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You might be thinking: is this a worthy-of-buying release? And the answer is: "maybe".
The main point is, what are you? An ancient fan of Blind Guardian's magic Tolkien-like tales with a speedy power metal soundtrack? Or are you just starting to navigate into the tempestuous and powerful waters of the band?
If the answer is the first one, then my friend, this thing is a total wreck. Not worthy of any kind of examination at all. Nothing here is better than what you can find in the lps. Not even the remixed songs, because there are some remixes here, overcomes or are good enough to replace the elder versions. In fact, the originals have a magic touch, a taste of the old days when magic and mixing still were something of a craftsman. Now, doing this kind of power metal is easy as the conventions of the style were already met and sound engineers are most of them clever enough to put the right mix, so in that context and even with the mistakes, if any, in the older versions, they are better than the ones here. So, if you are an ancient fan of the Guardian, here we got no more than metal detritus, things we know, we already have and nothing more, nothing new.
But if you are a newcomer and you are witnessing the power of Blind Guardian for the first time, this thing will probably make you fall in love with the band in the blink of an eye. It contains virtually all the hit songs, the fans-popular songs of the band, each and every one of them. Those 30 pieces are the tastiest sample of what you will get if you dare to enter deeper into BG's universe. If you're fan of Tolkien, the thing will be even faster. And that's it. I know several friends who never heard of Blind Guardian before and they always say to me "I entered into Blind Guardian thanks to Memories of a Time to Come". That should work, somehow, as evidence of what I'm saying.
So, for not making this review longer than what must be, because there is nothing else to be said, a final synthesis would be: if you are an old fan of the band, avoid this, it's unworthy for wasting money. But if you want to start something new and have a taste of Blind Guardian's power for the first time, this could be the perfect ticket for entering into the realm.
Giving this album the proper rating was difficult, but I think I'm trying to be the most fair I can be. And considering it is one of the most complete compilation albums I've seen, I gave it a few extra points for it. This release is worthy for newcomers, but nothing more.
So what exactly is this album supposed to be? I’ve seen this question thrown around a bit lately as many of us wonder whether or not to start hitting the currency converters on our phones to find out the cheapest potential price at which to import this. The name Blind Guardian is synonymous with quality and more often than not, we as fans buy first and ask questions later. Billed at its best as a three disc set (an abbreviated 2 disc version is also available), Memories of a Time to Come collects sixteen previously recorded and released Blind Guardian songs culled from the entirety of their discography, and either remixes or re-records fifteen of them. The lone untouched track is “Sacred Worlds”, from 2010′s At the Edge of Time — and before you ask, there is no explanation as to why it is included this way. The third disc of the set features the band’s old demo recordings from the era in which they were known as Lucifer’s Heritage (some tracks are listed as reworked, but its difficult to tell what that exactly means). View the complete spec sheet here.
The announcement of this compilation came as something of a surprise, especially given that the only releases the band had mentioned during their last press campaign as being ‘on the horizon’ were the orchestral project and the next proper Blind Guardian album. Additionally, an interview with Hansi and Andre on Italy’s Spazio Rock suggested that the only remixing project the band had planned, however vaguely, was a complete redo of 2002′s A Night at the Opera. The only thing I can guess at is that Virgin Germany, Blind Guardian’s previous label, was going to release a basic best-of compilation regardless of the artist’s approval or disapproval, and the band wisely chose to include themselves in the process in an attempt to turn it into something unique. I suppose that’s blindly giving Blind Guardian a lot of credit, but I can’t see a label coming up with an idea that is a bit more expensive than just your simple cut and paste best-of compilation (especially for a band that is no longer on their roster).
The selling points being touted are the newly re-recorded versions of “The Bard’s Song (The Hobbit)”, “Valhalla”, and the 2001 epic that defined pomp, “And Then There Was Silence”. The first thing I can say about this compilation is that while the three re-recordings are admirable in both intent and execution, they are rather overvalued in proportion to the actual meat of this beast, namely, the remixes. Before I start on those, I have to get this out of my system: Were Blind Guardian fans really clamoring for a re-recorded version of the lesser half of the two part “Bard’s Song”? It has always been for me the often skipped over track on Somewhere Far Beyond, and I know its never really been a concert staple like its much praised better half…now those two reasons alone could be all the motivation the band needs to give the tune a second look, but frankly the decision to re-record this particular song over many other potential candidates baffles me. I guess the positive takeaway here is that I’ve ended up listening to the song more than I ever did in its original incarnation, though I’m still rather unmoved by it.
The newly recorded “Valhalla” is a significant improvement on the original, even Kai sounds better here, and the guitar solo section is smartly changed up in a satisfying way — however, overall there is nothing all too different going on, this is basically a studio version of how the band approaches this song live. I don’t know what I was expecting, but perhaps something akin to the pair of acoustic recordings found on the old b-sides compilation The Forgotten Tales back in 1996, which completely broke down and re-imagined the original recordings to create something really fresh and unique, which gave the songs some additional or different emotional resonance. This is something I find myself thinking about especially when listening to the new “And Then There Was Silence”. You know what? I prefer the original. Sure it sounded far more compressed, claustrophobia-inducing even, but it was sharper, in terms of execution in the melodies as well as vocal harmonies. The new version feels rounded, softened, less urgent. I found myself wondering whether or not it would have been better served by a remix, I think it would have.
