Metal-CD-Review: ANCIENT BARDS – Soulless Child (2011)

Country: Italia – Style: Epic Symphonic Power Metal (Rhapsody Of Fire, Dragonland)

1. Struggle For Life
2. To The Master Of Darkness
3. Gates Of Noland
4. Broken Illusion
5. All That Is True
6. Valiant Ride
7. Dinanzi Al Flagello
8. Soulless Child
9. Through My Veins
10. Hope Dies Last

Foreword: Well, who are bands like Nightwish or Visions Of Atlantis anyway ? All those people who call themselves true Symphonic Power Metal fans should only remember one name, and that is… Ancient Bards ! Of course, this has been dramatically spoken – there is nothing too bad to say about Nightwish Or VOA either. But there is one problem: they get all the attention, while a great band from Italy remains rather unknown. Internationally spoken, but certainly even more here in Germany !

But why is that ? Just like within many other but more ‚famous‘ metal bands, Ancient Bards have a female lead singer. A woman, that does not have to hide behind the abilities of her ‚concurrents‘. It rather is the opposite – by listening closely one will soon figure out that she rather manages to outshine them in many ways. And this is mainly referring to her smooth and beautiful voice, that can not be sorted into the opera-like segment of female singers at all. Well, personally I like great female artists that go into a more ‚classical‘ direction, like Tarja Turunen, too – but I just cannot listen to them all the time. Somehow there is a time limit, or let us call it ‚pleasure limit‘ to them – sooner or later the music reaches a turning point when the pleasure converts into annoyance (deliberately speaking exaggerative here).

I do not have to say that this is not the case when it comes to the music of ‚our‘ mighty Ancient Bards. Especially the new release, Soulless Child, can now be found in my players almost every day. So let us take a closer look to find out the reasons for this occurrence. This review will once again contain some words about every single track on the album – just how I did it with Dragonland’s new album; in which case the review was called helpful.

Review: Well, who has not experienced a Struggle For Life yet ? Lucky you. This 2-minute track acts as the intro the a great and timeless saga, now announced by the glorious Ancient Bards. A bombastic instrumental arrangement starts to sound through the speakers, a sound that will most possibly remind you of a good fantasy movie. This impression is underlined by the performance of a moody female narrator here, that will smoothly build up an epic transition to the following opener. Most definitely, the intro does not sound too clumsy at all (like it unfortunately is the case among many other Fantasy / Symphonic Metal bands). In this case only a full rating can be announced – 10/10 for the remarkable epicness and the fitting preparation for the things to come.

Speaking of the opener, it now comes along in full density, in form of the mighty To The Master Of Darkness. Hell, what a track ! Some of you might already know it, since the band produced a video for it, releasing it a few weeks earlier than the album. It is somehow hard to find the right words here, since it is just like this: it is a masterpiece, an unique and timeless piece of music. And I thought that this impression had become rare on the totally over flooded metal-market nowadays – but this band manages to re-animate this certain feeling of excitement, letting gentle shivers creep down your back. The sound of these Ancient Bards is just idolatrously epic ! And so well composed: the song’s structure offers a wide variety of up’s and downs, changes in mood and speed, highlights and calm phases – just to be topped with an outstanding refrain, a female lead singer with ambitions and some nice solo-parts towards the end. What about the guitar and keyboard solos here – I rarely heard something that epic and well-played. There can not be another choice – 10/10 for this fascinating and mind-blowing opener !

What follows now is Gates Of Noland – a strong, fantasy-orientated piece full of melody and epic arrangements. And again: what an instrumental, what a nice and perfectly fitting voice on this one ! Also, the lyrics are nicely worked out. The whole thing gets a bit more emotional here, especially in the singing passages. The refrain reminds me of the good old days of Rhapsody Of Fire, with only one difference: Ancient Bards don’t use too folkish instruments, they rather go for expressing everything they have to ’say‘ with full power and the backup of some great orchestral elements here. The overall sound and impression can only be referred to as bloody epic. Once again, only a 10/10-song rating seems to be suitable here.

