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The idea of a concept album is great on paper. An entire full-length of songs devoted to a single subject, often following a specific plot, adding more depth to the music than would be possible otherwise, and giving the listener something more to appreciate than just the riffs and the vocals. However, a concept album is an ambitious idea to put into practice, and an attempt to do so will cause even great bands to struggle. Case in point: Queensryche's Operation: Mindcrime. The story was cool, if not fantastic, and their music up to that point had been for the most part pretty solid; however, when they tried for a concept album they ended up putting in ballad after ballad, with a whiny Geoff Tate up front and the guitars merely backing him up. While not as big a failure, Nightfall in Middle-Earth is Blind Guardian's Operation: Mindcrime.
The bonus here is that Hansi Kursch never really sounds whiny, and there aren't quite as many ballads as on O:M. Still, it's not Blind Guardian's strongest moment. For one thing, the production isn't particularly good. Sure, the vocals and leads are up front, but the riffs are often barely audible, which doesn't bode well for the half of the album that actually has testicles. The good news is that Hansi is in top form here; he did sounds a bit forced on Imaginations, and that problem is completely solved on this offering. His voice sounds more restrained, but still powerful, more like he sounded on Somewhere Far Beyond.
Another problem is the interludes. While having a way to connect the songs into a single concept may sound good on paper, it's almost impossible to execute these short ideas in a way that's remotely appealing. Almost all of them are pointless musically, and just detract from the good songs of the album. While a couple are enjoyable in and of themselves, I'm rarely going to want to listen to a 30-second song, so their value is decreased significantly. Good ideas are only as good as what they're used for; so Blind Guardian, the next time you have a good idea, incorporate it into a real song, instead of using it for worthless interludes. The only interlude I really find useful to the album is the introductory "War of Wrath", which features some nice narration that provides a nice backdrop for the album; all of the other interludes might as well not be there as far as I'm concerned when I listen to the album.
The songwriting here varies pretty widely; there are some great songs here, as well as some stinkers, and there are five ballads total. Luckily, Blind Guardian have gotten pretty good at writing ballads, and not all of them suck - though even if they'd all been killer, five ballads do not a metal album make, and having that many definitely doesn't help their cause. "Nightfall" is one of the good ones, with gorgeous multi-tracked vocals and captivating melodies, it's certainly welcome here on the album. The song also has a definite progression in the lyrics, as it tells a bit of the tale of the Silmarillion. It feels like a story song, which here actually works in its favor, with cool lines like "Never trust the northern winds...Never turn your back on friends!" "Thorn" is the other worthwhile ballad, and it's excellent indeed; melancholy, introspective, and progressive in song structure, it's probably the most mature song Blind Guardian had written at the time (2002's A Night at the Opera would obviously change that). The vocal lines are great, the lead melodies are great, and the lyrics are great; possibly this is the best song on the album.
Unfortunately, the other three ballads are pretty bad. If the album had had only the two aforementioned ballads, it would have been much better. "Blood Tears" is probably the worst song on the album; it tries to be melancholy, but just ends up dull as hell, with riffs that go nowhere, lackluster vocal lines, and poorly executed aggression, it would be better to just skip this track. "Noldor (Dead Winter Reigns)" is slightly better, but still pretty poor; there are some decent melodies, but they're vastly overused, carrying on for almost seven minutes what should have lasted more than one. "The Eldar" is actually somewhat decent, with at least an enjoyable vocal performance by Hansi, although the piano playing under him isn't particularly riveting; the song isn't completely worthless.
Now, I might be able to excuse the album for so many ballads if all of the other songs were absolutely killer; unfortunately that's not the case. While there are definitely some good songs, the stinkers are still there; "The Curse of Feanor", for one. The aggressive vocals are good, but the riffs are decent at best, and used a little too long. And while "Time Stands Still (At the Iron Hill)" isn't bad, it's not particularly strong, either, with merely decent melodies and riffs. Also, given that the riffs are pretty buried, the songs tend to focus on the leads; while the heavier part of the album is still pretty solidly in metal territory, it does bring them closer to rock than they've ever come, and that's not a good thing. Luckily, for most of the songs, the leads and vocal lines are pretty strong.
