Challenge The Wind

rating icon 8 / 10

Track listing:

01. Challenge The Wind
02. Whispers Of Doom
03. The Bloody Pariah
04. Vanquished By Shadows
05. Kreel's Magic Staff
06. Diamond Claws
07. Black Wizard
08. A Brave New Hope
09. Holy Downfall
10. Mastered By The Dark

However we choose to slice it, RHAPSODY OF FIRE are power metal heavyweights. Alongside the likes of BLIND GUARDIAN and ANGRA, the Italians have been a consistent benchmark for excellence in all departments, and a great advert for the progressive mindset that has made their records such a reliable source of top-tier bombast. Keyboard maestro Alex Staropoli has steered the ship through nearly 30 years and some undeniably choppy waters, but they return in 2024 sounding as ferocious and insanely creative as ever. "Challenge The Wind" may not contain a lot of startling surprises, but when it comes to extravagant, technically dazzling melodic metal, RHAPSODY OF FIRE have never sounded more focused or insistent.

The opening title track is all the evidence required to prove that Staropoli's men are not here to fuck around. A spinning kaleidoscope of refined power metal tropes, it scorches along with electric energy, full of melodic agility but pinpoint brutal and hammered home with virtuoso finesse. Similarly, "Whispers Of Doom" is a thunderous fulfilling of expectations, albeit played with an effortless ferocity that elevates this stuff every time; and "The Bloody Pariah" is a wonderfully elegant but firmly traditional melodic banger, with dizzying solos from Roberto De Micheli and vast quantities of stacked-up choral vocals and gothic keyboard textures.

Fittingly, for a band that have built their reputation on gargantuan flights of fancy, "Challenge The Wind" reaches an apex of audacity and charm on the 17-minute "Vanquished By Shadows". Even by the band's usual, absurdly ambitious standards, it is an epic to savor; with multiple, deft changes of pace and mood, a wonderfully disorientating mid-section, several moments of fists-in-the-air, folk metal splendor and a monumental, instrumental descent that erupts into choral majesty and a final, classic power metal sprint to the finish. "Vanquished By Shadows" is stunning and, in truth, slightly overshadows the rest of the album. Fortunately, RHAPSODY OF FIRE have more than one trick up their sleeves, and songs like "Diamond Claws" and "Black Wizard" are simply more succinct expressions of the same creative madness, with more overt hooks emerging from the impossibly lavish, quasi-orchestral arrangements and Olympic standard, six-string showboating.

Another self-evident high point, "Holy Downfall" is a feast of theatrical opulence and malevolent intrigue, with a soul-stirring chorus that will have fans of epic heavy metal weeping into their gilded flagons. The closing "Mastered By The Dark" is ominous and unsettling, but triumphantly over-the-top too: as the layers of vocals pile up, RHAPSODY OF FIRE come close to being guilty of information overload, and yet they are such masters of their chosen form that everything falls into place. "Challenge The Wind" is another immaculate show of strength from one of power metal's most revered institutions. Sometimes, too much is just enough.

Author: Dom Lawson
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