After you return from seeing "The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring," you might want to consider popping in Rhapsody's new 42-minute EP, Rain of a Thousand Flames. Perhaps no one, save Howard Shore, The Lord of the Rings' original score composer, can as vividly portray both the beauty and brutality of that film the way this Italian quintet can. Granted, the connection in all likelihood is coincidence – in fact, the track "Queen of the Dark Horizons" takes its inspiration from the soundtrack of Dario Argento's cinema thriller "Phenomena," and "The Wizard's Last Rhymes" (the fourth and final part of "Rhymes of a Tragic Poem-The Gothic Saga") includes elements of passages from Antonin Dvoraks' "Symphony of the New World."
There's a reason Rhapsody is considered king of so-called "Hollywood metal" (a genre the band invented, by the way). These guys shamelessly flaunt bombast with a Disney-esque flair. Their brand of heavy, supremely melodic metal — commandeered by guitarist Luca Turilli and keyboard player Alex Staropoli — boasts strong links to classical, folk and choral music and features mythical imagery and orchestral elements common to film scores. Energetic bass lines propel the songs forward, allowing the rich symphonic element to provide a backdrop for Fabio Lione's haunting and powerful vocals. Rain of a Thousand Flames serves as a bridge to the band's fourth full-length album, which will be released in February and will conclude the "Emerald Sword Saga" that Rhapsody has spread over 1997's Legendary Tales, 1998's Symphony of Enchanted Lands and 2000's Dawn of Victory. The seven-track EP contains subtle references to the saga — which follows the Warrior of Ice's quest for the legendary emerald-green sword in a fantastical world of blood and betrayal — but the record also stands on its own as a near-perfect introduction to the realm of Rhapsody by encompassing the entire evolution of the band's five-year run. The disc particularly merges the aggressiveness of Dawn of Victory with the symphonic elements of Symphony of Enchanted Lands.
But just as J.R.R. Tolkien's saga doesn't excite all fantasy buffs, Rhapsody's over-the-top performances won't appeal to all metal fans. For example, amidst all the choral arrangements, classical interludes, galloping rhythms and operatic vocals comes a long spoken-word passage that could grate on some listeners' nerves. The production, typical of a Rhapsody record, glistens in the steady hands of longtime Rhapsody producers Sascha Paeth and Miro, and another piece of grisly artwork by Marc Klinnert on the front and back covers conveys both the ferocity and vividness of the music contained herein. Rain of a Thousand Flames succeeds as a stop-gap between full-length chapters in the Emerald Sword Saga and suggests that the story's finale will be a sharp-as-swords epic that could perhaps turn out to be Rhapsody's finest work.