"Into the Storm" is dark and aggressive, and here it actually works, with an absolutely top-notch performance from Hansi and a catchy main riff that the vocal lines build on, increasing their aggression and energy to the chorus. "Mirror Mirror" is good, if a little too focused on synths and vocals, with catchy melodies and a big chorus that's got to leave you with a smile on your face. "When Sorrow Sang" is one of the catchiest things Blind Guardian have ever written, with some groovy riffs and an absolutely fantastic chorus. "A Dark Passage" is good, if not great, with some cool leads that dovetail nicely with the synths; there are some passages that are a little bland, but overall the song does a sufficient job.
The album definitely has some fun moments, some epic moments, and a great overall vocal performance, but the interludes, ballads, and poor songwriting show their true colors often enough, and the song is just extremely inconsistent; decent by most standards, but ultimately a failure for Blind Guardian, possibly their worst release to date.
This album has been slammed by many for a mainly non-musical issue: interludes. Interludes on any album are an acquired taste. While I found the interludes to be a particularly nice touch, this is beside the point.
The metal on this album, its composition, and its crafting are BG's best. During their concerts, they are the songs people cheer for the most, and for a reason: if you read Tolkien's timeless epic, the Silmarillion (which is the 'Old Testament' of the Lord of the Rings trilogy), the interludes will make sense and will be appreciated for their addition because they help anchor the narrative of the concept in the mind of the listener.
Hansi and co. sing and play on NIME with a passion not found on any other BG release. The singing is EVIL on 'Into the Storm', sorrowful on 'Nightfall', urgent on 'Mirror Mirror', and commanding on 'Thorn' and 'Time Stand Still' , all backed by galloping drums and furious guitar interplay soaked in tasteful orchestral arrangements that give the majesty these songs need.
Melodies evoking ancient elven and dwarven realms and their folk remain in your head forever. There are no weak tracks, and every single song offers a new atmosphere while staying faithfully lodged within the main context of the Silmarillion epic. The music on NIME alternates from solemn and lamenting 'Nightfall', the gothic and ominous 'Blood Tears', the cavalry charge of 'Mirror Mirror', to soaring passages like in 'Thorn' and 'Time Stand Still'. The wide palette of feelings and atmospheres results in a brilliant slab of power metal and one of my top 10 best power metal albums ever. For Tolkien fans, it also serves as a tremendous tribute to the Silmarillion. Blind Guardian never regained the passion and fury of NIME on subsequent albums and only recently managed to brush NIME's greatness with their excellent 'At the Edge of Time'.
We can argue endlessly about the 'cheesiness' of this album and even some have called it 'goofy'. It's a matter of perspective: those who AREN'T interested in epic sagas translated into metal music will surely laugh this band off and this is really a matter of taste. Can't argue about tastes and colors.
This is grade A epic power metal and for the fans of the genre, a must in their collection.
Amazon reviewer: Torquemada 'Sweating Demon'
(Originally posted by me to the Metal Music Archives: http://www.metalmusicarchives.com/)
Since there are people going around claiming that Blind Guardian is the only power metal band that you can wear a shirt bearing their logo and still get laid, I had to go ahead and buy this album (for around 5 or 6 dollars) at a used CD store. What I can tell you now is that I ended up being less than impressed. Nightfall in Middle-Earth promises a whole, literal fantasy landscape and ends up throwing the listener a book (almost literally with the ridiculous liner notes) and telling them to work off that.
