If you’ve ever wondered what Rhapsody of Fire would sound like if they ditched Fabio Lione in favour of a female singer then you need look no further than Italy’s Ancient Bards. The young symphonic power metal crew share many similarities with their longer running countrymen, such as the epic symphonic nature of their power metal that isn’t without its neoclassical touches and a fondness for the multi album concept, but they have a female singer, Sara Squadrani. Of course there are other differences in the sounds of the two bands, but there are enough parallels that I can’t help but draw some sort of comparison between them.
2011’s Soulless Child is the group’s second album, a conceptual piece that continues the story began in the band’s 2010 debut, The Alliance of the Kings. The aforementioned album impressed me greatly last year and I’ve been quite eager for its continuation ever since. What I find here though is a slightly different Ancient Bards. While The Alliance of the Kings was undoubtedly a symphonic power metal album through and through, Soulless Child is a symphonic power metal album crossed with actual symphonic metal. That is to say that metal can be symphonic without actually being pure symphonic metal, something which is rarer than you may think. Here we have symphonic power metal yes, but it also meets the definition of pure symphonic metal in many places. The symphonic keyboards often take a more dominate role, and the classical influences are unmistakeable. These classical influences also manifest as neoclassical guitar leads. This is still best described as a power metal release in my opinion, but symphonic metal wouldn’t be wrong either.
Unlike with many of the female fronted symphonic metal acts however, Sara Squadrani isn’t an operatic vocalist. Her vocals are, for want of a better description, more metal orientated than singers such as Tarja Turunen (ex-Nightwish) or Sharon den Adel (Within Temptation), although she is still very melodic and powerful. It would still be easy to lump Ancient Bards into the same crowd as acts like Nightwish, especially as of this album which does have some qualities that brings to mind Nightwish’s early output, and also some moments, particularly the choirs, where I think of Epica, but ultimately this wouldn’t be fair, as Ancient Bards is worlds apart in the wider scheme of things. They’re a lot heavier for a start, with their extremely fast power metal riffs propelling the music along with Daniele Mazza’s keyboards which gives the music an epic yet intense sound.
At first I wasn’t as fond of Soulless Child as I was of The Alliance of the Kings, but as is often the way of things I’ve grown to appreciate the album as a work of true genius. There is never a power loss throughout the album and every single track (excluding the intro piece Struggle for Life and the interlude Dinanzi Al Flagello) has many claims to being the very beast the album has to offer. The ones that really do it for me though are Gates of Noland and Hope Dies Last, a fourteen minute thirty beast of a track which is easily the band’s crowning achievement to date. Power metal does not get more epic than this and it’s most definitely refreshing on the symphonic metal front for the singer to be belting out the lyrics in true passionate rock style rather than operatic warbling.
On the track Through my Veins the band delivers a duet between Squadrani and guest vocalist Gianmaria Vannoni (Dawn Under Eclipse). Being from a melodic death metal/metalcore act, Vannoni brings harsh vocals into the mix, which at first I did feel were unneeded, but like with the rest of Soulless Child I grew to appreciate the track a whole lot by the time I came to write this review. Soulless Child has in fact quite successfully cracked my top 5 albums of 2011, and I heard a lot of releases from the year now, including more albums I’d grade as masterpieces than any other year I know of. And do you know what the icing on the cake is? The album sounds even more epic when listening to it back to back with The Alliance of the Kings. I can’t wait to hear what this band does next!
(Originally written for Heavy Metal Haven, scored at 9.8/10)