When I was fifteen, my friend had me watch a video about people who could spin pens in their hands in really cool ways. It was interesting enough, but it’s not what caught my attention.
The soundtrack did. Whoever made the video had included a song called “Dawn of Victory” by the Italian power metal band Rhapsody. (Later Rhapsody of Fire, then a split between Rhapsody of Fire and Luca Turilli’s Rhapsody. It’s all very complicated and dramatic. Like the music. I’m just going to call the whole bunch Rhapsody.)
The song was sweeping and epic but compressed through some pre-YouTube era video hosting site. Enough to intrigue me, but a lot was lost.
Later on I went to the store to pick up one of their albums. I didn’t know exactly what I was looking for but I found one called “Rain of a Thousand Flames.” The cover showed an army of demons retreating from a castle while literal fireballs rained down around them.
Being the little nerdling that I was, I bought it. On the drive home I listened to it. From the first moments of the first song–powerfully chanted Latin over explosive metal punches–I was transfixed. Literally. The car, the road, the other passengers disappeared (luckily I wasn’t the one driving). I don’t think I was aware of the outside world for the rest of the song. Have you ever been emotionally wrecked by a song? It’s exhausting and exhilarating.
Don’t get me wrong, this was cheese metal at its finest. But these guys were all classically trained musicians. The guitarist? A classical guitarist. The keyboardist? A composer. The singer (whose name is actually Fabio)? Powerful operatic vocals. Cheese metal, sure. But damn sophisticated cheese metal. Hell, the last song on the album, “The Wizard’s Last Rhymes,” is a metal amalgamation of Antonín Dvořák’s New World Symphony.
I’d never heard anything like it. Up until this point, I’d poured all my teenage anger and angst into the far inferior genres of hardcore and metalcore. But here was beauty! Here was real art! And it was all packaged within something so delightfully nerdy. Every song was a story about magic, elves, dwarves, and demons. It was The Hobbit in musical form. It was aural adventure taken flight on the wings of dragons.
Yes, it was crude fantasy, closer to Dragonlance than Tolkien. (That’s no shade on Dragonlance. We all need some fun, simple adventure every once in a while and don’t let anyone tell you different.) But dammit, it was magical.
Rhapsody didn’t invent symphonic power metal but they near perfected it. And they’ve given rise to a number of worthy successors. Dragonland. Twilight Force. Pathfinder. The estimable Alestorm and Gloryhammer. If you want a little more bite, Turisas, Trollfest, Finntroll, Eluveitie. The list goes on. These are just a few brief highlights off the top of my head. (This is to say nothing of the classics like Helloween or Stratovarius.)
There’s a real relationship between rock/metal and fantasy. Led Zeppelin wrote a number of songs inspired by Tolkien. Blind Guardian did an entire album themed after The Silmarillion. On Nightwish’s Endless Forms Most Beautiful they have a song called “Edema Ruh.” The viking death metal band Amon Amarth is named after the Sindarin term for Orodruin, or Mount Doom. The list goes on. And on. And on.
So why aren’t you listening to this stuff? If you love fantasy, why not enjoy fantasy of the auditory variety? It’s fun, it’s exciting, and it’s depth of artistry will surprise you.