Then we have Broken Illusion, a song that once more starts in full instrumental density. Have I actually referred to Rhapsody Of Fire in the last passage ? Well, then I have to do it again, since this one reminds me even more of the good old days of the Italian band. More precisely, of the glorious days of the first Symphony Of Enchanted lands, which is a timeless masterpiece until today. Indeed, a more classical approach can be noticed; expressed with some nice instrumental passages. But Ancient Bards are definitely not copying anything, they are rather preparing the Fantasy metal stage for the next generation. 10/10 – you expected something else ?

All That Is True is the following piece, a track that could be referred to as a ballad. Could – but by now we should know that these Ancient Bards have some surprises up their sleeves. Since you can not expect to hear a ‚typical‘ ballad here – it is just the whole mood, that seems to be more ‚calm‘ in this one, with loads of changes and alternations. A little less speed, fewer orchestral arrangements; but some nice and atmospheric instrumental passages instead. They still sound unnaturally epic on this one – especially in the later-on passages with less speed and strong, almost Doom-like acoustic samples and riffs. A truly impressive piece of music that is, although I feel like it is not as strong as the tracks before; so I would ‚only‘ go for a 9/10-rating here. How… dramatic !

What would now fit better into this musical context than a pure, strong hymn ? That’s right, Valiant Ride can be described as such. A truly catchy instrumental passage will let you think of another strong hit here, but when the refrain comes all expectations are once again to be exceeded. And, if that is not even enough – another fantastic solo passage (guitar, keyboard & bass) is presented. Also very fitting: the discreet male voices that can be heard every now and then. Another masterpiece, without a doubt… 10/10.

And, what is this… Dinanzi Al Flagello is the upcoming interlude, which is sung in Italian. And furthermore, in a very classical orientated manner. What a nice surprise, and of course: diversion ! There is nothing to complain about the melodious or technical aspects, either… 10/10.

I have almost nothing to say about the title-track Soulless Child, since it can become difficult to invent new terms for the band – terms that are still suitable, but not including the word ‚epic‘ at all. Let us just go with marvelous here, then – here we have another 9-minute-track that directly hits the Symphonic Metal target. As opposed to the earlier 9-minute-track this one doesn’t contain any ballad-like or love-themed aspects; so I tend to like it more – and I guess you will, too. Some great instrumental passages are rounded up with an impressive use of some glorious Symphonic elements, just like we fans like and love it. What, it has already been 9 minutes ? This track is so powerful the time will literally fly. 10/10 for this epic (ha, used it again) title-track that will cast a smile on your face.

Two tracks left – of which Through My Veins is one. At last, Ancient Bards do include some rather harsh elements in this one. By contrast to the charming voice of the lead singer, we can hear some aggressively presented lyrics on this one – while everything else stays the same. Well, not really… this piece sounds even more ‚opera-like‘ like the others, it presents a dark and mystic saga. Or should I call it ‚demonic‘ ? With some male vocals also being served now, Ancient Bards can now completely outshine similar bands like Visions Of Atlantis or Nightwish. Forever, and evermore. 9/10 for this one.

For the grandé finale we have a more than fitting track called Hope Dies Last. It starts off sounding like presenting the musical score to a march of the doomed, angry and determined. But soon the mood changes, a more ballad-like side of the song blossoms. It is a strong track, without a doubt; but do not expect to hear something too ’new‘ here. The band presented all of their factual skills in the 9 tracks before – so it is hard to top that. According to my personal taste, I would have fovourised a rather ‚typical‘ outro here – or, at least a track # 11 that would have contained such.

Conclusion: Ancient Bards are re-defining the overall Symphonic Fantasy / Power metal genre. They do not forget about the past, bringing some typical (and beloved) metal-elements into their sound; but they also take the whole thing to the next level. This conclusion seems only natural, experiencing the bombastic epicness and the fresh sound of Soulless Child. Thumbs up for the great female singer, too – this lady knows what she’s doing, what a great talent ! She manages to garnish every single song with her own enjoyable personal note, without ever getting too importunate. And I thought that Dragonland delivered the best Symphonic Metal album of 2011, with their latest release Under The Grey Banner – well, maybe that is still true, but they found some top-class competitors in Ancient Bards. Good thing that both Under The Grey Banner and Soulless Child are remarkably outstanding albums, that one could listen to in parallel – they are not ‚the same‘ at all, and offer enough variety. Hell, who said that the Symphonic Power Metal genre is dead… ? These two bands will lead the way into a very promising future.


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