Last year, a new Symphonic Power Metal band rose from the underground. For the fans of RHAPSODY (OF FIRE) and similar, the Italian female-fronted formation ANCIENT BARDS was a blessing, as their forefathers (so to speak) had moved away from the style that made them loved around the globe. So ANCIENT BARDS decided to fill that hole. Their debut album, “The Alliance Of The Kings”, was hailed by many – and also despised by others, which is the case with many bands, albums and other things in life. You can read my review here.
More than a year and a half later, the band has finished part 2 of “The Black Crystal Sword Saga”, titled “Soulless Child”, which came out on the 18th November. As you might expect, I, together with many others, have been looking out anxiously for this release, especially since I very much liked “The Alliance Of The Kings”. Not that much changed, though the band seemed to have put more emphasis on choir parts. Plus, they have a new drummer, Federico Gatti. He replaced Alessandro Carichini, who left the band due to private reasons. Nevertheless, that didn’t disturb the writing or recording process and it seemed Federico quickly learned the songs to ensure a smooth studio time.
Like on the debut album, “Soulless Child” begins with an orchestral intro (“Struggle For Life”) with spoken introduction. It’s got very very nice melodies, which do sound quite touching. The whole rises to a climax that bursts out with the choirs and bombast of “To The Master Of Darkness”. And that’s one extremely vital element on this album: choirs! What follows is your typical double-bass pounding Power Metal with symphonic leads. And it’s pure awesomeness! Of course, the band has two skilled guitarists, which means it would be a shame if they would only focus on rhythmic playing. So obviously they also contribute to the melodic side of the song. Sara’s clean vocals sound very good, perhaps better than before. The aforementioned choir part is very catchy and precedes the majestic chorus, which is nothing short of pure delight, pure divinity. The harmonies, the singing… I’m speechless. There are indeed similarities with the previous album and the song “Daltor The Dragonhunter”, but I certainly don’t mind. Neither do I mind the comparisons with RHAPSODY or even LUCA TURILLI (the solo albums of RHAPSODY OF FIRE’s ex-axeman and co-mastermind). Last but not least there’s is the solo portion (featuring guitar first, then bass, then keyboards) of the song, which is preceded by a bombastic instrumental piece. This all connects smoothly with a racing bridge to then dive into the pre-chorus and chorus again.
Then comes another highlight and one of my favourites, “Gates Of Noland”. The obligatory classical intro appears first, which features strings and harpsichord playing the main melody. Add the Metal blocks to that and you get a wonderful bombastic Power Metal song. Classic, indeed, but oh so tasty!! The verses are strong and thus need to be sung with more power and passion. Sara accomplishes it with ease. The symphonics linger in the back then, mostly in charge of atmosphere. The choir makes its entry in the pre-chorus before the tempo decreases a bit for the midtempo chorus, which sounds like it could have come off LUCA TURILLI’s “King Of The Nordic Twilight” album, for example. Or one of the older RHAPSODY releases. In other words: eargasm! And what a contrast with the verses. The guitar solo is again well done and in a way that makes it an ANCIENT BARDS trademark. And so the song carries on. Pure quality!
“Broken Illusion” is a song where the guitars take the lead this time, while the drums provide that typical double bass pounding. The orchestral input serves as guide for Sara’s vocal lines, which are again sung very strongly. The roles are also clear: the Metal aspect delivers the power, while the orchestrations take care of the melodic side. The harmonies are again well worked out, it’s just… or almost… flawless. Sara’s high-pitched singing may not please all, though. The chorus is once again the harbour of the choir and the combination with the music comes out really well. In terms of solos, it’s nice to hear a violin one, next to the one for the bass, the keyboards and guitar. I cannot stress it enough, Daniele and co. delivered the goods!
Time for a ballad then, since we’re halfway the tracklist, a perfect moment to build in a resting point. In “All That Is True” the piano and symphonic elements dominate and work well together, in a beautiful way. And it gets really awesome when the choirs fall in in the pre-chorus, while Sara takes over vocal command in the chorus. A very touching moment. Later a speed increase kicks in, but not before the orchestral compositions and guitar solo have played their part. I’m out of words regarding this song. It’s simply splendid. Carrying on then with business as usual with “Valiant Ride”, with galloping verses. The song also reminded me in a way of the Belgian Folk/Power Metal band ANGELI DI PIETRA and since Sara sings a bit lower here, she made me think of ADP’s vocalist Sjoera. The chorus is where all the power comes out and more volume can be found thanks to the vocals and orchestrations. A breathtaking moment! The choir is also present, in vein of how NIGHTWISH dealt with this in the past (Tarja era). Solos come from guitar and bass.
