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RHAPSODY OF FIRE Challenge The Wind

By Daniel Höhr, European Correspondent
Saturday, June 1, 2024 @ 8:07 AM


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RHAPSODY OF FIRE
Challenge The Wind

AFM Records, 2024




Italian Symphonic Metal Veterans RHAPSODY OF FIRE are releasing the third and final part of The Nephilim's Empire Saga at the end of May. Challenge The Wind is, if I have counted correctly, the fourteenth studio album by keyboard wizard, composer, and artistic mastermind of RHAPSODY OF FIRE, Alex Staropoli and his band, which also consists of Giacomo Voli (vocals), Roberto De Micheli (guitars), Alessandro Sala (bass), and Paolo Marchesich (drums).

One thing RHAPSODY OF FIRE can certainly not be accused of is deviation from their signature style or introducing surprising elements into their material. So if anyone expects any novelties or musical revelations on this album, they're in for a nasty disappointment. I'm not saying there is no development in comparison to the last two studio efforts. On the first part of The Nephilim's Empire Saga, The Eighth Mountain (2019), RHAPSODY OF FIRE came across as extraordinarily massive and heavy. The second part, the 2021 effort Glory Of Salvation was dominated by choral bombast, which, frankly speaking, took the cheesiness inherent to the band's genre to an entirely new dimension. Now, two and a half years later, Staropoli and his bandmates have cut down on the choirs and, the album title says it all, embark on an octane-fuelled fight against the wind. From the opening faster-than-190-bpm title track onwards, RHAPSODY OF FIRE let you hardly catch your breath. In addition to the first number "The Bloody Pariah" and "Holy Downfall" exceed the 190 bpm mark. Tempowise, "A Brave New Hope" shifts down a gear and almost seems like a mid-tempo number in comparison the ubiquitious prestissimo movements on the album. Everything seems more compact, more to the point on Challenge The Wind and one thing that distinguishes the album is that it has no unnecessary lengths and no superfluous filler material.

And while the band get straight to the point with the song material, the five musicians do so without neglecting their trademark stylistic devices. Thus the album bursts with fast riffs, neo-classical harmonies, over-familiar chord progressions, virtuoso shredding, and anthemic vocals. Whilst this is what fans of the genre and the band will doubtlessly appreciate, others, who expect a bit more than the upteenth repetition of a standard formula, may be left less convinced by the material. Don't get me wrong, nobody expects a metal band, least of all a symphonic metal band, to reinvent the wheel. But listening to almost an entire album going: "Yup, heard that a zillion times before" or "And here come the strings again, what a bloody surprise" isn't really entertaining. And, sadly, that is the case each time I listen to Challenge The Wind. Most of the material goes in one ear and out the other without much getting stuck.

There are notable exceptions, though. The Death Metal growls and riffing on "Vanquished By Shadows" are refreshing and provide a welcome change to the sonic landscape of the album. The acoustic guitar and the ballad-esque feel at the beginning of the gloomy and stomping "Mastered By The Dark" make this closing track a true highlight of the album, also because of its clever and effective arrangement and instrumentation.

Sound-wise, the album has a homogeneous and crystal clear sound, thanks to mix, which was in the most capable hands of Seeb Levermann. It does lack the heavy edge of earlier albums and seems a bit tame every now and then but its almost symphonic quality makes up for this.

RHAPSODY OF FIRE fans and Symphonic Metal aficionados will enjoy the album a lot and that's what it's all about. Anyone looking for innovative and diversified rock and metal music will be disappointed.

3.5 Out Of 5.0


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