I'll start off with what irks me the most about this album: interludes! Too many fucking interludes! They take up around seven minutes of this album and occur right after almost all the real songs on here. They are totally unnecessary and totally unwanted. I thought this was supposed to be power metal, not German time waste! Hansi Kürsch, if you wanted to bow to Tolkien so badly and convince others to do the same, you shouldn't have put such useless filler in. In fact, stupid shit like "The Minstrel" makes me want to do the exact opposite. "What will be next? I still don't have a clue." Go to hell.
However, there are some really good tunes to be heard among the actual songs. There's excellent songs here with catchy hooks and well crafted variations. When Blind Guardian get it right, they really produce some valuable pieces of gold. "The Curse of Feanor" and "Mirror Mirror" are some awesome fast-paced licks, and "Nightfall" is a pretty epic if you're looking for a slower piece. There is one song here though that really annoys me: "Noldor (Dead Winter Reigns)". You know those slow power metal ballads that nobody really likes? This is by-far one of the worst ones I've listened to. I know these types of songs are supposed to be emotional and whatnot, but this is just unnecessary overkill.
And there are also songs like "Blood Tears" and "Time Stands Still (At the Iron Hill)" that are just okay. It's in songs like these that Hansi's voice gets grating, wearing out my enthusiasm. With the interludes added alongside, the album seems to get old faster than it really should. The Middle Earth vibe that seemed intriguing at first ultimately became too much for me and had me looking for something decidedly less nerdy by the end of the album.
There are single songs or parts of songs that were really good in this album, but ultimately this isn't worth getting if you're just a casual power metal fan. There's plenty of power metal material out there (including other albums by Blind Guardian) that isn't as tiring as 'Nightfall in Middle-Earth'. Go find them instead.
Blind Guardian is a pretty big deal, and what's one more review of one of its albums to the masses? Not much I suppose, but I've recently come to appreciate some of the band's earlier work (for me, this means earlier than "A Twist in the Myth", which was my introduction to the band) much more than I used to. In revisiting these albums, I've been able to quickly peg a couple of favorites, with "Nightfall in Middle Earth" being one of them. This is helped of course, by the fact that I've been dearly in love with the work of Tolkien since reading his monumental trilogy at the age of eight.
While I sincerely feel that NiME is one off the finest homages to Tolkien that I've heard in metal, there is much more to this album than nostalgia and heroic lyricism. However, this is the first of three main reasons that NiME is such a bloody fantastic piece of work. The accuracy of conveying some of the events, characters, and conflicts of Tolkien's is quite stirring. Perhaps these don't come off quite the way that Tolkien would have liked them to, but the spirit of a great world and dark fantasy epic completely saturates every moment of this record.
Secondly, and hand-in-hand with the first, is the musical atmosphere. In particular, the introductions and brief interludes that frequent this album are favorites of mine when the album is listened to in its entirety. The various voices and sound effects that populate these brief pieces add credibility and interest to the album as a whole, as well as instilling the listener with great respect for the lengths to which Blind Guardian went to complete the experience. These aren't third rate Italian flower metal spoken interludes which are overly dramatic and absurdly cheesy, but rather very mixed and colorful spoken additions which are of particular note to those who grew up with the stories of Middle Earth.
Finally, and most importantly for a metal album, is the sheer songwriting strength of the songs on the album. "Into the Storm", the titular "Nightfall", "Mirror Mirror", "Time Stands Still", and "When Sorrow Sang" are examples of the very finest moments of Blind Guardian's songwriting prowess, rivaling even the mighty tunes of Imaginations From The Other Side. I find it impossible to narrow even these tracks down any further in regards to favorites from the album, and the others that I haven't mentioned are not far behind. The choruses are all grand, striking, and epic in a special way that only Blind Guardian can achieve. The band's rather unique guitar tone and arrangement, combined with the unmistakable voice of Hansi, makes for an musical voyage of wonder, malevolence, and rapture.
