Rhapsody Of Fire from the ice age

They’re probably the only ones who take themselves seriously, and Alex Staropoli laments that fact. However, he does understand that the style and imagery of Rhapsody Of Fire can make people smile.

Reduced to silence for four years because of legal issues with Joe De Maio, Rhapsody Of Fire is back with a new album, The Frozen Tears Of An Angel, that the bands deems «sharper», even «darker». For Rhapsody Of Fire, «darker» manifests itself, in terms of artwork, by a slightly less bright blue than usual. Musically speaking, «darker» is debatable ; it is true, however, that the album goes back to the roots, with more discreet orchestrations and faster tempos.

How did the band take their absence from the media ? How did they go about writing this new chapter ? What’s the future of the band ? Did Luca Turilli finally read The Lord Of The Rings, which he says influences him a lot ? But above all, in retrospect, how do they look at the band’s awful first videos ?

So many questions that Alex Staropoli answered with the thickest Italian accent on earth.

«We still have a few more albums to do with this saga, but nobody’s forcing us to start a new one.»
Let’s start with a question that everyone wants to ask: since Triumph Or Agony, RHAPSODY OF FIRE stayed out of the spotlight and was almost forgotten. Could you tell us what you were up to during these four years and about the legal issues you had?

Alex Staropoli (Keyboards) : Yes, it’s usually the first question! We used one year to compose this new album, and that’s the most important thing. We also took some time to relax a little, but we wanted to come back as soon as possible, so we started to compose the new album quickly. That’s all I can say regarding this dark period. I know you would like to know more, but we can’t really tell. We’re not allowed to talk about the legal issues.

Did you experience any consequences or damages because of your absence in the media?

We will see that after the release of the new album! The last show we did was in May 2007, and in three years, many things can change. Some bands release an album, do a tour and then almost disappear, because they really want to get focused on the new material. Three years is a long period, but it’s not that long. When we were not allowed to make official statement, we always tried to be in contact with the fans, so they knew that we were here. We wanted to let them know we were alive and wanted to come back as soon as possible. Our fans are so special; they believe in the band, and I hope they will be excited by the new album.

Bands like SYMPHONY X tend to leave a lot a space between their albums and they tour very little. As a result, despite being a driving force in progressive metal, they lack media success and they have lower album sales compared to other bands in the same genre. How can a band avoid being forgotten while also taking the time to compose?

Everyone chooses the way they want to work. Personally, I really like SYMPHONY X. I saw them live and even met them more than once. They play fantastic music, and when you make such great music, you just can’t write one album after the other. You really need time to develop great music. For me, it’s important to release an album, go on tour, and then do another album after a year and a half, two years at most. That’s what we want to do with RHAPSODY OF FIRE from now on. Before that it wasn’t possible, because we had issues all the time and we couldn’t bring our plans to an end. The tours were also not as big as we wanted them. We really need to come back and play in France. It’s important for a band like RHAPSODY OF FIRE to play in big cities on a regular basis, in order not to lose the interest of the audience.

But since you take a long time to compose your albums, how do you manage to keep the attention of the fans during all those years?

In the end, it’s not really possible. If you want to stay at home to compose and concentrate, go to a studio and mix an album, you need time. I think it’s a natural process. I want to hear new stuff from my favourite artists too, but they don’t make a new album every year, so I have to wait! I love a band called ALTER BRIDGE, but they don’t release a new album every year – same thing with VAN HALEN. Sometimes it takes time for musicians to deliver what they want.

The Frozen Tears Of An Angel will be released on 30th April in Europe and on 29th June in the US! Why such a gap between the dates?

It’s an interesting question, which I can’t answer right now! This is typical: we’ve always had different release dates between Europe and the US – and even Japan, sometimes. I don’t really know why that is.

«We used to compose songs that were very difficult to play on stage, especially on the first albums ; sometimes we had to give up on them on stage.»
The band said this album was one of the darkest in their career. However, the album does not sound much different from the previous albums, despite the extreme metal elements (blasts, guttural vocals…). How is this album darker than the others? It is because of the lyrics?

The music for this album was composed to represent a chapter of the saga situated in a very cold, icy land. We’re very proud that we managed to make music that totally reflects the saga, but also the graphical aspect of the booklet. There’s something different from every other RHAPSODY OF FIRE album. We wanted every song to have a cold atmosphere. We love to use acoustic guitars and lots of effects to create this special atmosphere, which makes the listener understand that the story takes place in a cold region. I really love this new album because of this element. We used to play very epic and happy songs like « Emerald Sword », and most of our choruses feature major keys and were therefore very positive. On this album, for the first time, we have lots of songs that start with guitar riffs, which is something I totally love and which Luca did in a fantastic way. There’s lots of guitars, less orchestration but more keyboard. It’s still RHAPSODY OF FIRE, but it’s very different from the other albums.

