Sneakily, but steadily Ancient Bards have grown on me from just another Rhapsody “cover” band – from Italy even – to a serious contender to be the legitimate successors to the genre-establishing warriors who are a bare shadow of their former glory these days, at least the contemporary of Fire incarnation with only one birthing member left. I don’t mean to run down symphonic power metal masterpieces like AB‘s first record, The Alliance Of The Kings, but the borrowing of Rhapsody style was a bit too blatant to lift the album and its sequels beyond the cliche of “just another (albeit great) power metal record”. Okay, you know me, I am happy with a record that sounds a hundred percent like Symphony Of Enchanted Lands, and that’s all I need to be happy, so I embrace every endeavour to emulate the feelings of said record in today’s times; but I am equally happy when a band can take their own spin to the recipe and establish a unique style. In a way, Ancient Bards have been doing this since the beginning with the employment of Sara Squadrani’s amazing vocals, whose light, yet powerful voice perfectly suits the romantic (from romanticism) side of Italian symphonic power metal and adds a welcome relief from the average male power metal voice.
Despite the symphonic intro “Origine” being longer than 2 minutes and serving all of the stereotypes surrounding power metal – narration, orchestra, epic fantasy story – as coined by the band I named too often already in this review, the whole of Origine (the album) takes on a wholly unexpected turn from the Bards‘ usual style. It’s been five years since A New Dawn Ending, a record which even featured mighty Fabio Lione on one of the tracks. This time did not pass by our Bards without a sign, and Origine turned out much more mature thanks to what I am guessing is more time put into the songwriting.
Of course, it is literally impossible not to follow up a 2-minute Dawn Of Victory style opening with a symphonic power metal track like it’s 1999, and “Impious Dystopia” fills this role with great joy, double kick drums abound, a huge chorus and even bigger choirs. Now, I’d be fine with every track on Origine sounding like this, just like Ancient Bards‘ previous records it would make Origine already one of my favourite power metal records this year because I love the genre, but this time around the Italians decide on some more intricate, might I say progressive songwriting. No, not to the level of what Luca Turilli pulled off with his version of you know which band twice in recent years, which didn’t go over all too well with the compositions drowning in complexity and extent, but more of a subtle part of a pendulum swing, a dash of spice.
And that is what makes Origine stand out from Ancient Bard‘s discography and the symphonic power metal genre, the band abandons more or less generic pieces in favour of fresh ideas and exceptional rhythms. This makes the album slightly difficult on a first approach, but once it opens itself up to the listener, the experience is all the more joyful. “Aureum Legacy” combines the gentle side of a ballad with the majestic magnitude of a power metal chorus, which may seem underwhelming at first, but after a few spins turns into a real earworm. As I mentioned, Sara Squadrani and her outstanding, variable voice plays a huge part in the Bards‘ compositions, and on Origine she sounds better than ever. In terms of power, her voice is similar to Floor Jansen’s, currently of Nightwish, focusing mostly on the classic higher pitch power metal singing without much ado, unlike a very operatic and complex voice like Tarja Turunen. Thanks to that variety in Sara’s voice, the tracks of Origine are able to convey much more feeling than the average power metal track, as songs like “Aureum Legacy” and especially the 14-minute epic “The Great Divide” prove. From lower to higher registers, Squadrani’s voice always soars above the music as a guiding line and conductor of power.
Origine is exactly what I’d expect a mature power metal record to sound like: it delivers feeling and emotion through delicate songwriting and the beauty of the story and nature, but doesn’t fail to keep the listener interested for a long time. With the slightly increased intricacy of the compositions compared to previous Ancient Bards albums, the approach is more difficult, but all the more rewarding. Objectively, this is the Italians best record and they set a high bar for any competitors of the power metal scene; I can’t imagine many other bands able to clear that bar for now, maybe Turilli and Lione will do just that though this year with their epic reunion. Until then, Ancient Bards are, even if not one of the most famous bands of the symphonic metal genre, one of the best.