Rhapsody of Fire

Triumph or Agony

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Even though unforeseen trademark conflicts forced Rhapsody to expand their name to Rhapsody of Fire prior to this, their seventh studio album, it's good to see that nothing else has changed about the Italians' highly dramatic and orchestrated fantasy pomp metal. And why should it have? After all, no one knows drama like the Italians (except perhaps the Greeks), and Rhapsody -- forgive me, Rhapsody of Fire -- would be silly to let something as trivial as a name change alter their (thus far) very successful career course? Rather, the sextet appears even further emboldened and motivated by this unusual challenge, so that the questioningly titled Triumph or Agony only ups the ante (if that's possible) of their ambitions, which, as ever, include framing their core -- guitars, keyboards, bass, drums -- instrumentation with a full choir and symphony orchestra. Thus equipped, they deliver new unofficial chapters for The Lord of the Rings via the agonizingly triumphant title track, the frankly spectacular single "Heart of the Darklands," and the necessary showcase for frequent guest narrator, actor Christopher Lee, in "Dark Reign of Fire"; they offer stately, metallic marches like "The Myth of the Holy Sword" and "Bloody Red Dungeons" to highlight the 50-piece chorus behind them; and push the boundaries of both reason and hilarity with the daring inclusion of harpsichords, pan-flutes, and folky duets with pixie female vocalists on the lively "Old Age of Wonders." Let's not forget the gentle, sweeping balladry of their native tongue submission, "Il Canto del Vento," either -- yet, amazingly (or perhaps not!), this and all the grandiose songs before it are little more than a warm-up to the album's climactic, 16-minute song suite: the self-explanatory "The Mystic Prophecy of the Demon Knight." Here, band, choir, symphony, and additional plot-advancing narrators come together with greatest fervor and belief in their quest, reprising and expanding upon both album and band's unbeatable, and altogether expected, musical megalomania. In other words, their fans won't be disappointed, and detractors won't be able to control their spinning eyeballs; but, what matters most is that Rhapsody's transition to Rhapsody of Fire is a seamless one, and will likely continue to bear glorious treasure hunts for fans to pursue, for years and years to come.

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