Luca Turilli’s Rhapsody – Ascending To Infinity
“Take an amazing journey through a world of wonders. To a place that will blow your mind and move your heart, so you’ll never be the same again.” So cries movie-big-voice-guy at the opening of the debut album by the “new” band of Luca Turilli, the self-titled Luca Turilli’s Rhapsody. That Turilli wants his music to sound cinematic couldn’t be made more obvious if he titled his band “Luca Turilli’s Cinematic Orchestra.” The use of big-voice-guy accentuates this point to the level of the comical. There is something about the use of a movie promo in the opening track of an album that is extraordinarily humorous, and the expansive symphonic opening track “Quantum X” brings a smile and a chuckle each and every time it starts.
Ostensibly, Luca Turilli’s Rhapsody is the new band of Luca Turilli, the former lead guitarist of Rhapsody and Rhapsody Of Fire. The band had a “friendly split” after the summer tour following their 2011 album From Chaos To Eternity, with Rhapsody Of Fire continuing under the leadership of Alex Staropoli while Turilli left to form another band. Vocalist Fabio Lione chose to stay with Rhapsody Of Fire, so the first noticeable difference in the lineup is vocalist Alessandro Conti, formerly of Italian band Trick Or Treat. Trick Or Treat began as a Helloween cover band, and the first thing I (and hopefully you as well) will notice is that Conti sounds scarily similar to 1987-era Michael Kiske. Same range, same cadence, it is almost scary. The fact that one of the bonus tracks on this album is “March Of Time,” a Kiske-era Helloween cover, only helps promote the fact that Kiske and Conti sound very similar. That said, Conti does a fantastic job as vocalist and is one of the high points of the album. Though people who do (and did) not like Michael Kiske probably won’t find his voice anything special, Kiske’s style of vocals are some of my favorite in power metal (or at least were in the 80’s). Throughout the album, Conti’s vocals are a clear highlight. I don’t know if I can say I prefer them to Fabio Lione, but they certainly are not a downgrade.
Much of the rest of the band actually remains the same as the Rhapsody Of Fire lineup on The Frozen Tears Of Angels. That album featured the aforementioned Lione on vocals, with Staropoli on keys, Luca Turilli and Dominique Leurquin on guitars, Patrice Guers on bass, and Alex Holzwarth on drums. On Ascending To Infinity, only the former two have been replaced. I already explained Conti taking over vocal duties, and Turilli took the keyboards on this album upon himself. Though Holzwarth has since left the band, it is his drumming that is featured on this debut album. Since so much of the band is similar (or identical) to Rhapsody Of Fire throughout most of their career, you might expect this album to sound like The Frozen Tears Of Angels, or even follow the trends of From Chaos To Eternity. Unfortunately, it seems like there were other influences upon the writing of those two albums, because this sounds nothing like From Chaos To Eternity.
There are some problems with the continuity of the discography here. After the split was announced, Luca Turilli went his separate way and formed his own band under the Nuclear Blast record label, which subsequently dropped Rhapsody Of Fire as if they wanted nothing to do with them. I question this decision, since if Rhapsody Of Fire releases another album like From Chaos To Eternity, they will cement themselves as the premier “Rhapsody” on the world stage, but that’s why I’m not in charge of marketing decisions at Nuclear Blast. Luca Turilli’s Rhapsody bills Ascending To Infinity as the 11th Rhapsody album, and perhaps it is. It is the first Rhapsody or Rhapsody Of Fire album not about the magical land where the Rhapsody story takes place. Rather, the themes on this album range from fantasy to science fiction, to mythology, and even religion. The album much more closely resembles Turilli’s solo releases in the past (particularly the later ones), rather than anything released by Rhapsody Of Fire.
The album begins with the mostly instrumental “Quantum X.” This track begins with an almost middle-eastern sounding introduction before the synths come in, bringing with them the famous big-voice-guy. Unfortunately, it is not that big-voice-guy, but the effect is the same. This is followed by a series of orchestral segments that retain the middle-eastern theme subtly, and bring the song to a climax, almost like the final battle in an epic movie, the effect I’m sure the band was aiming for.
Musically, this album explores a more progressive side to Turilli than the most recent tier of Rhapsody Of Fire albums. Whereas From Chaos To Eternity was more straightforward symphonic power metal, complete with catchy melodies, heavy riffs and screaming solos, Ascending To Infinity explores a side to Turilli that was alluded to on albums like Symphony Of Enchanted Lands II, and Triumph Or Agony. Do not worry though, the guitar playing is far superior and far more complex than the boring and tedious Triumph Or Agony. The title track “Ascending To Infinity” begins with some nice guitar work, indicating that Turilli hasn’t lost his chops any by switching bands. The single “Dark Fate Of Atlantis” also opens with a riff that harkens back to the heavier days of Rhapsody.