“Dinanzi Al Flagello” is an interlude consisting of orchestrations and a (big sounding) choir in vein of LUCA TURILLI’s efforts on his second solo album, “Prophet Of The Last Eclipse” (2002). But it’s very well done! Then “Soulless Child” comes bursting in with Sara’s loud voice (did they handle the mix here differently?). She sings in a somewhat vicious way. Musically a lot happens in this song: building by means of symphonic elements and Metal instrumentation, with an important role for the drums. All this before the song really takes off with – indeed – Power Metal!! Bombast is key here, and my impression is that the fast verses are to express the anger and frustration (lyrical context). The tempo drops a bit in the pre-chorus, where the choir resides (a magical part), to then increase again in chorus itself (with more fierceful vocal input by Sara). A contrast pops up with the piano solo and the following orchestral break. After the obligatory solos, the symphonic piece (incl. choir) reminded me of EPICA (at the time of e.g. “The Phantom Agony” or “Consign To Oblivion”). This very varied mix of compositions makes this song nothing but brilliant!
Two more songs then and not the least either. “Through My Veins” is song of bombast and power. There are rough guest vocals, but I have no idea who it is. One of the guitarists? The keyboards fill the holes with melody and for the better, as the song would sound a bit empty with just the guitars and drums. The aforementioned guest vocals (screams/shouts) can be heard in the pre-chorus, followed by the choir in the chorus, creating a majestic moment. One word: wow! There’s a dark and gloomy atmosphere after the guitar solo. After that it’s back to business as usual. “Through My Veins” is one of the more powerful and energetic tracks here. The album closes with the long “Hope Dies Last”. A soft intro to begin with, delivered by the piano and symphonic elements (incl. the flute, which makes it sound similar to NIGHTWISH’s “Walking In The Air” from the “Oceanborn” album). Then the music grows in volume through the orchestra (think of the “Lord Of The Rings” films, for example). Something is about to give and indeed the power breaks loose, albeit in power ballad verses. The chorus provides a bit more power with the choir, again well done. The choir, as I said in the beginning, is one of the key aspects on “Soulless Child” and it’s no different here. More action is coming up as the Metal starts gallopping halfway. The level of bombast rises, as all cards are put on the table: guitars (incl. solos), drums, strings, brass. The choir piece that follows sounds rather happy, more energetic as well. Sara’s singing follows suit. An emotional piece (solo and symphonic backing) connects neatly. The orchestra takes on the outro and Sara and her male companion indicate the story is far from over. A lengthy track with lots of room for change in rhythm and melodies. And a clear confirmation of the quality on this album.
In my review of “The Alliance Of The Kings” I considered this album a serious contender for my Best Of 2010 list and indeed, I put it third. See here. When “Soulless Child”, the follow-up, came out, I was a little sceptic, but on the other hand I hoped the album would be as good as the first one. Like before I gave the album several spins and it has been like that many days in a row, even in my car and each time it put a smile on my face, but also – I dare admit – made me shed some tears. Simply because the band managed to create another masterpiece that will surely (!) find a place in my Best Of 2011 list. I can add words like magnificant, splendid, wonderful, excellent, but I’d rather end with a few quotes (I found on the Web) to describe the beauty of this creation called “Soulless Child”:
“Its language is a language which the soul alone understands, but which the soul can never translate.” ~Arnold Bennett
“Music is the art which is most nigh to tears and memory.” ~Oscar Wilde
“Music expresses feeling and thought, without language; it was below and before speech, and it is above and beyond all words.” ~Robert G. Ingersoll
- Struggle For Life
- To The Master Of Darkness
- Gates Of Noland
- Broken Illusion
- All That Is True
- Valiant Ride
- Dinanzi Al Flagello
- Soulless Child
- Through My Veins
- Hope Dies Last
Sara Squadrani – vocals
Fabio Balducci – guitar
Claudio Pietronik – guitar
Daniele Mazza – keyboards
Martino Garattoni – bass
Federico Gatti – drums