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Perfect Pop Singles: Vol. 23
Why It’s Perfect: “SHAAALL WEEEE DARE THE DRAG-ON? MER ! CY ! LESS HE’S POIS ! ON ! ING OUR HEAAAARRRTS! OOOOUUUURRRR HEEEEEEAAAAAARRRTTTT- ” *cough, splutter, needle ripped off vinyl*
Oh, uh, hey there. I was just, uh, listening to, umm... the Velvet Underground? Err, Pere Ubu? Fennesz? No? Nothing? Well alright, don’t believe me. But couldn’t you have at least knocked? I mean, I could’ve been masturbating. These things have been known to happen, and I am terribly alone. Still, you and I both know, dear reader, that I was simply screaming my head off in glorious geeky unison with Mirror, Mirror, almost certainly the Crown Silmaril in the treasure-stuffed hoard of Teutonic Tolkien-metallers Blind Guardian.
Given Blind Guardian’s status as perhaps the preeminent power metal band of their time (only Helloween and Iced Earth really rate comparison in terms of longevity and popularity), I’d surmise that most fans of the genre have already heard Mirror, Mirror enough times to have it properly settled in their musical DNA. But I can imagine the power metal neophyte hearing this and wondering, “Is it all like this? Is it all this good?” The answer of course, is no, and there’s a very good reason why. Blind Guardian are not the fastest, nor the most technically adept, nor the oldest, newest or last. But they are the only band with guitarist Andre Olbrich and vocalist Hansi Kursch.
Both men are masters of showmanship, gamely garbing themselves in fantastic costumes, but doing so with a sense of play. Olbrich frosts these fairly standard baroque metal riffs with a tasty pop glaze, accompanying Kursch’s showy multi-tracked chorus by simply wringing out rubbery squeals, before whipping through tricky power metal riffs and pubby Celtic jigging with equal aplomb. He also loves setting up what I call “dialogic” solos; rather than simply soloing over a set number of bars, he prefers to play short phrases interspersed with keyboard or rhythm responses. The result feels like it’s actually adding to the melodic and rhythmic complexity of the track, rather than taking away from it, as is too often the case with metal soloing. There’s a collaborative and unpredictable quality to it, the back-and-forth interplay really emphasizing this feeling of headlong motion. Combine it with his funny Brian May-ish tone and you get a sound unlike any other in the genre.
Hansi Kursch too is obviously a distinct talent, one of the few big power metal singers able to balance between furry-chested, testicular manliness and camp theatricality. He is absolutely in love with multitracking, occasionally to a fault, but Mirror, Mirror finds him at his virtuosic best. One moment Hansi will be screaming his head off at you and the next an angelic choir of Hansi’s descends to provide sweet harmonies, while a gang of boozy Hansi’s put you in a chummy headlock and declare noogie time. He throws himself into every verse like he’s playing a different role, and by the end you might wonder if everyone you know is actually just a different Hansi Kursch vocal track. But then Mirror, Mirror says, “No JM, you are the Hansi’s.”
Defining Moment: If there were a “greatest metal moment ever” contest, I would think hard about voting for Mirror, Mirror’s Celtic breakdown (around 3:55 in). You’ve just blazed through a cauldron-bubbling solo and you’re back to the expected verse riffs, and then suddenly Hansi’s gone crazy and this guitar/keyboard/fiddle/fife (?) riff comes in and you feel like you should be jigging on a feast table, swinging a giant frothy mug of beer and generally partying like it’s 1399. It’s a magical moment.
Other Great Songs by Blind Guardian: There are bushels of great Blind Guardian songs, from their early speed metal days through to the prog-power-rock-opera business they operate today. Their best albums, by acclamation are Imaginations from the Other Side and Nightfall in Middle-Earth, two recommendations I’d support. Great songs include Bright Eyes, Somewhere Far Beyond, A Past and Future Secret, Lost in the Twilight Hall, Majesty and Punishment Divine (BAAAAAAAAANISSSHHHHHHHED TOOOOO THE POOOOOOOOOOOIIIIINNNNT OF NOOOOOO REEEEETUUUUUURRRRRRN). Believe me kids, if you’re going to cut loose and get medieval, you can do better than Dragonforce.
For other instalments in this series:
The “Mirror Mirror” single is a pretty good example of how a band can release a little piece of music, containing just four tracks, and still make it interesting. It is extremely annoying for me to see bands out there putting out singles containing just one song, it really is.
Anyway, the main song of this piece is obviously “Mirror Mirror”, one of my favourite tunes out of the “Nightfall in Middle-Earth” album, together with “Noldor” and “Nightfall”. Like all the other tracks from the before-mentionded record, this tune is filled with an amazing, sing-along chorus and great guitar melodies, with also a consistent use of keyboards. I love its epic beginning, the song building up then until the marvellous chorus kicks in, one of the best choruses Blind Guardian ever penned in my opinion and that's saying something, because BG is a band that surely knows how to write memorable and catchy choruses. The strong middle section, containing lots of solos is also worth mentioning.
