Monday, November 15, 2010

Rhapsody - Power of the Dragonflame

Of lumpy feet and kernel obstructed pooturds...

Rhapsody was nothing more than a punching bag for me before I was truly familiar with their music many a moon ago. I knew little about the band, but I knew that they were a ludicrously over the top power metal band with a metric shit ton of symphonic fluff and hilariously bad narration. Now, that's a very easy target for a thrashoholic Borisite like myself circa 2004. Since growing my own pair of testicles and developing my own musical taste as opposed to just taking popular writers' opinions as gospel (I truly was a cretin early on), I've fallen head over heels in absurd love for Rhapsody's signature sound. I find 2000 - 2002 to be the band's peak, encompassing Dawn of Victory, Rain of a Thousand Flames, and the subject of today's discussion, Power of the Dragonflame.

When it comes to the two series of albums, The Emerald Sword is far superior to The Dark Secret, and it's not because the story is significantly better. Honestly, the epic story is essentially just extra fluff that serves little purpose apart from giving the fanfares some sort of backdrop. This is the fourth and final installment of the first series, where our unnammed Warrior of Ice commences in the final showdown with the Dark King Akron after surrendering the Emerald Sword to the dark lord. There's also a Shadowlord by the name of Dargor and some Black Queen but it's all totally useless. Typing out those last two sentences made my genitalia shrivel inside itself and gave me the uncontrollable urge to throw ping pong balls at people whilst yelling "LIGHTNING BOLT!", and that may have something to do with the strong nerd fanbase that Rhapsody carries. These Italians love their fantasy to the point that it's nearly alienating to people who've never voluntarily endured a D&D session or would rather spend their time headbanging and shouting about Satan. If the story is fluff, then the narration is toejam. I don't know if this Sir Jay Lansford character is just Fabio Lione's pseudonym for when he begins his narrator shtick or what, but whoever the culprit, he has one of the most incredibly awkward speaking voices of all time. Thankfully, he only appears on the last track on this album, so you don't find yourself fighting urges to go dunk his head underwater until the bubbles stop like on the Rain of a Thousand Flames EP, but his mere presence makes me roll my eyes and hope that nobody else is listening. He over emotes and strains damn near every word to the point of hilarity. Listen to him say "Guy-Ya" or "Gar-gooyles" and do your best to at least not smirk.

I look at Rhapsody similarly to how I look at Bad Religion. I'm not here for the riffs, I'm here for the vocals and melodies (although admittedly the punk legends have a massive lyrical edge). Most of the riffs rarely evolve past fast palm muting and the drums stick to the power metal standard of double bass with occasional sprinkles of more double bass. But like with Timeless Miracle, the draw is not in the guitars, but in the keys and lungs. The over the top fanfares and soaring keys are, while not nearly as overpowering as many people seem to imply, doubtlessly the instrumental highlights right next to Luca Turilli's excellent, if predictable soloing. The symphonics do more than just play roots and the occasional solo, here they add an epic atmosphere and create their own unique melodies. They aren't memorable for how in-your-face they are, but more for their quality. The choirs also add a great touch to Lione's already great vocals, adding a fantastic backing boom, depth, power, and sense of epicness that would be sorely lacking if they were absent. Of course, this is Rhapsody we're talking about, so worrying about them holding anything back or not pushing something to it's cheesiest extreme would be like Hugh Hefner worrying that his sex life might possibly be weak. Lione's voice is also surprisingly varied for the style. He switches up with some harsher stylings on "When Demons Awake" and, while he never really shows it off, also touts a decent range when he so pleases.

To me, the main draw here is also the main turnoff for most of the band's detractors, and that is the fact that this is cornier than Fat Bastard's shit. This is shameless, over the top, and ridiculous in all the best ways possible. The only time it feels like the band is restraining itself is on the ballad, "Lamento Eroico", which is undoubtedly the low point of the record. The amount of references to ancient powers, swords, heroes, fairies, dragons, and Rapunzel are frequent to the point of childish, but you never find yourself doubting the conviction of the boys. The tough, metalhead badass inside us all will look at the guys and prolly threaten to beat their heads in with our Phallic Christhammer or Satanic Chainsaw ov Doom or whatever and they'll just draw their swords and cast a pussy spell on us. Rhapsody offers an escape into the sprawling lands of vagabond warriors and epic struggles against good and evil as opposed to hellish torment. Their optimism and virtue are, while fairly common for power metal, a welcome alternative to the dark and visceral that most metal likes to dwell inside of. Being one of the biggest names in the style certainly helps them stand out, but they didn't get to this status by accident, they're insanely good at the melodic symphonic style they play.

So melt some Velveeta and dunk an ear, let yourself get swept up into the heroic anthems and fantastic choruses and fight against the forces of darkness for an hour. Yeah, the album hits a dead patch with "Lamento Eroico" and the following two songs are pretty pedestrian but the first five proper songs and the nearly 20 minute closing are fucking sublime. "Agony is my Name" and the title track are probably the standouts, but almost everything is as infectious as syphilis and infinitely more enjoyable. Yeah, I feel the need to turn off my natural manilness genes when chanting about vanquishing the Dark Lord of Hargor or whatever, but the power the band conveys completely makes up for it.

RATING - 88%

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