, but I can't *quite* seem to hear it.

Bonus enhanced CD has video clips and variations on the songs we've heard, along with pretty graphics and a screensaver.

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