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This live album makes me angry. Very angry. But it's not because of any lack of quality, or even because "it could be so much better." What makes me angry is that I was supposed to see Blind Guardian on this tour, playing at this level of awesomeness, and then their tour bus broke down and they couldn't come to San Francisco. Cock. Sucking. Mother. Fuckers. I apologize for the rant, but hopefully my anger will help you understand that this album is really good.
Because it is. Live is on a level with Live After Death, Alive in Athens, Unleashed In the East, and all those other claimants to the throne of "TEH BESTEST LVIE ALBAM EVAH!!!!11" This is modern power metal at its absolute peak, with the silly orchestral elements kept to a bare minimum and the speed, talent, and glorious, glorious power shining through. The four band members (plus guest bassist Oliver Holzwarth and occasional drummer Alex Holzwarth) are at a musical peak, and the crowd is loud and energetic without being overwhelming. And as mentioned, the keyboardist thankfully does not do much beside add background effects.
The setlist is generally very well chosen, and the adaptation of the songs to a live setting shows that under the requisite modern-power aura of synthed-out cheese, Blind Guardian has some really fucking well-written and heavy songs. The only low point on Disc One is "Nightfall;" besides, at the third song, being too early in the set for a ballad, this song is just generally kind of boring and doesn't translate well to a live setting. Disc Two's lame track is "Punishment Divine," which is a cheesy, overly orchestrated, badly arranged song on the studio album and is a cheesy, under-riffed, badly arranged song here. They don't have "And Then There Was Silence" (or at least part of it), "Another Holy War" or "Thorn." And that's where the complaints end.
The first disc is probably the better one, simply for the inclusion of two of Blind Guardian's best songs, "Majesty" and "The Script For My Requiem." Brilliant speed metal in both cases, "Majesty" shines more on this disc because of the band's impressive gains in playing ability since Batallions of Fear. Hansi's voice is the most notable difference - his extremely extended range brings this song to new heights of epicness. And that intro riff is easily one of the five or ten greatest intro riffs ever. "Script" is nearly as good, played up-tempo with great vocal acrobatics throughout (especially around 3:20).
Besides those two, the first disc also spotlights requisite opener "Into the Storm," ballad "Harvest of Sorrow" (much better sung live than studio), a fast-paced nod to the old school in "Valhalla" (with excellent crowd participation), and the utterly masterful "Mordred's Song," which shows how just a minor vocal change (the way Hansi sings "Turn off the light, and murder the dawn") can improve the feel of a whole song.
The second disc makes a case for itself with "Time Stands Still (At the Iron Hill)," which is the best track from Nightfall In Middle-Earth and simply CRUSHES on this disc. You hear that chugging riffage? That is the sound of several thousand elves completely getting their asses handed to them by the Hordes of Darkness. Epic beyond epic. "Mirror Mirror" kicks ass, of course, and "Journey Through the Dark" is a course in Kickass Speed Metal 101. It should be noted that the lead guitar throughout this whole album is excellent, playing all kinds of swank melodies and shredding solos.
What else rocks? EVERYTHING. Well, notably the emotionally sung and lead-heavy "Bright Eyes," complete with creepy sex-criminal intro from Mr. Kursch ("I would like to see....all your shiny...bright eyes..."); "Under the Ice" is revealed as really quite good under all that pretentious orchestral turd-dom on A Night At the Opera; "The Bard's Song" is performed with the kind of crowd participation that makes you feel like you're right there in the middle of it and start singing along on the bus. And the rest rocks too.
Excellent, excellent live album - power metal the way God intended it to be played when, on the 666th day, He invented the art of Heavy Fucking Metal. Sonata Arctica, Rhapsody, Freedom Call, take notes - no string sections, 78-tracked vocals, or references to Fairyland are necessary to make good music. And Blind Guardian, you guys take notes too and look at them when you record your next studio album. Stick to the basics - power metal. Good, old-school power metal like this. Because it simply kicks ass.