Part 2? What the hell happened to part 1? I was sure Ancient Bards’ previous album was called “A New Dawn Ending” back in 2014. Further investigation shows that this is actually a continuation of the story from their debut back in 2010…which unfortunately I haven’t heard so I begin the album with the feeling of someone arriving at the cinema halfway through the film (“excuse me…sorry…excuse me…just trying to get to my seat there…sorry, was that your foot…I’ll just sit down…sorry…etc etc”).
Luckily the album starts with a bit of a narrated recap type thing so no worries there and musically it is a further continuation of the band’s classic Symphonic Power Metal style of their last album. Musically it is also undeniably of the Italian Symphonic Power Metal pedigree. Incorporating all the bombast, pomp and prowess of none other than Rhapsody themselves, Ancient Bards are unashamedly and proudly continuing their homeland’s Symphonic Metal traditions. I say ‘Rhapsody’ without any of their added ‘Of Fire’ type latter and off-shoot monikers because initially, when really going for it, Ancient Bards remind me much more of the band’s earlier works, so full of energy and flamboyance. But there is more to the band than mere Rhapsody wannabes.
Yes, Ancient Bards can totally emulate Rhapsody, however as fans of Ancient Bards will already know, their variations in Symphonic style coupled with the excellent vocals of Sara Squadrani set them aside from many other Italian Symphonic Metal bands, allying themselves with Seven Kingdoms or Unleash The Archers, as well as having moments of Hexed, Pythia or even Epica and Delain – due mainly to a very welcome less operatic vocal delivery and that aforementioned willingness to embrace more of the Symphonic Metal palette. By the way, for anyone who might vaguely know Sara Squadrani’s name – she sang the character of “Girl” on Ayreon’s “The Theory Of Everything”. Delving deeper into the songs themselves there is much to whet the appetite of any Symphonic Metal fan, whichever sub-style they favour. For instance, although the ballad ‘Light’ is a little too sweet and Disney for my personal taste, they follow it ‘Oscurita’ which is a bit of a gem with a great main riff, driving rhythms, catchy hooks and even a splash of well executed harsh vocals for extra drama (a style repeated occasionally elsewhere on the album with similar impact).
If you are a cynical, ageing Symphonic Power Metal fan who has heard 20 years of albums in this style and remembers Rhapsody’s debut being released like it was only yesterday, it’s easy to give this album a quick listen and think you’ve heard it all before. Although that may possibly be true to some elements of the album, it’s certainly not for the majority (This is the Black Crystal Sword Saga remember, nothing to do with any Emerald Sword Sagas…). Taking the time to really let the album flow is rewarding and shows that this is a very forward thinking band who although proficient at emulating the past, they also have an eye on the future – as some parts of the epic 15 minute closing track ‘The Great Divide’ are further evidence of. As a band it’s very shrewd not to back yourselves into a musical corner. This is a hugely enjoyable album, expertly crafted and arranged with personality and class, showing Ancient Bards are continuing to grow and mature very well indeed.
(7.5/10 Andy Barker)