Saying much more about the album is useless, as there are hundreds of good reviews of this work, and only one album itself. Most of you will have already listened to the stunning musical glory that is but one of the gems in the high-seated crown upon the throne of the Guardian, but any that have not ought to do it and do it soon. This album, while not perfect in every way, and with much that some will inevitably (and foolishly) label as "filler", is a remarkable experience that any true devotee of the genre must at least experience.
Originally written for www.blackwindmetal.blogspot.com/
Nightfall in The Middle Earth is not exactly loved by every Blind Guardian fan in the world, but it was supposed to be: the band put a lot of effort in order to come up with new material, Hansi recorded his vocals at least three hundred times in each song and the very idea of making an album entirely based on The Silmarillion sounds great by itself. However, the band ended up with an album that was far from what most were expecting. The reason is simple: Blind Guardian is considered to be a pioneer band in terms of power metal, but their traditional music was far away from the extremities of the genre. In Nightfall in The Middle Earth, however, the band tried to come up with an album that would be completely over the top (even if we take into count that it is power metal after all), and the ZP Theart that Hansi found within himself displeasured most Blind Guardian fans.
The whole album is filled with some of the most epic leads, the cheesiest vocals and the most powerful choruses that I have ever seen. Blind Guardian, however, tried to make an artistic masterpiece out of a musical masterpiece, and filled the album with no less than eleven interludes. It is not a terrible idea, given the nature of the recording, but my reaction to those interludes was (and still is) negative: I couldn’t help but think “quit fucking around, oh Lord” in at least five times during the aforementioned interludes. Nothing, however, prohibits you to simply skip the interludes and headbang to some of the most powerful metal that has been ever recorded. Everything here, from the folk leads to the one-thousand-layers vocals, seems to make you imagine huge fortresses, tall-as-fuck hills and battles with a larger body count than The Battle of Stalingrad.
In their desperation to make everything sound extremely epic, however, Blind Guardian made several mistakes. The first one is the use of too much layered voices: although in some parts dozens of Hansis might sound okay, in a lot of songs (being Time Stands Still and A Dark Passage the best examples by far) we have extremely cheesy passages, and by extremely I mean cheesier than Dawn Over a New World, the cheesiest song that DRAGONFORCE ever came up with. The layered vocals end up having other unexpected effects: the guitars are sometimes REALLY weak, the bass not only refuses to do much more than stick to root notes but also becomes lost during many passages and some parts are impossible to reproduce live (although the latter problem doesn’t damage this recording in any way that I can think of).
If you like Hansi a lot you might have been offended by the last paragraph, so just to make it clear, I wouldn’t put many people above Hansi Kürsch in terms of metal vocals. Don’t get me wrong: the layered vocals are just a small problem (that sometimes seems worse than it really is) in the middle of one of the most impressive performances that I have ever seen. The vocals, by the way, are only a part of the recording, and while many people forget Blind Guardian is not Hansi’s solo project, this album shows us once again that the band has a lot of talent to work with. The solos, distributed non-uniformly between folk and neoclassical, are great (with some lead breakdowns which Dave Mustaine would wish he came up with), Thomen’s drums could be more complex but still fit really well and Marcus delivers some of the best material there is in terms of rhythm guitars in power metal.
This album also counts with “Mirror Mirror”, one of the best songs that were ever recorded. Everything kicks ass in that song, except perhaps the bass (although more bass would be completely unnecessary in “Mirror Mirror”). The band never runs out of riffs, the drums are rather impressive in terms of creativity and even the troublesome layered vocals are used in a way that made it possible to listen to both the lead guitar and the vocals at the same time. The solo is the single best solo that Blind Guardian ever came up with, being melodic and catchy and making you want to mosh the shit out of yourself (probably because of the double bass that comes along with it). Time Stands Still is another impressive song: it is, in fact, cheesy as hell, but it kicks ass nonetheless.
