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Ancient Bards - Soulless Child
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Written by Allyson Kenning   
Monday, 16 January 2012
Ancient Bards CD Review
Soulless Child
Ancient Bards - Soulless Child

CD Info
Limb Music
10 Tracks
English with some Italian Lyrics


There is so much great metal coming out of Italy these days it’s not even funny. We all know about Lacuna Coil, of course, but 2011 saw debuts of other potential powerhouse bands like Dama and Crysalys burst onto the scene with impressive albums. In 2010, an epic metal band called Ancient Bards, hailing from Rimini on Italy’s north east coast, released their first full-length CD, The Alliance of Kings (TAOK), which garnered them a modicum of success that brought the sextet enough attention to tour with the likes of Korpiklaani and Eluveitie. In November of 2011, their follow-up to TAOK, Soulless Child, was released in Europe. It’s gotten a lot of positive attention, making many Top Ten of 2011 lists and scoring another point for what is quickly becoming Italy’s next best export after pasta.

Upon first listening to Soulless Child, there is an awful lot to digest. It’s a bit overwhelming. It is actually the continuation the story started in TAOK called The Black Crystal Sword Saga, and involves a Lord of the Rings-worthy cast of characters, including a dragon, an evil sorcerer, a bunch of kings, a woman named Shena, and a pile of other people. There is also a sort of narrator called the Storyteller, who keeps things in context. The story and lyrics were written by keyboardist Daniele Mazza, who has masterminded quite a complex plot that is primarily sung by Sara Squadrani.

No doubt the reason for my feelings of being overwhelmed when listening to Soulless Child for the first time had to do with the strong sense of in medias res I got because I hadn’t listened to TAOK, so I was unfamiliar with the concept and the characters. After the intro, "Struggle for Life", where someone is apparently dying, the second song takes the listener to a clash between a black dragon and a knight named Daltor, who is trying to tame the dragon. He doesn’t have his sword but he has a secret knife stashed in his boot! Lacking the key context of the plot no doubt provided by TAOK, when characters like Shena, Alron, Rahed, "the Group", the four kings, and various other men and women appear, I started to feel like a deer caught in some fast approaching headlights.

So when listening to this album I have some advice: read the lyrics as you listen so you can understand what’s going on; the lyrics provide a very important road map through this world and they let you know what character is saying what, which is critical.

Musically, Soulless Child, is excellent: polished, containing excellent orchestrations and use of choirs, heavy, bombastic, and very epic. Like, very epic. Many of the songs are epics in and of themselves. Two clock in at over 7 minutes (one, "To the Master of Darkness" has an official video clip where the song is shortened somewhat), 2 more measure over 9 minutes, and the grand finale is 14:30 long. All of the songs are distinctive and have their own atmospheres, thanks in part to a lot of excellent symphonic elements that heighten tension where needed and provide mood cues the way music does in a movie or on a TV show.

And who doesn’t love the old double bass drums? Soulless Child doesn’t skimp on that, nor is it chintzy with awesome guitar solos. Almost every song has one or more, and they are all pretty epic, too.

Frequent bursts of speed and tempo changes through most of the songs make Soulless Child one hell of a rollick through this fantastical realm. The writing of the material for it must have been an enormous undertaking because the story is obviously very well thought out, has a beginning, middle and end, and at the end of the final track, "Hope Dies Last," the writer leaves room for future installments of the saga. In fact, he kind of leaves us with a cliff-hanger! What cheek!

I can see why this album is making such a splash and why it’s ended up on so many top ten lists. There aren’t a lot of weaknesses in it at all. It’s tight, it’s well-executed, it even has an intermission half-way through, the 1:30-long "Dinanzi Al Flagello", which I appreciated because there is so much to process in the first half of the album. That was good thinking on Daniele’s part!

Now all I have to do is go back and listen concertedly to TAOK so I can fully appreciate what Soulless Child is all about.

8.5 / 10

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