"The Dark Secret – Live In Canada 2005"

(Magic Circle/SPV)

01. The Dark Secret
02. Unholy Warcry
03. Wisdom of the Kings
04. The Village of Dwarves
05. Erian's Musical Rhymes
06. Dawn of Victory
07. Lamento Eroico
08. Nightfall On the Grey Mountains
09. The March of the Swordmaster
10. Emerald Sword
11. Gran Finale

RATING: 8/10

Utterly ridiculous long before it was even remotely cool, Italian "film score metal" overachievers RHAPSODY have cultivated a slavishly devoted following around the world over a decade-plus of pomp and circumstance. They've also racked up just as many detractors who find their theatrics grossly excessive and their wizards-and-elves spiel to be corny and clichéd.

If you're one of the latter, just stop reading now, because there's certainly nothing on "The Dark Secret" to convince you RHAPSODY is cool. Half of what you hear is on backing tapes. Solos are twiddly exercises in hyperspeed, keyboards are lush and overblown, pre-recorded vocal choirs and symphonies rain down from Valhalla, and even the voice of Christopher Lee is piped in (reportedly, only a scheduling conflict kept the 83-year-old actor and fan from appearing in person to introduce the band), just to make sure the whole thing is drenched in more faux-epic Hollywood grandeur than the set of "Ben-Hur".

And you know what? The theatre full of Quebecois faithful losing their collective shit on this recording obviously don't care one whit. Opening for labelmates and executive producers MANOWAR (who else?) in a rare North American appearance, RHAPSODY are all about pleasing the fans here – singer Fabio Lione causing paroxysms of joy when he addresses the crowd in French, for example. Ditto for the obligatory drum solo, the end-of-show singalong for "Emerald Sword", and really, every other second of this too-brief romp through the band's biggest box office smashes.

The sound quality is great — how could it not be, since half of it was straight from the studio to begin with? That said, guitar team Luca Turilli and Dominique Leurquin do some impressive precision shredding, and Lione is in fine voice throughout. The song selection, though bound to disappoint some, is about as comprehensive as you can get in an hour, and you'll have to be a pretty staunch RHAPSODY-hater not to gradually start headbanging and waving imaginary goblets of mead in the air in time to the over-the-top strains of "Unholy Warcry", "Dawn of Victory", and the thirteen-minute sprawl of "Erian's Mystical Rhymes".

Since it's so close in quality to a studio album as to not make much difference, "The Dark Secret – Live In Canada" would make a fine introduction to RHAPSODY neophytes. And for the faithful, of course, the question is not whether to buy, but how many different worldwide versions to collect, and in what jewel-encrusted display case to show off said plunder to all mere mortals who enter thy abode. Watch for the limited edition first pressing with the bonus DVD, don thy frilly shirt, and tell those pesky upstarts in DRAGONFORCE to take a number — RHAPSODY's first live album is a power to be reckoned with. Buy it, love it, and hope for your wallet's sake they don't get as enamored of releasing live shit as MANOWAR is…


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