This album is different from what Blind Guardian usually delivers, but it is a great album anyway. The theme kicks ass, the album has an ass-kicking masterpiece and even the guitars, which are sometimes weaker than you would like in a power metal album, are able to deliver rather impressive stuff. It is a must-have for Blind Guardian fans, it is definitely good for any power metal addicts and it is very interesting for anyone that likes metal a little.
Nightfall in Middle Earth is often claimed to be Blind Guardian’s best album. No. It’s not. First of all despite there being 22 tracks, there are only 11 songs. Dear Blind Guardian, if you ever read this, please work on giving me more less-than-30 second interlude tracks. 11 of them will NOT be enough! I know they are supposed exist to help the story along, but the story is that of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Silmarillion. Problem with this is, to my knowledge only the big Tolkien fans give a shit about or even read The Silmarillion. And the people who didn’t read it probably don’t care enough about hobbits to truly care about the overall story. However, Blind Guardian’s lyrics are probably better written than Tolkien’s terrible hack writing.
So the individual interludes won’t factor into the final review. The only one I’ll bring up is The Minstrel, which was the only one that made me wish it lasted longer. Anyway, to take each one into account would probably lower the rating even further, so, I’m taking into account that these exist, but not the quality of each individual one. Many of the rest just sound like rejects from Age of Empires II voiceover sessions.
The music itself isn’t bad. There is some quality songs, the problems is the way it was mixed. The guitar is very low in the mix. It’s under the drums; it’s often under about 200 gallons of synthesizer, and it’s also often under Hansi Kursch’s vocals. Hansi is a great vocalist, and he gives 22 great vocal performances. Not one for each track, I just think he overdubbed his vocals about 22 times, because he made every chorus sound like a church choir. Some sound like two or three church choirs. Some sound like 2 church choirs singing over each other. This isn’t to say I don’t like his voice. The vocals are great. If you like Hansi’s voice, you won’t be disappointed, especially because they’re truly the main attraction. So, disregarding the 10 short pieces, we are left with 11 tracks.
Of the 10 songs, I consider 5 of them to be of great quality. Into the Storm, for all intents and purposes, kicks off the album, and is a great song to start it off. The guitars are interesting if you can hear them, the drums are good, and it’s a cool somewhat faster paced song. The second is Nightfall, which is a slower song, which is almost a ballad, then Curse of Feanor, asong with a fast paced verse with a slowed down bridge, and a very epic chorus, where Hansi powerfully proclaims he won’t take part in your damned fate. Mirror Mirror and Time Stands Still (At the Iron Hill) round out the other two songs I consider to be the highlights of the album.
Three of the remaining six are what I’d say are not entirely memorable, but not bad. The Eldar is an interesting mostly piano and vocal piece, and When Sorrow Sang, a decent headbanging track. Noldor (Dead Winter Reigns) is kind of in the middle for me. There are some parts I don’t like. Specifically some of the distorted guitar parts and synthesizer parts, but the chorus is pretty cool. Also, this song is about 7 minutes long, and is the longest part of the album, which truly surprised me. I expected with an album like this they’d write an almost twenty minute epic. But they decided to save it until Night at the Opera I guess. And the album’s closer, A Dark Passage, is a good song although the “Still we’re marching on…” part might be a little overdone.
Thorn and Blood Tears are the low points of the album, and the songs that couldn’t hold my attention. "Can’t hold it, it burns, each night I cry in pain" normally describes how Mexican food affects me. Despite these being the low point I wouldn’t really say either is terrible. Despite all of my issues with the production, my lack of interest in the interludes, and the fact there is some unmemorable, forgettable, stuff on it, and sometimes the album seems to be repeating itself in a way, there really isn’t any complete garbage here. Which I think actually irritates me more than if there would have been. That really means all the irritating interludes and the production brought down what could have been a much better album. Had the band taken the same 11 songs but gone about recording this album differently I could be giving this album an 86 instead of a 76.