As for the two live tracks, they are both extremely well performed, event though they lack the rich arrangements of the studio versions. “Imaginations from the Other Side” is a bit longer than its studio version, with some extra guitar solos and such; Hansi delivers a nice performance on both songs, even though I can detect some weaknesses on his singing.
Finally, the cover. Now, Blind Guardian were very very corageous as they chose “Beyond the Realms of Death”, the old Priest classic to cover. Obviously, the main problem I have with this track is the vocal performance of Hansi; despite being an awesome singer, he couldn't hit all those high notes Halford nails on the original version and I really can't help but think that his voice doesn't fit that well with the song. As for the rest, the cover is performed flawlessly, but I really prefer the original version over this cover any day. Anyways, again, kudos to BG for covering such a song.
So, a worth listening single, at the end of the day. If you want to check out Blind Guardian and you can't get a full-length, get this little single; it contains one of their best songs, “Mirror Mirror”, two pretty damn competent live recordings and a nice cover. Ah, and the artwork absolutely rules, really.
I bought this single after buying the full length album "Nightfall on Middle Earth" because it has 3 tracks that can't be found on any other release. At this point I had not heard any of BG's live material, and this release turned me into an enthusiastic supporter of their live recordings.
The title track of this single "Mirror Mirror" is probably the strongest track that would appear on the "Nightfall" album, although I've grown to like the "Curse of Feanor" quite alot lately. It has some great lead in it, in addition to some rather impressive keyboard work. One of the complaints that many older fans of BG had about the songs off their 6th studio effort was the increased prominence of the keyboards. We will have to agree to disagree on that, because I think the increased keyboard usage has improved their sound. This particularly song also has some nostalgic value as it was the one that got me into this band, back during the days before Napster became illegal.
The two live tracks that follow are extremely well done, even without the enhanced vocal production found on the studio versions. "And the story ends" has some great guitar work on it, but I found the live rendition of "Imaginations from the Other Side" to be stronger due to a combination of great instrumental and vocal performance. Both Andre and Marcus are excellent backing vocalists, and I'm impressed by their ability to play complex riffs and do support singing simultaneously.
The Judas Priest cover "Beyond the Realms of Death" is yet another example of how well BG can change a song to fit their style. Unlike Gamma Ray, Primal Fear and Iron Savior who pretty much keep the arrangements perfectly faithful to the original, BG has made some changes here. Although Olbrich plays the leads mostly note for note, his guitar tone is highly expressive, with a strong amount of flanger effects and a wah pedal. The acoustic tracks and the overall instrumentation have been strongly produced to make it much larger sounding than the original. And rather than attempting to clone Rob Halfords high banshee wails, Kursch sticks to yelling the higher notes with his dirty and quasi-death metal grunts.
In conclusion, this is well worth the extra $4 or $5. You won't find the particular live versions of the songs mentioned on any other release that I'm aware of, and you'll save yourself some money buying the tribute album that the Judas Priest cover probably ended up on. Essentially listening for fans of Power and Prog. Metal.
Through this isn't where I started with the band, but it's a good starting point. Mirror Mirror is consider a single but it's almost seems like a short ep to me, well it really doesn't matter, it's really good none the less. The song Mirror Mirror can be found on the album "Nightfall In Middle-earth", some people say this is one the best songs the band ever wrote and I agree. It's fast and it has a great catchy chorus, and an amazing guitar solo.
There's also some real good keyboard parts within the song and it's done very tastefully. After a few listens you should be singing right along, Hansi has a very good voice and the songs Guardian write are very well structured, I mean this is one of the catchiest bands on the planet. This one of those bands you will love to see along with. If you ever catch them live be prepared to sing your heart out!
The two live tracks here are "The Story Ends" and "Imaginations From The Otherside" which are from the same album. The overall preformance here is very good but it lacks from the other live efforts I've heard from the band. Don't get me wrong, even on a bad day this band is amazing but these songs will do for a beginner. Just save up your money to get "Tokyo Tales" and "Live" next, after you purchase this.
The last track is "Beyond The Realms of Death" which is a cover song of Judas Priest's classic from the Stained Class album. Believe it or not this is just as good as the orginal. The guitar work is phenominal, Hansi doesn't sound like Halford perse but he makes the song his own. They stayed very true to this classic, which you should never attempt a cover otherwise.
All in all this great starting point like stated before, so if you if like power metal in any shape or form and not familar with this band, you really need to check this single out. If you like it, make sure pick the album "Nightfall In Middle-earth" as well and also get the live albums too.