ANCIENT BARDS, the Italian heirs to the throne of RHAPSODY (OF FIRE), stepped into the spotlights in 2010 when their debut album, “The Alliance Of The Kings”, was released via Limb Music. Finally, Limb had found another diamond like he had in the late 1990s. Fans could have waiting long for RHAPSODY OF FIRE to return to their former self – something that was sure not to happen – and so ANCIENT BARDS filled that hole. Not that the band is a clone, not at all, but their music is very comparable. Having a female singer, Sara Squadrani, made things a little different and yet more interesting.
“The Alliance Of The Kings” was the first part of a trilogy. The album was very well received, generally speaking, and so the band put to work on the follow-up, meanwhile playing the necessary gigs. “Soulless Child” was album no. 2, came out in 2011, and showed a band that had grown, that had gained experience. In short: they improved themselves on all levels. So much even that for me it was the album of the year (see here). You can read my review of the album here.
Anno 2014, album no. 3 in the trilogy is out since the 25th of April: “A New Dawn Ending”. Again the band worked with Simone Mularoni (DGM, EMPYRIOS, … – see more at this location) to create a powerful sound. After the recordings – I take it it was after the recordings – of “A New Dawn Ending”, guitarist Fabio Balducci (SYNFUL IRA) left the band. That same year, however, singer Sara Squadrani was featured on AYREON’s latest masterpiece, “The Theory Of Everything”.
Like before, the album begins with a cinematic, spoken intro (“Before The Storm”). However, as good as Sara can sing, she still has an accent to work away somehow, a common problem for a.o. Italians. And then it’s time to put the cards onto the table: “A Greater Purpose” bursts loose with a choir and pieces of symphonic Metal, a sort of warning shot, as the full attack follows rapidly, EPICA-style! High tempo Power Metal with guitars and drums (a keyrole here for Federico Gatti) delivering said power, and the symphonic arrangements operating from the back. The chorus sounds massive and bombastic, somehow comparable to FAIRYLAND. Also important are the choir pieces. Bassist Martino Garattoni gets his moment of glory, assisted by the bursting symphonics of before. This theme continues, yet now guiding the guitar solo. Afterwards the usual parts return, while all ends in style. A job very well done!
Then comes one of the, in my opinion, best songs on this album: “Flaming Heart”. The symphonic arrangements are the foundation of this song, while guitars and drums again form the other half of the work. The verses are atmospheric, Sara sings with a soft voice. The whole sounds very cinematic, like a fairytale, one could say. Beautifully worked out. After a second run of the intro theme, the verses are played with full instrumentation and the singing is quite simply breathtaking, passionate. The chorus, the part that usually holds all the musical volume and power, sounds again massive, grand, but also emotional. The orchestral foundation remains the most crucial aspect here, guiding the vocals, filling holes, and so on. Emotion is again expressed in a short break before the solo, after which more vocal work (i.e. the choir, which makes the song all the more awesome) fulfills its obligations. Then it’s back to business.
When you marry RHAPSODY and NIGHTWISH, one possible outcome would be “Across This Life”, where powerful guitar work, thundering drums and dominating orchestral layers rule the track. Fierce music is what you get here, with vicious vocals. The choir adds to the bombast, of course. Fast drumming pushes the catchy, melodic chorus onwards. Here the layered vocals are again of high quality, simply amazing! The obligatory solo is set halfway, after which the song again runs its proper course. Another highlight (not that there’s a bad song here, not at all!), aside from “Flaming Heart”, is the ballad “In My Arms”. Of course, orchestral input is the basis, the core. This basis is a very well-composed environment for Sara to feel like a fish in the water, so to speak (or write). This track is very emotional and touching. The rest of the band comes in later, but the added power is smooth, flows neatly with the basis of the song.
Time for Metal again then, after this resting point. In “The Last Resort”, the Italians are set again in Power mode with bombastic, symphonic Metal. The combination piano-symphonics works very well. The vocals are this time the focal point, and it leaves much to be desired, I must sadly add. Sara does a great job. Fabio Lione (RHAPSODY OF FIRE, VISION DIVINE, ANGRA, etc.), who needs no introduction anymore, sings in a way that made me cringe. In RHAPSODY OF FIRE he does (did?) a good to very good job. I’m not so familiar with his other bands to comment on the input there. But here… I can understand the guys and girl of ANCIENT BANDS are fans of RHAPSODY OF FIRE, but “The Last Resort” is NOT a song for Fabio’s voice. His singing is forced, too high, and his timbre just doesn’t fit here. Why not let Sara do all the singing or if you need a male singer, get someone with a lower or somewhat rougher voice. The music itself is more accessible than before, even reminiscent of contemporary bands like XANDRIA, SIRENIA, etc. Like before, when the guitar solo is due, the tempo drops. Nothing wrong with that, but why apply this to (almost) each song on the album?