In a way I feel like Blind Guardian fell into the same problem as their hero J.R.R. Tolkien. There is some true genius in both somewhere, but while J.R.R. Tolkien had excellent ideas, he was shit at actually putting them on paper. And just like his wiring skills brought down his books, the production and need to make this project overly epic brought down the album. Both were strokes of genius that truly should have resulted in better final products. And both are also vastly overrated. Don’t get me wrong sometimes this album truly rocks, and the good mostly outweighs the bad, but that doesn’t mean this album doesn’t have major flaws. And those flaws need to be understood to enjoy the album. But once they are you have a fun album
As you look back over the career of Blind Guardian, it would seem something like Nightfall in Middle-Earth was only inevitable. Taking their well established love for the world of J.R.R. Tolkien to a new height, it stands as one of the best tributes metal has ever mustered for the pinnacle of popular epic fantasy (outside of Summoning, who have a much bleaker outlook that I find most loyal to the writings.) But what's even more impressive is the specific material which the concept album is based upon... The Silmarillion. Hansi Kürsch and company could have taken the easy way out and written a concept album based upon The Hobbit or the Lord of the Rings trilogy itself, yet they instead opted to give musical life to the lesser known tales that created the basis for the setting and events of those more popular novels, stories which only a fraction of the most hardened Lord of the Rings fans have ever had the patience to sit through.
And they do this extremely fucking well...through 65 minutes and 22 tracks of their very best material. Now, before going further, I shall point out that 11 of these tracks are brief segues, intros and narrative pieces used to directly steer the course of the stories and set up the longer tracks. Most are less than a minute in length, and I have read a great many complaints over their presence here. While my initial reaction to these many shorter pieces was mixed, they have aged well alongside the core metal tracks and I now consider them an essential part of the experience, assuming you are listening straight through this album and not just seeking a few classic Blind Guardian tracks to toss onto your iPod playlist. Yes, give it the time and the attention, and Nightfall in Middle-Earth will gel with your imagination 100%. I'm not dismissing the fact that a few of the voices recorded for the narrative can seem corny or contrived, but then, this is Blind Guardian, and they've always been that way (arguably, so was Tolkien).
"War of Wrath" is the longest of the intro/narrative tracks, with the deep tones of Norman Eshley & Douglas Fielding against a warring backdrop before the surging "Into the Storm", a track that endlessly builds its momentum with Hansi's operatic approach to lyrical stories, using his voice in multiple patterns and octaves, with the band's penchant for chorus shouts, all scripted for pragmatic accuracy. This is the first album on which the bass is taken over by Oliver Holzwarth, so Kürsch is given full freedom to transform himself into the Teutonic sonar weapon in totality. You may have also seen me complain about Andre Olbrich's guitar tone on the later Blind Guardian albums (and Imaginations from the Other Side). Well, strangely enough, despite the same processed sound, the tone is absolutely stunning on this album, and I wouldn't have it any other way, as it gives the guitars a vibrancy and pop to stand out among the huge multi-tracked vocals and various instrumentation being used throughout most of the songs.
The stormy "Lammoth" intro sets up the gloom and balladry of "Nightfall", carefully wound into a chorus that feels as sharp as a blade, yet as soothing as breaking into an amusement park late at night and taking a solo ride on the carousel, the horses moving in steady rhythm and your mind reeling in reflection, drowned in the beauty of that stolen moment. "The Minstrel" casts Hansi into his bard-like fantasy briefly before the galloping mystique of "The Curse of Fëanor", sauteed in speed metal rhythms and left to simmer in the juices of an understated chorus that slowly elevates itself above a simple series of arena rock chords. The solos really wail in this track, and I enjoy how they twist into the vocal hooks before 2:00. Next you are "Captured" and whisked into the beauty of "Blood Tears", which strides past you like a river of lights at an Elven mourning rite, a procession of pain and remembrance that cannot stay solemn forever, and thus often rages out with a barely contained ballistic metal force.
