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Rhapsody Of Fire

Sinds de release van hun debuut 'Legendary Tales', maar vooral sinds de tweede plaat 'Symphony Of Enchanted Lands' in 1998, is het alleen maar goed gegaan met de Italiaanse Rhapsody. De orkestrale, symfonische en soundtrackachtige geluiden gecombineerd met snelle power metal en fantasieverhalen viel bij velen in de smaak en maakte de band al gauw een van de belangrijkste bands van de afgelopen jaren. Onlangs kwam men met de, inmiddels zevende ('Rain Of A Thousand Flames' meegerekend), studio album 'Triumph Or Agony'. Het album staat weer vol met alle kenmerken die Rhapsody zo herkenbaar maken en is weer een plaat die de harten van velen zal veroveren. Toetsenist en medecomposer Alex Staropoli belt mij om elf uur op een vrijdag avond om tekst en uitleg te geven over de laatste ontwikkelingen rond zijn band. Ondanks het late tijdstip neemt Alex de tijd om alle vragen rustig zo volledig mogelijk te beantwoorden.

Door: Nima | Archiveer onder heavy / power metal

I think by now most fans know that the band has changed their name from Rhapsody to Rhapsody Of Fire. This decision didn't make everyone happy and the official statement of the record company about trademark and copyrights issues didn't give enough satisfaction.

Alex, what can you tell us about the addition of “Of Fire” to the name Rhapsody? Didn't you think it was a bit strange that after almost ten years you had to deal with trademark and copyright issues?
Yes, it was very strange and we were also surprised by it. But believe me, we did everything we could to keep the name Rhapsody, but unfortunately there was no solution to achieve that. However, we consider ourselves lucky that we could keep “Rhapsody” in our name if we added something, and that's what we did.

Although not everyone was happy about that.
I understand that some might think that it sounds “cheesy”. But it wasn't a decision we made instantly. We took our time to think things over. We had to find something that fit to our music and came up with Rhapsody Of Fire. The addition “Of Fire” represents the energy of the band. It represents the theatrical approach along with the metal side of the band. We are very proud of the fact that we can release this energy.

band imageAs you know there have been many terms used to describe the music of Rhapsody. How would you personally want to describe the music?
Film score metal. These three words describe everything that Rhapsody stands for.

Let's talk about the new album 'Triumph Or Agony'. Like before the music has many different layers, which won't reach the ears after just one listening turn. Do you think the people will take enough time to let the album reveal itself?
I really don't think that it would be a problem, especially if you compare it to 'Symphony Of Enchanted Lands II'. The orchestra is very present on this album and the sound is deeper, but the last album was less easy listening because it has even more layers and it's less accessible. The new songs are shorter for our standards and it's easier to listen to the individual songs. Of course we have this long song 'The Mystic Prophecy Of The Demon Knight', but we've put it at the end of the album. So I think that 'Triumph And Agony' would be easier to discover.

You've also chosen for slower and a more mid-tempo approach. Of course there are fast parts on the album, but in it's whole the album is slower and we don't see fast songs like 'Unholy Warcry' or 'Holy Thunderforce'.
That's something we did with connection to the live shows. Mid-tempo songs are better to represent live. The very fast songs that you mentioned are great to play, but the problem is that it's harder to get a good sound for these kinds of tracks on stage. So choosing for the epic and theatrical approach with slower songs is something we did with consideration. I understand that some people may be disappointed, but no matter what you do there is always someone going to be disappointed. Some people want to hear faster songs whilst others prefer slower ones. Some want us to experiment more and others want to hear the same thing over and over. We can't write our music the way that people want. Luca (Turilli, guitar player – Nima) and I always write the songs, so we are the first ones who have to like them and we do what feels good at that moment. First we have to think that we're doing something special and then our fans have to decide if it's also special for them.

Has the writing process changed over the years? If you look at 'Legendary Tales' and compare it to 'Triumph Or Agony', is there a different approach?
Not at all! It still takes us a few months to write songs haha. Luca and I get together and compare our basic ideas and we have to keep the story in mind at the same time. We start with the story and choose the feeling that goes with particular parts of the storyline. After composing Luca starts with the lyrics and again we're a few months further. Although we do have a different approach nowadays; we can work with orchestra's, which is hard to compose and takes a lot of time. But basically we let the songs come to be without thinking too much about them.

