Rhapsody of Fire recorded together for nearly twenty years, and seemed like they’d last forever. But, as Hewlett-Packard Lovecraft said, even death may die. The band schismed in 2011, with guitarist Luca Turilli and keyboardist Alex Starapoli forming separate versions of Rhapsody. Dark Wings of Steel is the first Luca-less album. Call it a “friendly split”, whatever. We all know there’s a shocking story involving a haddock, a pressurized pump, and the bassist’s mother in there somewhere.

Looks like Nuclear Blast made the right call by going with Turilli’s Rhapsody, because this album is chintzy, cheap-sounding, and unworthy of the Rhapsody of Fire name. The band literally comes up short of Triumph and Agony (rightly regarded as their worst album up to this point). Where to begin? It’s Situation Abnormal, All Fucked Up.

The production is not dense and layered, as in past albums. The symphonics aren’t “real orchestra” so much as “real VST samples on Starapoli’s computer.” Dark Wings has a fake, synthetic quality that I dislike immensely. And what’s with the crappy brutal guitar tone? Rhapsody was never famous for its guitar sound, but at least Turilli’s tone fit with the massive orchestral and symphonic backdrops. New guitarist Roby De Micheli has a dry, midscooped sound reminiscent of a Crate practice amp – annoying and inappropriate. Add in weak-as-fvck drumming that couldn’t knock the froth off a double-latte, and you have the new Rhapsody – an album that’s sure to have elderly neighbours banging on your door, demanding that you turn it up to help facilitate their afternoon nap.

Two good songs – that’s it. Not three, four, or five. Two. The first is “A Tale of Magic”, which has an excellent chorus. The second is “Dark Wings of Steel”, with fast zigzagging rhythms and interesting contrapuntal ideas.

The other songs are like quarantined hospital patients dying of various diseases. Some are poorly written and forgettable, with no catchy parts or good hooks. Others try far too hard to be Rhapsody and provoke laughter – “Silver Lake of Tears” is particularly horrible. Rhapsody’s music is almost parodic already, taking the joke any further is crass. Fabio Leone’s vocals are still powerful, but he’s an overrated singer and he’s really exposed in this new stripped-back format. The shitbox production kills any atmopshere.

Last year Luca Turilli’s Rhapsody released Ascending to Infinity, which got right everything this new Rhapsodomy album gets wrong. It has lush, organic production, great songs, excellent playing, and a cohesive musical style. Ascending didn’t quite match Rhapsody’s best work, but it utterly embarasses Starapoli on this new release.

Are you a fan? Go listen to whatever Luca Turilli is working on, because HE is Rhapsody of Fire. Everyone else was dead weight, and this album proves it.

The good news: Megadeth and Black Sabbath both have new albums out, so this isn’t quite the disappointment of the year

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