A New Dawn Ending (2014) is the third full-length album by Italian symphonic power metal act Ancient Bards. It is also the third part of their series of conceptual albums known as The Black Crystal Sword Saga (by keyboardist Daniele Mazza) that began with The Alliance of the Kings (2010). A New Dawn Ending is the final chapter of the first part of the story. It's been three years since the release of the second chapter, Soulless Child (2011), which given the relatively short time between the first two albums was a surprise to me, and makes A New Dawn Ending quite the anticipated release. In that time though Ancient Bards released the two track split Prelude to Awakening with Japanese band Serenity in Murder, contributing the song Across This Life, which reappears on A New Dawn Ending in an updated form. The band's vocalist Sara Squadrani then appeared as one of the cast of Arjen Anthony Lucassen's latest Ayreon metal/rock opera The Theory of Everything (2013). I'm sure that such a high profile guest appearance will have brought and still be bringing about some extra and much deserved interest in Ancient Bards. On a less positive note the band lost one of their guitarists, Fabio Balducci, after the recording of the album and are currently proceeding as a five piece act.
To those who are already familiar with the work of Ancient Bards the direction of the music on A New Dawn Ending will come as no surprise. This is epic symphonic power metal done in true Italian style. Ancient Bards also throw in a few progressive touches to their music as usual, such as a bass solo in A Greater Purpose. Compared to the two previous albums the symphonic elements are grander and more epic than ever, but as if to compensate the power metal elements feel a little restrained, as if a bit of the energy that was demonstrated on the last two albums is missing. The album is still of quite a high quality, definitely above the standards of the genre, delivered with strong musicianship and passion, but I can't shake the feeling that Ancient Bards have made a few stylistic choices that have caused the album to fall short of their own standards, which I consider to be higher than the average for symphonic power metal release. There are of course many quality songs on the album, but it's only really a few of them such as A Greater Purpose or Across This Life that feel up to the standard of what was, in my view, a masterpiece predecessor.
But don't get me wrong because A New Dawn Ending is certainly a great release. It's definitely not everything I had hoped it would be and I'd be lying if I said I wasn't a little bit disappointed, but there is still a lot more to be positive about than there is to complain about. In fact were this an album by any new act on the scene and not the new release of Ancient Bards there would be nothing to complain about at all. That's double standards right there and I admit it, but that's also what happens when an act produces such high quality music on their earlier works.
There are two epics on the album, namely Showdown and the title track, both of which are worth mentions even though the band did the epic length format better in Hope Dies Last from Soulless Child. Showdown is easily the better of the two though as I don't feel that the title track is the dramatic closing epic of this final chapter of the first part of The Black Crystal Sword Saga that it deserved. Not that I really listen to Ancient Bards' music for the story they tell but it would have been nice to say that they closed this chapter with a real bang.
Ancient Bards have also got Fabio Lione of Rhapsody of Fire (among others) to duet with Sara Squadrani on the track The Last Resort. I (and many others) have always considered Ancient Bards to have plenty in common with Rhapsody of Fire beyond both bands belong to the Italian symphonic power metal scene, so it's definitely interesting to hear the vocalists of both bands team up. While it's not one of the highlights of the album it's definitely a great song and another selling point for the release.
I was really hoping that A New Dawn Ending would prove to be one of those albums that needs a few listens to grow on me. Ancient Bards actually set a precedent for that with me, as at first I thought Soulless Child was weaker than The Alliance of the Kings, only to change my mind after I got to know the album better. That's happened to a point this time around but I still have to say that I consider A New Dawn Ending to be the weakest of the three Ancient Bards albums to date. Still, despite that a 4.5 star rating is appropriate, so it's testament to how great this band is that even their weakest release can obtain such a high score.
(Originally written for Heavy Metal Haven: http://metaltube.freeforums.org/ancient-bards-a-new-dawn-ending-t3496.html)