Each of RHAPSODY’s albums seem to have a similar structure: they start with an intro, followed by some speed tracks, one folk track, a ballad and an epic track at the end. Is this how you plan your work beforehand?

Yes, this is the way we like to work. We usually plan the songs based on the titles that Luca comes up with to follow the saga. It’s important for a band like us to deliver different kinds of songs. We love to start an album with an intro, because we can also use it on stage. Every tour we make to support an album has a different intro. It’s what we like to do. We’re capable of making different songs, either melodic or very rough and aggressive, and in Italian or in English. There’s a great variety of style, and there are not many bands who do that. Our passion for music makes us deliver different styles, even if sometimes we like to follow our own cliché!

Does the music composed influence the overall scenario or is it the scenario that defines the musical orientation?

Usually it’s the scenario of the saga that influences the music. When Luca wrote the basics of the saga, we knew we had to create music that would fit. When we start to compose, he comes with titles for the chapters of the saga, and we create the music accordingly. For this last album, the experience we’ve gathered on stage was essential. We used to compose songs that were very difficult to play on stage, especially on the first albums; sometimes we had to give up on them on stage. When we’d gathered more experience, we started to compose songs that would be more effective and easier to play on stage.

That’s a very unusual way to compose. Most bands compose the music first and think about the lyrics later. Are you telling me that you do the opposite?

No, it all stars from the titles. Luca has ten or twelve titles, and we get inspiration from them. When the song is done, I do the orchestra arrangements and Luca writes the lyrics.

When the saga comes to an end, will RHAPSODY OF FIRE continue to exist and release more albums? Can RHAPSODY exist without the concept that it is tied to?

Yes, I think so. We still have a few more albums to do with this saga, but nobody’s forcing us to start a new one. We could always release stand-alone albums, or something inspired by a particular genre. We will see what we can do in the future, we’ll probably take different directions.

Triumph Or Agony seemed to be an evolution because of its slower tempos and its songs that sounded more like movie soundtracks than rock songs. On the other hand, the new album goes back to RHAPSODY’s original structure, with a lot of double bass and speedy songs. Why such a turnaround?

It’s great that you’re saying this, because it’s exactly what we wanted! With Triumph Or Agony, we wanted to have mid-tempo songs. It gives a different feeling to play these songs on stage: because they’re slower, you have more time to develop them. When you play very fast songs, you don’t really have the time to hear anything. The double bass sounds like a earthquake. With slower songs, the sound is clearer. For Triumph Or Agony, we needed something more mid-tempo, more progressive, with more orchestra. For this one, we wanted heavy guitars, big riffs, something more recognizable, if you see what I mean.

More “back to the roots”?

Yes, exactly.

«We don’t make music to show what we’re capable of. We make music with the innocence of children.»
Is this a way to show what the first albums would have been with the means you have now – like the orchestra and the big production?

Of course, an album like The Frozen Tears Of An Angel represents a goal we always had in mind. Every RHAPSODY OF FIRE album is different, because sometimes we used the orchestra, and sometimes not. On the first albums we only had keyboards, and a few cellos and violins. For this one, we wanted to have the full orchestra, but at the same we wanted to be very metal. We don’t make music to show what we’re capable of. We make music with the innocence of children. We don’t sit down to plan what emotions we should convey in the music. We plan our tours, we plan our recording sessions, but when we compose music, we cannot plan every note. We like to keep the door open for the emotions.

You mentioned that the songs from Triumph Or Agony are more simple to play live. The songs on the new album are very, very fast. Do you think you will be able to play them live?

Yes, of course. As I said before, these songs were composed knowing that we would have to play them on stage. Actually, we could play the entire album on stage, which was not really possible with the previous RHAPSODY OF FIRE albums. It would only have been possible with the support of samples, because playing everything live would have been too much. We are going to use samples as well for this tour, because we like to have the narration, for example. But these songs are easier to play, that’s for sure. And they’re also more effective. It will be a big challenge for Luca and Dominique to play all these songs, because there’s lots of guitars, but I’m sure it will be fine.

I guess you have thought of playing some concerts with an orchestra before?