“Showdown” shows all signs of another ballad: an atmospheric, piano-driven intro, growing with cinematic, orchestral additions and vocals. The keyboards/symphonic input is again the foundation for the song. A rhythmic/tribal drum part is added, in announcement of the power that is to be unleashed. And so it happens: bombastic Power Metal spewed onwards by the orchestrations. This creates a contrast with the first part, also thanks to the choir parts (comparable, again indeed, with e.g. RHAPSODY OF FIRE, EPICA, FAIRYLAND, and so on). Halfway down the track, things get a little mysterious, but very beautiful! Orchestrations, tribal drumming and soft singing resulting in a piece that left me speechless! So very touching. The choirs come in again, the lead vocals as well, and last the Metal instrumentation. Solo time (guitar and keyboards taking turns) is next, again done slowly, but picking up in speed in the next instant. But that’s not all. Dark realms are entered or danger is looming around the corner, it seems, as indicated by the organ and orchestrations. There’s light at the end of the tunnel/horizon/… as power and speed are activated again. How very RHAPSODY OF FIRE-like. Nothing wrong with that, mind you. Folky orchestrations lead the fellowship into more joyful regions.
These Folky elements also start “In The End”, followed by speedy symphonic Power Metal, which sounds a but hectic, jumpy. The chorus has the necessary ingredients, but is rather short. A rhythmic break halfway paves the way for the solo. Afterwards it’s Folk time again, now with vocals. Did I write that orchestrations are important in this part of the song? The role of the guitars and drums is not, save that the drums add accents here. Afterwards it’s business as usual. More Folky influence can be found in the soft, melodic and acoustic intro of “Spiriti Liberi”. Full musical power comes in later, but the song remains a slow/midtempo one, sounding hopeful, in a way. Hopeful in the context of the lyrics, thus having the music reflect what happens in the story. An orchestral break splits the song in two. The solo moment is done in Power Metal mode. Then it’s back to the chorus and so on towards the end, guided by the choir.
Last but not least, the title track, “A New Dawn Ending”. Starting with a violin/strings intro, again sounding very cinematic. Metal power is added a little later. The hymnic verses have a touching, emotional character. Full vocal power and bombast is reserved for the chorus. After about 1/3 of the song, the choir comes into play and musical tension is created (symphonics with power via the guitars and drums) leading into slow verse. Halfway, a spoken interlude. And then into 6th gear for a full-blown Power Metal attack. Aha, now there ARE rough, male vocals. As it’s a musically dark piece, clean vocals would not have been a good decision. The orchestrations prove vital, especially after the (slow) solo piece. All ends with a cinematic part, bombastic bursts and spoken text. “Gargoyles, Angels Of Darkness” (RHAPSODY, “Power Of The Dragonflame” album, 2003), anyone? However, ANCIENT BARDS keeps the music flowing, even allows for some blastbeats to end the song and album with a bang.
ANCIENT BARDS rapidly found a place on my list of favourite bands, when they released their debut album, “The Alliance Of The Kings”, in 2010. The follow-up, “Soulless Child” (2011), was even better. And now, “A New Dawn Ending”, confirms that this young, Italian band is indeed (becoming) a brilliant diamond. Even with one guitarist less (whom I hope they will replace, at least live), the band carries on like nothing happened, putting out a masterpiece in the world of symphonic (Power) Metal. Obviously this will lead to more European concerts (one of which being Metal Female Voices Fest in Wieze, Belgium) in October 2014. Despite the nasty stain Fabio left behind in one track, “A New Dawn Ending” is very much recommended for fans of the genre and one hell of a candidate for the annual Best Of lists.
- Before The Storm
- A Greater Purpose
- Flaming Heart
- Across This Life
- In My Arms
- The Last Resort
- In The End
- Spiriti Liberi
- A New Dawn Ending
Sara Squadrani – vocals
Claudio Pietronik – guitar
Daniele Mazza – keyboards
Martino Garattoni – bass
Federico Gatti – drums