And now on to the remixes themselves. Well, this is why you should drop the cash on this. These are remixes in the proper definition of the term, and every single song that undergoes this treatment benefits as a result. What were once compressed background vocals are now given room to breathe, have their own space, and stand out. Hansi’s lead vocals are placed up front more, Andre’s leads are clearer…hell it seems that everything is able to breathe easier, and given space to ring true. I’m not an audiophile so I can’t get any more specific than I’m being, but classics like “Nightfall”, “Bright Eyes” and “Imaginations From the Other Side” really benefit, they just pop. Were I introducing someone to Blind Guardian I’d make sure these were the versions they’d listen to first. In saying that I realize that the two disc version of this release would make a great introduction to the band for a new listener, a good mix of selected cuts spanning a career of fine moments, presented in the best possible sound quality. I suppose the real draw here is for hardcore Blind Guardian fans, who have already listened to the original recordings of these songs thousands of times and will be able to greatly appreciate the differences presented with the remixed versions. As for the Lucifer’s Heritage demos on the optional third disc, well, they’re demos, embryonic skeletons that were fleshed out for the better later. You either enjoy listening to their imperfections or you don’t.
In summation, the triple disc is worth the purchase if you’re a die hard fan, just take the re-recordings with a grain of salt and enjoy the remixes and demos. Give the two disc version to that one friend who is still not yet a convert.
- The Metal Pigeon
Originally posted at http://themetalpigeon.com/2012/02/10/blind-guardian-memories-of-a-time-to-come/
Interestingly enough, Blind Guardian has only smacked us once in the past with a compilation, and that was The Forgotten Tales in 1996, a gathering of odds, ends, covers and alternate versions that were previously only available on import singles and such. In fact, that collection was itself not domestically released at the time and I had to import it, but at least I was satisfied that I did not own much of the content. Well, that time has rolled around again, and once more the German power metal legends have satisfied this critic in that they show some due concern for their fans receiving a degree of value from what might have otherwise been a worthless repressing and reconfiguring of tracks to cash in on redundantly on their considerable, prior success.
No, most of the tracks here have at least been 'remixed'. Brightened and adjusted to meet the sleeker, 'modern' visage that Middle Earth's most lovable bards have presented on their latest studio full length At the Edge of Time. There's not a massive difference, in my opinion, and I doubt I'd ever spin this collection over the original incarnations, but the vocals in cuts like "This Will Never End" and "Imaginations from the Other Side" sound slightly more fulfilling in their presence, and the mix of the guitars less squeaky and distraught, a factor that was fortunately never enough to entirely curb my enjoyment of the albums in the first place. In other places, though, like "Follow the Blind" the vocals seem a bit wavier in quality, so to hear them so much more to the fore is not necessarily a positive thing. But at least Blind Guardian managed to add SOMETHING to the tracks, so for better or worse, they're not precisely the same.
The problem is that they've pulled off a bit of a 'dick move' reminiscent of Iced Earth's Days of Purgatory collection, where there were different versions available with varying degrees of content. Personally, I'm not fond of this practice, here or in video games or DVD sets or really anywhere. My opposition is not from a pure capitalist standpoint; clearly an individual can discern what he or she is purchasing in advance and make the choice to buy the better product. It just seems arbitrary and wasteful not to give all your fans the same amount of content, or to even waste whatever raw materials are essential to bother printing up separate products when it might save a whole lot of time and effort just to give everyone the full monty. For Memories of a Time to Come, this comes in the form of a third disc incorporated to the 'deluxe super special magnificent elite wonderful' edition, which features 70 additional minutes of content over 15 fucking tracks. Consider that Discs 1 and 2 are only around 51 minutes each, and then realize just how much you'll be screwed if you don't buy the deluxe version...
Obviously, I recommend that anyone who is actually interested in this would buy the fuller, more expensive and expansive version, because who knows if they'll just cave in and make it all available in some later pressing, and there's just so much more bulk to it. Great tracks like "Time What is Time", "A Past and Future Secret", "Lost in the Twilight Hall" and "The Script for My Requiem" are compiled there plus a few rarities like "Brian" from their 1989 live/demo promotional release, or "Dead of the Night" and "Lucifer's Heritage" from their Symphonies of Doom demo when they were actually called Lucifer's Heritage. In fact, that whole demo is here on the extra disc and it's been tweaked. But then, I don't really care for any of those particular cuts, they showcase a much rawer band in which Hansi has only the slightest trace of ability that he would later adapt into renown. The few tracks that Blind Guardian decided to fully re-record for this release were quite surprising. There's a good, heavy version of "The Bard's Song" which I love a lot more than the wimpier, acoustic versions that have long numbered as some of my least favorite content in their whole catalog. Ditto for "And Then There Was Silence".
Does Memories of a Time to Come justify the 30 beans (US) that you'll likely drop for it? That really depends if you have a huge problem with the production of their earlier records. It's not as you're getting a full remix of their discography, but the mix of oldies and from their early speed power metal years and somewhat more recent fare is interesting. A lot of favorites have been omitted like "Journey Through the Dark" and "Time Stands Still (at the Iron Hill)", and I just don't see myself desiring this experience when I could just listen to the originals and experience the full breadth of Somewhere Far Beyond, Nightfall in Middle-Earth, etc. This is a lovely package with a great looking cover, and I do appreciate the fully re-recorded versions, but it just depends how much money you wanna throw at the Germans, and how much you really need to hear the same songs with edited production. If you DO get it, though, don't waste your money on the normal two-disc version, or you'll just regret it.