Rhapsody: Symphony of Enchanted Lands II – The Dark Secret

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Rhapsody: Symphony of Enchanted Lands II – The Dark Secret
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Rhapsody: Symphony of Enchanted Lands II - The Dark Secret
Orchestral Power Metal, Symphonic Power Metal
Magic Circle Music, Steamhammer / SPV Records
September 27th, 2004
Release length: 1:12:51
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2002’s Power of the Dragonflame effectively closed the book on the long-running Rhapsody epic, the Emerald Sword Saga. Not only that, but it also ended the deal between the band and Limb Music in favor of Magic Circle Music and Steamhammer / SPV. About two years later, the Orchestral/Symphonic Power Metal act return once more with Symphony of Enchanted Lands II: The Dark Secret. This isn’t an expansion on the previous tale like Rain of a Thousand Flames, but rather the first chapter of the new story line, The Dark Secret Saga. But, are these meer cosmetic and financial changes the only real alterations, or is there more going on?

The production to this recording isn’t the greatest, but given the orchestral elements at work, sometimes the problems can be largely overlooked. The guitars feel very blunt and low, as if pushed a bit further in the background than they should be. When the higher notes are played, the pitch can feel a little too high, especially given the bass not being as dominant in tone as it should be, sometimes even being too swept up by the guitar chords to be noticed. What comes to the forefront are the keyboards and additional Symphonic sounds and instruments, really pushing the atmosphere of the release forward. This also goes for the lead vocals, additional choir singing, and even the narration from Christopher Lee. The drums stand out well with the bass kicks having a solid click to them, the snares with a tighter, natural sound, and the cymbals crisp though a bit drowned out, especially during the many epic moments. These faults do take away from the heaviness of the material to an extent, but much of this recording really isn’t meant to be a straight Power Metal attitude driven offering.

There’s a lot going on in Symphony of Enchanted Lands II – The Dark Secret, between various narrations, largely Orchestral and Operatic performances, various interludes and breaks from the music that do or do not include altered voices to represent creatures or animals, and a stronger focus on epic passages. For example, “Erian’s Mystical Rhymes: The White Dragon’s Order” starts off with an altered, almost guttural spoken word piece that seems in a different tongue or just backwards, leading into strong Classically composed music layered over the other instruments, greatly dwarfing all but the drums. The pace does shift to a mid-tempo galloping approach for a while, jumping in and out of a faster chorus that brings the keyboards back into play like a traditional Rhapsody offering, but only to feel as though it’s taking away from the Symphonic aspects more than being the center piece of the band’s foundation. Of course, most of these sections are relatively short, even during the introduction track “The Dark Secret: Ira Divina” and “Dragonland’s Rivers,” the latter of which features the sound of running water with a grunting animal in the background while one of the characters has a voice actor telling the others to look at it. This leads into a slower unplugged Folk piece that is good, but nothing too impressive, even when it picks up towards the very end.

But, overall, there’s still some really great tracks to be found on this release. “Unholy Warcry” does show the faults of the higher production on the guitars, but it does offer a rather aggressive Power Metal offering with a rich, epic chorus that makes a great impact on the listener. “Sacred Power of Raging Winds” has plenty of shifting throughout, but overall has faster riffs in the main verses and a lack of keyboards to let what deeper tones exist actually come through. There’s plenty of changing in and out with well timed transitions that give it a Progressive touch as it goes from operatic performances and atmosphere back to the heavier Metal pace. There’s also a fantastic guitar solo based solely on that Classical foundation of composition, then dueling with the keyboards for a bit in a regal setting. This isn’t exactly new, as these solos appear throughout, and sometimes dueling in the same manner. “Shadows of Death” is the same way, but the keyboards here can often sound more Progressive and even Space Rock-ish, an interesting mix that oddly works out very well. Of course, “Never Forgotten Heroes” is as close to classic Rhapsody as you will get on this release, but you have to wade through an exhausting orchestrated introduction before getting to it. The chorus is actually rather beautiful, and has a passionate vocal performance that suits the growing epic terrain the largey tamer song ventures on.

As far as a new entry into the world that Rhapsody has created, this is a pretty good one. The music, despite it’s faults, is often really impressive, though the additional narration and various scenes with dialogue and sound effects can come across a bit too much considering how many of these actually exist. However, the longer songs do have enough variety and solid material to keep the listener attentive from start to finish, and the shorter ones typically have a grander epic push that hides the issues in the lighter audio levels. Symphony of Enchanted Lands II – The Dark Secret isn’t quite the most impressive Power Metal offering you’ll happen across, but it definitely feels more refined and matured. Had the music itself been a little heavier, this could have been a really epic masterpiece of fantastic lore, but in the end it just misses that mark, making itself out as another strong entry into the Rhapsody discography, but not one that will win over any naysayers.

01. The Dark Secret: Ira Divina – 4:13
02. Unholy Warcry – 5:53
03. Never Forgotten Heroes – 5:32
04. Elgard’s Green Valleys – 2:20
05. The Magic of the Wizard’s Dream – 4:30
06. Erian’s Mystical Rhymes: The White Dragon’s Order – 10:31
07. The Last Angels Call – 4:36
08. Dragonland’s Rivers – 3:44
09. Sacred Power of Raging Winds – 10:06
10. Guardiani del Destino – 5:51
11. Shadows of Death – 8:13
12. Nightfall on the Grey Mountains – 7:20
Overall Score: 8/10


Physical review copy of this release provided by personal funds.