One thing that is noticeable about the change in style is a reduction in outright catchiness. On a purely power metal album, the songs should have easily recognizable melodies that the listener can sing along to and get caught up in. There are a few of those on this album, but on the whole it is something noticeably absent. This hurts the replay value of the album, because there are no great moments that just hook you in. Think about the opening riff on “From Chaos To Eternity” for example, or the chorus to “Wisdom Of The Kings.” This album is missing a moment where you throw your hands up and scream along. It is in a sense more, and also less than the last two Rhapsody Of Fire albums.
That the album is more complex is not really the problem, but that the album is complex without including the catchy melodies we have come to expect from Rhapsody does hurt the album quality. Riffing also suffers, as many songs don’t have any clearly defined riff or hook to keep the listener interested. This too is a byproduct of the album being both more complex in its scope and more cinematic in structure. Though Turilli is an excellent guitar player, his focus isn’t guitar-centric, and he spends more time with neo-classical shredding rather than hooky riffing. Given the central position of the guitar on the last two Rhapsody Of Fire full lengths, it is disappointing to see the guitars again taking a background spot on most songs. There are moments of brilliance though. The title track “Ascending To Infinity” is a fantastic track with an excellent melody. Also, somewhat unusually for Rhapsody, the epic has some of the best moments on the album. The best riff repeats throughout “Of Michael The Archangel And Lucifer’s Fall” and the vocal melodies are excellent. The epic choir that comes to a head at 5:45 is my favorite vocal moment on the album.
Listeners of this album will be forced to suffer through not only one, but two of Turilli’s customary bland ballads. “Tormento E Passione” is the stronger of the two, featuring some impressive piano playing and becoming much more “metal” at times. This song is in Italian and features a male and female vocalist, sounding almost like an opera. Interestingly, despite being a ballad this song has one of the most catchy choruses on the album. The second, “Luna”, is a throwaway song typical of many Rhapsody albums. It is an “epic” ballad, which means that it adds a synth orchestra behind the chorus, and manages to be thoroughly boring in spite of it.
Luca Turilli has come back with a very stereotypical Luca Turilli album. It sounds much more like his solo projects than the latest Rhapsody Of Fire albums. The cinematic and orchestral overtones are everywhere, often overshadowing the guitars and even the vocals. The new vocalist Conti is strong, but he isn’t being given a lot to work with by way of catchy vocal melodies. It makes me wonder if perhaps the composition of vocal lines was handled by someone else while Turilli was in Rhapsody Of Fire. If, like me, you like the darker, harsher, and more guitar driven pieces of the Rhapsody Of Fire discography (like Dawn Of Victory, Power Of The Dragonflame, and From Chaos To Eternity) or their catchier, melody driven songs (“Wisdom Of The Kings,” “Rage Of The Winter,” or “Power Of The Dragonflame”), you will be disappointed with the lack of both on this album. The album also lacks the kind of flow that we have come to expect from Rhapsody. Since all their albums took place in the same fantasy world, it was like each album was an independent movement in a larger symphony (or in some cases, a symphony in itself). Since the themes on this album are not interconnected, and each song is an independent track, establishing flow is harder and, I think, poorly done.
If you liked Symphony Of Enchanted Lands Part II, Triumph Or Agony, or The Cold Embrace Of Fear, you will probably find much to appreciate on this album. If, like me, you prefer the faster, heavier Rhapsody Of Fire, you won’t like this album as much, but will still find some redeeming features. “Of Michael The Archangel And Lucifer’s Fall” gets better every time I hear it and has the best chorus on the album. “Ascending To Infinity” has some very unique guitar work, and once it gets going, “Excalibur” is a fun track. The Helloween cover, “March Of Time,” is the best single track on the album. Unfortunately it is being released only as a bonus track and was left off the album despite being used earlier in the year as a teaser for the new vocalist. Since there is no theme to follow on the album, unlike prior Rhapsody Of Fire albums, I question the wisdom of this decision.
Either way, Turilli is still turning out respectable power metal albums, experimenting in his own way, and pushing his music ever closer to a “symphony” and ever farther away from “metal.” To some people this is a welcome and refreshing change, but as for myself, I’d prefer a bit more “metal” and a bit less “movie.”
Graham’s Rating: 3.5 out of 5