Trick Or Treat
Rabbits’ Hill Pt.2
The Italian quintet are back, after a rather long six year break in between the first part of this long-running saga. Of course, it probably wouldn’t been quite so long-running if they had been able to follow it up on schedule. Sometimes life intervenes, but I don’t feel that I’m the only one who thought Rabbits’ Hill Pt.1 (2012) was going to be a never-ending cliffhanger. Suffice it to say, for a band birthed in both parody and Helloween worship (they were at one time a Helloween tribute act) with such an interesting and unexpected debut as Evil Needs Candy Too, (2006 – seriously, go listen to that) these guys have always been on their game. Scores on Metal Archives for their previous records are pretty solid, some of them even reaching into the nineties. That just goes to show you that these Italian power metal jokesters, are indeed no joke. I won’t mince words when I say here that I thought Rabbits’ Hill Pt.2 was one of the finest pieces of power metal that I’ve heard in recent memory, the kind of record that you know is worth reviewing and promoting from the very first time you listen to it. Power metal fans just know what good power metal sounds like, and despite the silly little album cover (I believe it shows some sort of burning demon rabbit) this disc might be one that you’ll hold onto for just as long a time as they took making it. Good things come to those who wait.
There is something of importance in regard to lineup changes here, and it involves a major part of the band (sorry bassists, but you seldom matter!) in longtime guitarist Luca Cabri. Other than his work in Dumper he’s known for being one of the two main guitarists of Trick Or Treat, so his departure could be a huge reason as to why this record took much longer than expected to finish. In his place we have Luca Venturelli (Mad Maze) and I promise that there’s no kind of weird joke going on here in the fact that both men share the same first name. At least, I don’t think so. In any case, I don’t really hear a problem in this lineup change, as Venturelli proves that he also commands the same level of bright, fluffy harmonies that have made this band (as well as acts like Helloween, Edguy, and Gamma Ray) as memorable as they’ve been since the debut. Let’s also not forget that other than this slight exchange, you’re still getting the same formula you did with the sister album. That means that Guido Benedetti (Guitar), Leone Villani Conti (Bass), Luca Setti (Drums) and frontman Alessandro Conti are still working together to bring about as memorable a performance as the aforementioned, making this record a worthy listen throughout.
That being noted, you’re in for a bit of a surprise with this one as there’s definitely not a set theme for the disc and it can go from hard-hitting power metal opera (Cloudrider) to acoustic folk (Togethere Again) to full-on power ballad (Never Say Goodbye) without a moment’s notice. Even the album’s opener “Inle’ (The Black Rabbit Of Death)” features some unexpected death metal growls, which aren’t so common on traditional power metal albums. But Trick Or Treat haven’t really ever been considered something of a traditional power metal act either. Regardless of this, don’t think that you aren’t getting a power metal album, as that’s still very much what this is. It doesn’t matter as to what what strange tangets these guys go off to for a few minutes, as the core of the material is hugely power metal at it’s base. It just isn’t completely set to a certain structure and is allowed some necessary breathing room. Things are even allowed to take a bit of a rough-edged turn when “They Must Die” comes into place with Tim “Ripper” Owens on guest vocals. Ripper’s always been one of my personal favorite vocalists (and Jugulator still stands as one of my favorite Priest albums) with his performance here certainly not a waste, as I would’ve expected. Also appearing on the record is Tony Kakko (Sonata Arctica) who features on a very A Night At The Opera-era Blind Guardian influenced cut by the name of “United.” That one’s going to be a real treat for people who fell in love with that particular album and it comes across to me as a sort of tribute, despite the fact that it also caught me completely off-guard. The style of the piece is different from some of the material that you’ll hear at the beginning, but as I’ve noted, Rabbits’ Hill Pt.2 is the kind of album that does that. There’s no real constant with this one, so don’t expect it. Lastly we have Sara Squadrani (Ancient Bards) who appears on “Never Say Goodbye” the album’s power-ballad as it were; and unfortunately a rather sleepy moment for me. I don’t know what it is with these kinds of power ballads lately, but I’ve had a tough time getting into them. It is quite deep and passionate though, so I am quite sure that listeners will find something in it.
Aside from a few shorter moments, there are mainly eight tracks on the disc that span over the five minute mark. As you would expect with these cuts, there are spaces for the sound to expand far beyond the verse/chorus structure, which will give fans not only a good helping of guitar solos from time to time, but also some brainier progressive sections which can only further help a band of this nature. Towards the very end of the disc we actually get a cut by the name of “The Showdown” which seems to run a little over eleven minutes in length. Guaranteed, this is the kind of finale that fans have been waiting for, with instrumental prowess abound. It’s more or less that “grand epic” where the band pull out all the stops in order to bring out the kind of performance that you hope might be replicated on the stage (if you’re fortunate enough to go see these guys live, that is.) But if you just can’t wait for that, the guys decided to throw in a short (but notable) instrumental piece called “Beware The Train.” It seems to mix the best of guitar noodling in with Dream Theater-ish prog, which works to show us what these guys are really capable of in a non-vocal sense. That’s not to take away from Conti’s vocal abilties on the album, but it’s nice to hear a band that can musically deliver just as well as the frontman can vocally deliver. So we’re not only getting a fantastic vocal performance from a seasoned professional, we’re also getting well-structured songs that aren’t all about flash and pomp. It’s very easy to write a song, but to write a hugely fleshed out piece of music, a little more time and effort is necessary. Thankfully, Trick Or Treat fans are getting several of those kinds of musical pieces here, on a record that I can only say was more than worth the wait. After having given this one a fine period of observation, I can assure you that there’s far more treat than trick on this recording, flaming bunny artwork aside. (The Grim Lord)