And after all these years you and Luca should perfectly know what to expect from each other. Although Luca seems to be a very busy man…
Well yes, Luca is very busy. But Rhapsody is the main priority in our lives and nothing that we do should be to the cost of Rhapsody. We have a solid line-up now and we all know from each other that Rhapsody is the main thing for us. I have to say that it feels real good to be on the same track as a band, musically but also on a personal level. But we also think it's important to do our own things as well and to have our solo projects etcetera.

And in how far do you think you have achieved your goals and dreams since you started with the band?
I think we are very fortunate that we have the ability to release our albums and do our music the way we like it and we have a great support from the label. Both SPV and Magic Circle Music are a great support and believe in us. Of course in the beginning we had LMP behind us, who really loved our music and gave us their full support. Although we changed from labels a while ago, we are very grateful for Limb for their belief and support. And now things are going even better for us and we're very satisfied with what we have achieved so far. Being able to work with orchestras and someone like Christopher Lee is a dream come true for both Luca and me.

For the sleepyheads among us: in 2004 actor Christopher Lee (the original Dracula and the white wizard Saruman from the movie The Lord Of The Rings) made his magnificent and enchanting voice available for the album 'The Dark Secret' and sang a duet with Fabio Lione on 'The Magic Of The Wizard's Dream'.
Christopher Lee is indeed again present on the album, although his role is a bit smaller. Didn't he insist on singing another song or become a full member?
Hahaha, no! The point is that he believes in us and I must add that he's not doing this for the money. He's an artist and he's really enthusiastic about this and does it all for the sake of the art. He really wants to be part of the Rhapsody Of Fire concept and that is something we're really proud of. It was simply a great experience working with him. He is of course very talented and he also proved his abilities as a singer on. It was wonderful to see him sing with Fabio and the video was great.

The plan was to have Christopher Lee on stage last year during Earthshakerfest in Germany, to do his contribution live as well and also sing 'The Magic Of The Wizard's Dream' and to be on stage with Manowar, who were headlining the festival, for the songs 'Defender' and 'Dark Avenger'. But the fans were in for a surprise once mister Lee himself announced on a screen that he was making a movie at that moment and couldn't be present. Needless to say that it was a disappointment for lots of fans.
Including myself. I was really looking forward to be on stage with him. But what can I say? His heart lies in movies and he had this opportunity for a new film, which he took. I understand it of course. I hope and I think it would happen someday in the future. As I said, he believes in us and he likes us and wants to be part of the project. So we have good hope in it.

But this time he wasn't the only actor on the album.
That's correct. We used different actors for some dialogues of the story and the scenes we had in mind. We were very proud to have some talented actors doing this and also very proud to be able work with Susannah York from the original superman movies and Christina Lee (Christopher Lee's daughter, who makes her debut with her part as the character of Princess Lothen – Nima). They all have done great jobs for the different characters of the story. It was a very complex thing to create this but we're very happy about the result. It has become exactly the scenes we had in mind, the only thing missing are the images.

band imageThe concept for the Rhapsody albums can also be seen as a movie in the mind and the new album has a great soundtrack feeling. I can imagine that both soundtracks and movies have a great influence on the music. The heroic movie 'Conan The Barbarian' and especially it's soundtrack should have been of great influence.
Of course! The soundtrack for 'Conan The Barbarian' is simply fantastic. But a movie is far more than that. The soundtrack is usually stimulation for the visuals. Look at a movie like 'Aliens', which doesn't have a great soundtrack but a great input. 'Conan' is a great movie, but a movie like 'The Lord Of The Rings' represents more of reality. There is so much detail in the visuals that everything seems natural. I mean here in Italy we also have the great Alps and beautiful landscapes like in that movie. That view is also what Luca and I have in mind when we write our music. That movie also represents everything that Luca has in mind in connection to the music. LOTR was also a worldwide success based on a fantasy story. It really amazed me that so many people showed so much interest for fantasy.

How would you like to make a movie of the Rhapsody-story and of course do the soundtrack for it?
Hahaha, that would be something really great to experience, but also very expensive. So we need some people who are willing to put money in a thing like this. And of course the soundtrack would be a great experience as well. I think it should be something really fascinating. But you know, we have a dvd coming up soon and it would be really great to have a movie about the saga. But we also want it to be perfect, and again it will cost a lot of money.

Speaking of dvd's; during Earthshakerfest last year I saw several camera's recording the show. Can we expect some of that footage in the future?
Well, it was a whole new situation with the new management and everything and the whole thing was very exiting for us. We got this chance to do it and of course we used that chance to record the show. But for the dvd we have lots of material and we have done some great shows, including the show in Montreal, which is also on the cd (the live album 'Live In Canada' – Nima). We have much to choose from.

