|Orchestral Power Metal, Symphonic Power Metal
Magic Circle Music, Steamhammer / SPV Records
September 25th, 2006
Release length: 1:11:26
Due to an issue involving copyright, Symphonic/Operatic Power Metal group Rhapsody had to change their name or face legal action. With that said, the change was a subtle one, adding the text “of fire” under their logo. In a sense, this is a rebirth for the group that nicely fits the direction their new tale, The Dark Secret Saga, happens to be taking them. With a stronger focus on epic fantastical orchestrations, their previous effort Symphony of Enchanted Lands II – The Dark Secret welcomed fans into a more dynamic musical experience. But, does their anticipated follow-up, Triumph or Agony, continue the tale with the same power, or does this effort suffer from growing pains of rediscovery?
Triumph or Agony has a good amount of power behind the symphonic orchestral pieces. The keyboards come through loudly and the drums are powerful. The cymbals stick out when things really pick up, the snares have a nice richness to them that can be booming or tight, and the bass kicks with their strong click. The guitars have a decent sharpness to them that sounds good when the orchestrations are toned down, and the same goes for the deeper bass performance. They still have a good impact during some of the epic moments and choruses, but when things are just going into a far grander territory, they either just stop or are largely drowned out. The vocals come through nicely as well, being rather loud over all the various levels, and offer a nice mixture of enthusiastic and restrained perfromances, depending solely on the atmosphere of the lyrics/story, as well as the atmosphere.
Of course, some of these issues don’t really become apparent right off the bat. The traditional orchestral driven introduction track, “Dar-Kunor: Echoes from the Elvish Woods,” starts off slow but builds into some richer symphonic material with choir vocals over Power Metal that does nicely come through compared to later tracks. This welcomes in the epic “Triumph or Agony” that finds a heavy Power Metal focus with the orchestrations largely in the background. Some bridges have a stronger presence that feels rather glorious, and the additional layered vocals here and there help to build that sensation a little stronger. The main pace is largely a mid-tempo that shifts in and out of slower yet majestic passages that are transitioned nicely. “Heart of the Darklands” also finds a solid Power Metal push behind it with really catchy guitar work in the tighter passages, such as the start of the song, whereas those riffs are replaced with slightly influential atmospheric keyboard notes through many of the main verses.
This is a fair representation of what to expect from Triumph or Agony, though by the half-way point you will start to notice a shift in the music, starting with the traditional epic Heavy Metal composition “The Myth of the Holy Sword,” clearly inspired by bands like Manowar (perhaps a reflection of the label Rhapsody of Fire is signed to). There’s also “Il Canto de Vento,” which is one of the many offerings here that clearly feed into a different musical beast entirely. This largely keyboard driven song is an operatic piece with a decent vocal performance that doesn’t go too far with enthusiasm, sticking in the general saddened tone that the music gives off. It’s nothing too spectacular, much like the “Old Age of Wonders,” it’s an enjoyable experience and break from the normal Rhapsody of Fire sound.
“The Mystic Prophecy of the Demonknight” epic is meant to be the centerpiece of the album, and in many ways it does the job well. The slower pace finds a strong mixture of the epic Heavy Metal approach with powerful Symphonic driven orchestral passages. There’s also a hint of some Folk instruments and atmosphere around the four and a half minutes mark. This five part saga goes on for nearly sixteen and a half minutes, but never really throws filler material your way, or makes you want to skip ahead. The transitions are well done, and even when the band sacrifices the Metal for the Operatic influences, it still sounds great and suiting to the general atmosphere, often phasing in some additional guitars later on in the passage or bridge. This song seems to fit more into an Opera, and it truly sounds like a Metal one for a good period of time. But, the voice acting kills it. Christopher Lee chimes in with narration, which is met by two different sets of dialogue that doesn’t feel into the fantastical environment, and instead sounds like dinner theater acting in a small recording studio, quickly killing the mood and pushing you away from what makes the song so great.
There are various versions of Triumph or Agony, but the most common would be the Digipack version, or the North American pressing in a standard jewel case with the two bonus tracks from that edition. Both feature “Defenders of Gaia,” which is a superb track that sounds like an omitted song from the start of the recording, fitting in perfectly with “Heart of the Darklands” but with less symphonic elements to it and a very strong chorus. The other addition is the single edit of “A New Saga Begins,” which is just that section of “The Mystic Prophecy of the Demonknight” altered to a more radio friendly length. The latter of the two isn’t anything impressive, but “Defenders of Gaia” is definitely well worth grabbing one of these two editions for, though other region-specific renditions do seem to offer more bang for your buck.
What it all comes down to is the shifting of direction for the band. Triumph or Agony has a nice mixture of Opera and Classical composition mixed with a traditional Power Metal sound, and some obligatory epic Heavy Metal Manowar worship that feels tacked on despite being somewhat enjoyable. There are plenty of great songs here, though the majority of those that will make a huge impact are towards the start of the album. With the grand saga “The Mystic Prophecy of the Demonknight” faulted greatly by poor voice acting, and some songs going a bit too over-the-top and losing sight of the Power Metal sound and roots of the foundation in a somewhat repetitiver manner, it’s hard to look at this as one of the group’s strongest achievements. But, it also isn’t a recording you won’t come back to for repeat spins. Triumph or Agony is another solid Rhapsody / Rhapsody of Fire album, but it obviously shows them trying to find their new niche, and having a bit of a hard time meshing the sounds together into one cohesive work.
|01. Dar-Kunor: Echoes from the Evlish Woods – 3:13
02. Triumph or Agony – 5:03
03. Heart of the Darklands – 4:11
04. Old Age of Wonders – 4:35
05. The Myth of the Holy sword – 5:03
06. Il Canto de Vento – 3:54
07. Silent Dream – 3:50
09. Bloody Red Dungeons – 5:11
10. Son of Pain – 4:43
11. The Mystic Prophecy of the Demonknight – 16:25
I. A New Saga Begins
12. Dark Reign of Fire: Winter Dawn’s Theme – 6:26
|Initial Pressing Score: 7/10
Digipack/Bonus Tracks Version: 7/10
Physical review copy of this release provided by personal funds.