Rhapsody – Symphony Of Enchanted Lands II – The Dark Secret
With the Emerald Sword saga complete, Rhapsody needed to make a few changes before writing another album. With the defeat of Akron the dark lord at the end of Power Of The Dragonflame, Rhapsody needed a new story… Or not. Luca Turilli decided to continue the story of the Emerald Sword, told in the first five albums, by making a second saga that is a sequel to the first. Though Turilli’s talent for writing high fantasy has not improved, this does not affect the songwriting. This story, titled the “Dark Secret Saga” will encompass the remainder of the Rhapsody and Rhapsody Of Fire discography until the band’s split in.
Symphony Of Enchanted Lands II – The Dark Secret and its mouthful of a title mark the first album in this story, taking place a few years after the events of Power Of The Dragonflame. Despite the title, the album is not a sequel to Symphony Of Enchanted Lands, either narratively or musically. Whereas 1998’s release of Pt. I exemplified the early Rhapsody style, it was still very much the product of a maturing band. Symphony Of Enchanted Lands II is an album that has clearly been made by a band that has done this a few times. The songwriting is much more mature, and the ideas are generally better developed.
The narration on the album, though present in every Rhapsody album since Legendary Tales, receives a notable change with the addition of the vocal talents of Christopher Lee. This man is the legendary actor behind Saruman in the Lord Of The Rings trilogy, as well as Count Dooku in the Star Wars prequel trilogy. His narration is all over the album, and his voice also appears on the single version of “The Magic Of The Wizard’s Dream,” where he also provides some guest vocals.
On this album, Rhapsody unfortunately abandons the darker tone taken on preceding albums Dawn Of Victory and Power Of The Dragonflame. Instead, they bring a more bombastic and cinematic tone to each song. This results in fewer “heavy” songs, though the band still finds ways to include a few of them. “Unholy Warcry,” the second track on the album, is one of the finest songs that Rhapsody has ever written. Beginning with big, booming, and ominous chords, this song is Turilli and Staropoli at their finest. Right from the beginning, the cinematic approach Rhapsody is taking to this second saga is obvious. The real highlight of “Unholy Warcry” however, is Luca Turilli’s guitar solos. Beginning halfway through the song (and for some reason cut short on both the edited and live versions), the solo begins with a series of sweeping arpeggios before launching into a very impressive neo-classical section. Unfortunately, “Unholy Warcry” is only the second track, and already the high point of the album.
The rest of the album features a number of standard Rhapsody tracks. Epic choirs, latin vocals, and the heavy use of symphonic and orchestral elements are featured in each and every song. “Never Forgotten Heroes” is one of the more cinematic tracks on the album, especially during the chorus, but is otherwise more of the standard Rhapsody stock-and-trade. “The Magic Of The Wizard’s Dream” is another in a long line of Rhapsody ballads that I do not like. On the single version of the song, Christopher Lee provides guest vocals, but this version does not appear on the album. This is unfortunate because it is the only redeeming quality in an otherwise bland Rhapsody ballad.
The epic of this album is actually split into two mini-epics. There are two songs over ten minutes: “Erian’s Mystical Rhymes – The White Dragon’s Order,” and “Sacred Power Of Raging Winds.” The former would be a much better song without the introduction that seems to be just the wind howling. By the time the orchestra comes in, I’m already bored. The song itself isn’t bad, but it is a bit slow for my tastes. Rhapsody are at their best when they are thundering, and there is a conspicuous lack of thunder on the first epic. The solos are impressive as usual, but again unremarkable except for, surprisingly, the flute. “Erians’ Mystical Rhymes” starts slow and really begins to drag after awhile. Finally, the narration at the end (not provided by Christopher Lee this time) provides an unremarkable end to an unremarkable epic.
The second epic, “Sacred Power Of Raging Winds” starts on a better note than the first – with narration by Christopher Lee finally followed by some guitar. In the middle of the song there is a bizarre, mostly-spoken-word portion where Fabio Lione plays the part of Dargor, and an unknown vocalist provides the ostensibly demonic vocals of Vankar. Though I understand why this is there to advance the storyline, it seems really strange and out of place. Beginning about six minutes into the song is an extensive instrumental section featuring keyboards, flute, guitar, and then a combination of all three. This is one of the most impressive sections of instrumental playing on the album, as the three instruments are seamlessly woven together, often conforming to a question-and-answer format.
The remainder of the album is comprised of a series of mid-tempo power metal songs like “Last Angel’s Call,” and plodding folky ballads like “Guardiani Del Destino”. “Shadows Of Death” is an 8 minute long mini-mini-epic that starts with a triumphant orchestral introduction, but falls off somewhat after that into a fairly standard Rhapsody song, though the guitars are better than some of the other tracks on the album. The album concludes with the seven minute long “Nightfall On The Grey Mountains”, which begins as a slow instrumental, evolves into a slow metal song, and ends slowly as well. There is a good deal of cinematic supplement during the parts of the song that have vocals, but these unfortunately don’t account for much of its length.
On Symphony Of Enchanted Lands II, Rhapsody begins down the path that would ultimately lead them to the abomination that is Triumph Or Agony, but had not yet fallen into the abyss of awful power metal. There are several redeeming qualities to this album. First, “Unholy Warcry” is an excellent track. Second, though many of the songs are unremarkable, they are not bad. They are simply standard Rhapsody songs without much to distinguish them from one another. Finally, the overwhelming use of keyboard orchestral interludes and symphonic elements are really quite good, and fit the mood of the album without overshadowing the guitars and “metal” elements too much (or destroying any semblance of “metal,” as they do on Triumph Or Agony). This album is a worthy listen for Rhapsody fans, and a solid addition to any power metal catalog, though it will probably not become regular listening for most.
Graham’s Rating: 3.5 out of 5