Let's go back to the new album. This time you used a fifty-piece BRNO Academy Choir and the sixty-piece Bohuslav Martinu Orchestra, which have done a tremendous job and are a great addition to the songs. Do you think you can manage to perform live with them as well?
Oh that would be great. But it's impossible to do that for a whole tour. But we would definitely want to do some live shows with an orchestra and a choir. Maybe in the future we can do a special show and arrange something for this to happen and of course put it on dvd so that all our fans can see it.

But wouldn't the absence of the choir and the orchestra would damage the songs while performing them live?
No, I don't think so. Of course we work with samples during the shows so that the people won't have to miss the energy that the orchestra gives to our music. I also think that the typical Rhapsody-sound that we have on cd is more powerful on stage. 'Live In Canada' is the proof of that. We haven't added anything in the studio and the album is exactly as we played it that night.

Can you already tell us what we can expect during the next tour?
Of course we will again have our stage decorations and everything and of course the flames, explosions and the whole theatrical thing will be there. We hope to have the screen again of course. Although sometimes it should be a bit distractive because the crowd would pay more attention to the screen than the music, but if we have the chance again we will definitely do it.

And how does it make you feel as a musician to be part of a full tour with a band like Manowar?
It's simply great and I think this tour is a powerful package with both Manowar and Rhapsody Of Fire. I was and still am a great fan of Manowar and it's so exciting to be able to do this. And of course we're working together now (Joey DeMaio of Manowar manages Rhapsody Of Fire – Nima), which is simply wonderful.

Speaking of which, when Fabio left Vision Divine, the rumours were that it was because Rhapsody's new management didn't want the members to do anything outside Rhapsody.
Alex sounds very surprised and answers very seriously: Oh that's completely untrue. I don't know how these rumours begin but I have to say that it's completely nonsense. I know it, because I was there and witnessed the whole situation. The fact that Fabio left Vision Divine had nothing to do with Joey or with us. We even encouraged Fabio to sing in other bands, because we know how hard it is for a singer not being able to write anything in his own bands. I mean, Luca and I always write all the music, that's how our policy has been since the beginning. And we have a great admiration and respect for Fabio for singing the tunes someone else has written and especially singing someone else's lyrics. So we encouraged him to do his own music as well to be able to use his creativity. But the fact that he left Vision Divine was because he wasn't really happy in that band. Of course he's a friend of Olaf, but in general that band wasn't that strong and didn't have a common vision, you know?

Ok, thank you for clearing that up.
Yes, it's important that this is clear, because Fabio is a fantastic singer and a great guy. And he's totally free to do what he wants.

Something totally different then: from some Italian friends I've heard the rumour that nowadays every pub in Italy has Rhapsody in their music collection.
Hahaha, really? Wow, that's something new, but it would be great. I hope the rumours are true hahaha.

And your opinion about Italy's unnameable band (or as they like to call it in Italy: “Innominabili”) Death SS?
Oh, hahaha, there's always much talking about them indeed, but I don't care about that superstitious stuff they say about them. I actually don't have any contact with other Italian bands. Not because I'm not interested, but because we simply didn't really have the chance for it.

Speaking of side projects and other bands: we already talked about Fabio and Alex (Holzwarth – drummer) did some work with Tobias Sammeth's Avantasia and Luca is of course the master in doing different things. Do you have any plans to do something besides Rhapsody Of Fire?
Well, I am composing some songs for my solo album. It's still in progress and not grown enough to say much about it. All I can say that it would be a band and not my own thing or something. I'm actually writing the songs together with my brother and of course he will be part of the band. Something else is that it would be more heavy metal and less orchestral than Rhapsody. I'm one hundred percent satisfied with what I can do in Rhapsody, so I don't have the urge to do more theatrical stuff for my own album. I may be a keyboard player, but I also love heavy guitars. I used to listen to many bands of course in the 80's and the 90's. Bands like Manwar, Ozzy Osbourne, King Diamond and Yngwie Malmsteen, but I also like older rock like Rainbow very much. I have no idea when the album will be finished, but I have good hope. Who knows, maybe end of 2007.

… and the clock is almost striking midnight and for both Alex and myself it has been a long day…
Anything you would like to add?
Of course, we're really looking forward to go back on the road because it's our priority to play more live and become a better live band. I don't know if you're planning to go to one of the shows on the upcoming tour…?

Although I'm still waiting for some Dutch tour dates to be confirmed, I have already planned for the gig in Dortmund – Germany.
Oh, that's great. Well then, thank you for your support and hopefully see you all on tour.

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