Wouldn’t it be a cool opening line if I said “The Eighth Mountain, being Rhapsody’s eighth album, is indeed a tall mountain to scale”? Well congratulations, I can’t, because it’s their thirteenth album. Twelfth if you don’t count Legendary Years, and honestly, who does? But oh man, what a nail biter. Rhapsody released their best album to date in 2016, only to be ditched by genre defining frontman Fabio Lione months later and left to Alex Staropoli’s own devices. As replacement for the vocalist spot was selected Giacomo Voli. Shortly thereafter they released the huge disappointment that was Legendary Years, re-recorded classics that failed in so many ways; these songs did not need or in any way ask for a reworking. In any way. But their real trial by fire is this; The Eighth Mountain. Their thirteenth album. Twelfth. I don’t know.
Many would say it's a doomed venture without both Lione and founding member/guitarist Luca Turilli in the fold, because when it gets to Rhapsody, tradition is key. Those two have just formed Lione/Turilli Rhapsody by the way, if the number of Rhapsodys by now wasn't confusing enough. However, keyboardist and co-founder Alex Staropoli brought some serious magic and showed his mind blowing songwriting skills on Into the Legend (2016), and having to do without Turilli, replacement guitarist Roberto De Micheli showed he’s got ample skills to handle the axeman’s duty, though never venturing as far out as his predecessor in terms of shredmanship. That, and Lione's replacement has already showed his worth on Edward De Rosa's debut released last year, where he brought the Lione inspired highs and an impressive control of his mid range and timing.
Being the start of a new saga, there are definitely some real growing moments on The Eighth Mountain. For sure some tracks count as flying epics to count among the latter day Rhapsody cuts just as much as Distant Sky and Rage of Darkness did from the last album. The lyrics are cheesy and silly, as would be told from titles like Master of Peace, The Courage to Forgive and The Wind the Rain and the Moon - the latter being the token sappy ballad, that for some reason works really well; Voli does it justice and the overall feel of it towards the end sits well. Then of course, single Rain of Fury catches some of that dragonflame with its epic beat and furious tempo in the chorus where Voli sings of defeating the evil warlord. De Micheli also shows his true colors, perhaps even more so than on Into the Legend, shredding away majestically in solos found throughout, highlights including the speedy number in Master of Peace and the entirety of Clash of Times.
The problem is that with Rhapsody it’s always - always - going to be compared to other things, and once you do that… it somewhat pales. Another thing that you can’t have Rhapsody without is the big, deep sound that just immensely dynamic and epic like it’s a soundtrack straight from Middle-Earth, and the - in comparison - fairly scaled down sound of The Eighth Mountain doesn’t capture that to its fullest effect. Alex Staropoli is still there with his entirely unique sound, keeping it sounding like nothing except Rhapsody; there could be no doubt as to what it is. At times it’s more epic than a dragon battle in a thunderstorm, but other times - like the timid White Wizard - it’s just bland and meandering. It does however do more than well based on what it is, and not what its predecessors were. The Eighth Mountain was Rhapsody of Fire’s real trial, and as if by grace of Dargor - the Shadowlord of the Black Mountain - himself, they show there’s still plenty of dragonflame to fuel the epic fires. A new saga begins.
Standout tracks: Rain of Fury, March Against the Tyrant, Clash of Times