"Mirror Mirror" (which was the first single for the album) first arrives at a folkish gait before the thunder breaks and the band charges out of the gate, weaving back towards the opening melody as it creates an escalating storm of melody of flutes and axes both acoustic and electric. "Face the Truth" narrates into "Noldor (Dead Winter Reigns)", with a shining acoustic grace soon leveled in a foundation of power chords and haunting but warm, vocal harmonies. Hansi is waxing his versatility here, as the popping acoustic funk of the guitar bridge transforms into a mounted rush into the slick, sultry dooming of the pre-chorus. This is a beautiful track which improves with each listen, until it clings heavily to your heart like the unforgiving snows of a deep winter. "Battle of Sudden Flame" features some beautiful flutes and acoustic strumming as Hansi once more conjures forth his inner troubadour, and then comes the greatest song of this album...
If you've ever dreamed of a truly heart wrenching, power/folk metal epic, "Time Stands Still (At the Iron Hill)" is that and more. No Renaissance Faire is worthy of this song's traipsing, indispendable glories, as it leers to and from some of the best metal riffing this band has ever committed to disc. The chorus alone is enough to cast me back thousands of years to a world that never was, but all of the dressings here point to perfection, and this is the one song in Blind Guardian's catalogue that has ever come close to unseating "Journey Through the Dark" as a personal favorite. It is stupefyingly, outrageously awesome, and if it doesn't make you break into song immediately...well, you just need to work on that inner geek. That it stands among such high company makes it all that much more impressive, because after the mourning and rain of "The Dark Elf", "Thorn" arrives you exclaim that this record is far from finished. Gorgeous acoustic melodies, calming vocals, and an immortal chorus.
'In the silence, it's time to explain
And search for truth in lies
Needless love's damned'
"The Eldar" is a moody but sweeping piano piece with some of Hansi's best vocals on the album, an elegy to the ancient race of Tolkien's creation, pulled straight from a broader folklore of Europe. "Nom the Wise" is narrated into the dynamite injection of "When Sorrow Sang", which picks up the pace to that of Blind Guardian's past, searing speed metal with aggressive vocals and a killer mid section with a great little muted rhythm guitar bounce at around 2:00. The brief and beautiful "Out on the Water" and the imminent damnation of "The Steadfast" lead into the album's final, full-blown metal track, "A Dark Passage", a proggish folk metal opus that yet again reminds me of a German Queen long lost to the mythology of the fantasy world they inhabit. "Final Chapter (Thus Ends...)" is the last narrative bit, and to be honest the one segue on this album that I wish they had skipped, since it feels a little too obvious, and the end of a full-length track would have been more than efficient (and tactful).
Nightfall in Middle-Earth is hands down my favorite Blind Guardian album in terms of sheer content and production values, not to mention the fluently executed concept. Few would dare to touch The Silmarillion, yet Blind Guardian manages to take some of its more important moments and actually make them accessible. The writing is superb, complex enough to satisfy the more difficult metal fan, but loaded with big hooks for everyone. The entire band is on top of their game, seamlessly integrating each instrument into the more orchestral foundation. I did not care for the very end of the record, and there may have been a combined 2-3 minutes throughout where the riffs weren't mesmerizing me, but even if you clipped away this excess fat, there is an hour of essential metal music comprising one of the best concept albums ever released for its genre. I would very much like to hear the Germans produce another of its caliber some time in my life.
Highlights: all of the music of the Ainur.