Yes, of course. Everybody’s asking this, and we’ve thought about it many times. The only problem is that it’s very expensive. We always thought that one day, we would make a very special show, with a big orchestra and choir, but it hasn’t happened yet. We hope we’ll be able to make this big gift to our fans in the future.


«Because of the covers, people thought we were not serious. »
The Lord Of The Rings is your most important influence, Luca Turilli did not read the book of Tolkien. Can you tell us if he read it recently ?

No, I don’t think so!

Hardcore Tolkien fans would consider that as heresy!

Yes, I understand this! Reading a book is a different experience for everyone. I’m sure the books are fantastic, but your imagination also plays a big part in the magic. It’s different from seating in a theater and watching the movie. But even if Luca hasn’t read the book, he can put a lot of emotion in the story.

Given the size of the RHAPSODY saga, have you ever thought of making a movie adaptation? With Christopher Lee perhaps?

It’s a dream, but I have no idea if it will ever come true. The only problem is the budget. For such a project as this, you cannot make something cheap. If you’re going to have someone like Christopher Lee, you need to make something spectacular. New technologies can support the movie director’s visions, but it costs a lot of money.

Before starting his own metal project, Charlemagne, Christopher Lee made a guest appearance on this album and on the previous one. Do you think that his work with RHAPSODY is what gave him the idea for his project?

Maybe. I have no idea, but it’s probable. Christopher Lee is a very special man. He loves opera and classical music, but he also likes RHAPSODY. He narrated one of our albums and he likes our music. It was easier for him to start such a project.

The Italian metal scene is paradoxical. Even though it is rarely spoken about, the occasional band that manages to make it (such as LACUNA COIL and yourselves) have amazing success. How would you explain this?

I would explain this very easily. It doesn’t matter if a band is Italian or from another country. If musicians make music because they love it, if they’re good at their instruments and if they make the right choices, they deserve to be successful. Even if they don’t really do my type of music, the members of LACUNA COIL are great musicians and compose good songs. In the end, the most important thing is to make good songs; that’s what the audience wants. Everyone wants to get emotions from the songs they listen to. I take your question as a compliment, but there are other Italian bands that are good at what they’re doing. When Luca and I started making music, we composed knowing we were no one. Our goal was to found an Italian metal band, and to be the first Italian heavy metal band to become successful. Being Italian was not very positive, because no Italian band had known success before. It was a double challenge for us. We sold 70,000 copies of our first album in three months. It was a dream. Being Italian and being successful in the metal world in very important to us.

Your first music videos are often mocked because they are considered cheap and kitsch. How do you feel about these videos?

I feel bad! Please don’t ask this kind of questions! More seriously, this is a black spot in our career. When you have such a huge production and such a great music, you have to support them with fantastic videos. Again, this is very expensive. For our first two albums, Legendary Tales and Symphony Of Enchanted Lands, Luca and I had to pay for the production we wanted with our own money. We spent a fortune for this, and everybody said we were crazy, but in the end the album was very successful. But after that, we couldn’t afford a video that would look like a movie. We’re very happy to be with Nuclear Blast now. Look at NIGHTWISH: they do great music, and when they make a video, it does look like a movie. It’s fantastic for a band: they have great albums, great songs, and when you watch their videos, you’re amazed. This is what we like with Nuclear Blast. We hope we’ll be able to do the same in the future.

Last question: do you know the band NANOWAR?

They’re from Italy, right?

Yeah. It is a parody band of MANOWAR, MAIDEN, METALLICA and RHAPSODY. They have followed your band closely and even named themselves NANOWAR OF STEEL when you changed your name to RHAPSODY OF FIRE. Since you have the reputation of using the word “of” in your songs, NANOWAR did a song called “Power of The Power of The Power of The Power of The Power of The Great Sword”! Joking aside, MANOWAR and RHAPSODY’s kitsch imagery is obvious, so how do you feel about people who make a mockery of it?

This is your last question, but it’s the best one, because it gives me the chance to explain something. I can understand the mockery. People are not laughing at our music, they’re laughing at our booklets. They always see it as a comical thing. We always tried to do something serious, but in the end, because of the covers, people thought we were not serious. For the first time, for this album, we have a cover artwork that looks totally serious and professional. It could be the poster for a movie. With this new album, we wanted to underline that both the music and the graphical aspect are serious. This is what we really want from now on. We want to forget this comic style, because it was never understood the way we wanted it. Now we’re using digital graphics, and they will give a different image to RHAPSODY. It’s something that we’ll also apply on stage.

Interview conducted by phone on mars 2010, 29th.

Website of RHAPSODY OF FIRE : www.myspace.com/rhapsodyoffireband

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