Bugger concept albums, this lot are a concept band.
Although you're probably more familiar with them as simply Rhapsody, which was their name before (allegedly) copyright provisions forced them to tack "of Fire" on to the end, probably to do with the Rhapsody music download service, (but the band have never said) formed in 1995, and are a currently five piece power metal group from Trieste, in Italy, and are considered to have pioneered a whole new sound in said genre. Needless to say, I've found very few bands who are quite as good as they are in their form of overblown SCA-related silliness.
Their concept? Well, it's sort of wandering about Italy in big shirts trying to get laid. That, and something involving said big shirts, leather pants, swords, monsters, heroic warriors, battles, victory, adventure, dungeons, danger, death, derring-do, and, most of all, dragons. Seriously, almost every album they've ever put out features a dragon somewhere in its artwork, with one exception. In short, Rhapsody of Fire produce music by geeks, for geeks.
Their members? The core of the band consists of the mulletheaded Luca Turilli on guitars, the rather nervous-looking Alessandro Staropoli on keyboards, and the curly-haired vocalist Fabio Lione who, according to a mate of mine, is "so devoid of charisma it's almost unreal" but according to one English girl I met at Wacken Open Air in 2006, is "sex on legs." The remainder of the band is mildly fluid, currently consisting of Alex Holzwarth on drums and Patrice Guers on bass, but it's Luca, Alex, and Fabio who write most of the stuff. Mainly Luca actually, who also has a solo side project named Luca Turilli after himself, and another side project called Luca Turilli's Dreamquest. As an aside, it just goes to show how enormous your ego is when you have not one but two bands named after you, and Luca's ego is almost on a par with Dani Filth's, but that's not exactly important here.
And their sound? Well, imagine the most overblown film score you can think of, with, on later releases at least, a full 70-piece orchestra, Christopher Lee doing narrative parts (yes, that Christopher Lee, who starred in endless Dracula-related Hammer Films and as Saruman in the Lord of the Rings films), masses of opportunities for Luca to noodle his guitars and play blistering solos for fun, and lyrics which include the phrase, "mighty warrior," at least once per album. Not to mention that they subscribe to the school of huge, singalong choruses, the most memorable of which include "From the silent hills we scream aloud your name, mighty power of the dragonflame," "Under the rain of a thousand flames we face the real pain, falling in vain", and, of course, "MIGHTY WARRIOR! For the legend ride again!" but I think you probably saw that one coming. Rhapsody of Fire are also not averse to, erm, lifting, passages from classical pieces, notably Dvorak's "New World Symphony," which they used in their 2001 song "The Wizard's Last Rhymes."
So, at this point you're more than likely thinking, "what a bunch of pretentious idiots." Well, you're entirely right. Log onto their website and click the "gallery" link and you will sooner or lated be presented with the band in big, frilly black shirts and leather pants and broadswords all posing for fun and profit. Their videos, which you can dig up on YouTube if you're interested, feature gratuitous swordplay, images of mountains hoving majestically into view, close-ups of Luca and Alex's finger work on guitar and keyboard respectively during solos, Fabio belting out the lyrics, and, on one memorable occasion, a troll reading out a book before it actually gets going properly. Not to mention the bit where Alex and a rather tasty blonde engage in a turn-based magical duel (yes, seriously. You half expect numbers to fly out their heads Nintendo-style.) And that's not to mention the storyline. But, despite all this pretention, and fret wanking, and songs called things like "The Mighty Ride of the Firelord" and "The Mystical Prophecy of the Demon Knight," it somehow all comes together, mainly because of the band's outstanding musicianship and songwriting skills. Their seven (at last count) album long storyline, which is a pulp fantasy tale concerning a nice, wisely-ruled, standard-issue fantasy kingdom called Algalord threatened by various malign entities of colossal evil and the efforts of various Bold Adventurers to rid the land of these menaces, would be as nothing but for the music. The band once mentioned that they saw their works as the soundtrack to films as yet unmade; this is the best description I can give you of their whole schtick, really. They're pretentious, but in a cool way, not a whiny, adenoidal, pseudo-intellectual way.
Of course, there are several bands which are just as silly as these Italians. And yes, they're all good in their own right, and yes, in all those cases, their silliness fits with their music. And yes, this silliness gets all these bands - Rhapsody of Fire included - criticised for their offbeat tendencies. Rhapsody, for instance, are often derided for being too "upbeat" and "happy" in their works. I too, when I first acquired an album of theirs, could not keep a straight face when the narrative passages kicked in with a stoic "Yes, mighty warrior, what you see now are the sufferings of all those who crossed these lands before you." But at the same time, it's pure escapism, wrapped up in a delightful, epic soundscape ranging from blistering headbangers like "Emerald Sword" and "Rain of a Thousand Flames", through bombastic singalong jobbies like "Silent Dream" and "Triumph for My Magic Steel", to quiet, melancholy ballads, often in Italian. No incisive social commentary here, and all the better for it in my view; it wouldn't fit.
However, I fear that Rhapsody's fire is soon to burn out, their two most recent works have seen a move away from overblown symphonic power metal and more towards orchestral scores. Their latest album, "Triumph or Agony," has a full half of its tracks as ballads. Granted, one of the non-ballad tracks is sixteen minutes long, but all the same, it's a bit of a disappointment. Furthermore, some reviewers, notably in Internet circles, have panned them and noticed that there are several bands now who are doing the same thing as Rhapsody, but better, such as Dark Moor and the absurdly named Fairyland (yes, Fairyland. Apparently they and Leaves' Eyes are supporting Kamelot on the European tour in April, to which I plan to get tickets, so more on them later.) Even Luca Turilli's two side projects are, according to some, overshadowing his main work. Whether this will come to pass remains to be seen, but all the same, these Johnny Come Latelys had best remember who started the whole show. All I hope is that they come to France or to Britain in the foreseeable future, and that their next work is slightly less based on Fabio showing off his voice and ability to arrange an orchestra.
To sum up, do I recommend them? Absofuckinglutely. Even if metal isn't your cup of tea necessarily, and even if you think belting out songs about demons, dragons, warriors, and heroic quests is cheesier than an Emmental-tasting convention, they're still worth a go. Go on. Buy at least one of their albums. You know you want to. Before the week is out, you'll be fighting the urge to belt out the chorus to "Holy Thunderforce!" whenever alone, drunk, or both:
"So we'll fight against the wind for the glory of the Kings
To defeat the evil enemies
And we'll ride with our lord for the power and the throne
in the name of Holy Thunderforce!"
Discography, excluding singles and compilations:
Legendary Tales, full length, 1997
Symphony of Enchanted Lands, full length, 1998
Dawn of Victory, full length, 2000
Rain of a Thousand Flames, EP*, 2001
Power of the Dragonflame, full length, 2002
The Dark Secret, EP, 2004
Symphony of Enchanted Lands II, full length, 2004
Triumph or Agony, full length, 2006
The Frozen Tears of Angels, full length, 2010
The Cold Embrace of Fear, EP, 2010
From Chaos to Eternity, full length, 2011
* = This is an EP, but it's only two minutes shorter than their first full length album, so...