While listening to Blind Guardian's first opus, “Battalions of Fear”, I can't help but feel extremely surprised how a band like them could change so much over the years. In the beginning, their music was dominated by the furious riffing and by the fast drumming, all their songs were very thrashy and Hansi really sounded great with his raw vocal approach. The band released one or two more speed metal records, until “Somewhere Far Beyond”. Well, while this album still had lots of fast and aggressive songs, it also contained many new elements, the most important of them was the inclusion of choirs and also of some vocal layers. The choruses sounded much more 'epic' and grandiose and, obviously, the band began to put more emphasis on them. “Imaginations from the Other Side” contained less instrumental parts and much more layers and classical-influenced arrangements and then... “Nightfall in Middle-Earth” was released. This album really showed and confirmed that BG was no longer the speed metal act of old: the music is much more midpaced and less aggressive and there is an incredible amount of vocal layers and keyboard sounds to be found on almost every song of this piece.
While I really love all those arrangements, there's a problem caused by them: the lack of power of the guitars. The production clearly highlights the keyboards and the vocals and, during most of the times, we can't hear that well the riffs. “Into the Storm”, track number two, would sound much much better if the guitars were a tad louder: the tune is very fast and somewhat aggressive but the riffs are, unfortunately, buried in the mix, which, obviously, doesn't benefit the song at all. Another problem regarding the production: the double bass pedals are almost inaudible which is a shame, since the drumming is very very good on this record. Stauch is a pretty competent drummer and he shows that on this album: he really shows his versatility on songs like “Noldor (Dead Winter Reigns)” or “A Dark Passage”. On one moment he's playing soft beats, on the other one he is hitting his double bass pedals furiously, on the other one he's just smashing the cymbals... Yeah, his performance is that varied.
And this variety brings me to another important characteristic of this album: the strange structure many songs contain. Blind Guardian never were a progressive band... well, they certainly released some intricate and complex songs on some of their older records, “Majesty”, out of their debut, for example. The title track of “Somewhere Far Beyond” is another example, “Follow the Blind” another one. But this time, almost every song is fairly complex: there's, again, an incredible emphasis on the vocals. On some songs, Hansi is literally 'always' singing (there are almost 7856335 pages of lyrics on the booklet... go figure), which, sometimes, is a pain in the ass since I really love instrumental sections and there are none to be found on some of the tunes of “Nightfall in Middle-Earth”.
But don't get me wrong there are some really awesome instrumental passages to be found on some of the other tracks of this album. The middle section of “Mirror Mirror” is a perfect example; the song contains some of the best solos this german act ever crafted, all of them very melodic and extremely catchy, which is, in my books, a plus. Its chorus is fantastic too, the same thing going for the intro. Hansi's vocals are also perfect on this song: every fan of BG knows that he is among the most skilled metal singers, but his performance here is even better than what I've expected. While he sometimes sounds very raw, he also sings very melodically throughout the record, “The Eldar”, a little piano-driven piece, is a clear example.
Another important characteristic of “Nightfall in Middle-Earth” is the literally HUGE amount of songs it contains. For every tune there is an interlude and while I don't really like interludes that much, I've got to say that they work fairly well on this piece. Interludes like the creepy “Captured”, the opener “War of Wrath” or the closer “Final Chapter” are essential for us to better comprehend the whole concept. Still, it's a bit hard to follow the story if you haven't read the “Silmarillion”, one of Tolkien's best works. There are some interludes that are a tad on the useless side though; “Lammoth”, which is a really short tune filled with a long scream, and “The Minstrel” are examples.
As for the actual 'songs', there are lots of winners to be found here. All the tracks are very solid and the whole record is very consistent thanks to them. It's really hard to have so many good songs on just one album but, somehow, Blind Guardian did it with this opus. “Into the Storm” wins the prize for the fastest track of the album. “Nightfall” contains a godly chorus and lots of different movements; still, the song flows very smoothly. One of the best songs this band ever penned, no doubts about it. “Mirror Mirror” is another clear highlight and “Noldor”, maybe the most complex song of the album, is another one. Almost every song contains different movements and lots of melodic riffs, catchy keyboard lines and varied vocals. Fortunately, there are no fillers present on “Nightfall in Middle-Earth”. Closing the (long) list of highlights is “The Eldar”: think a longer and darker “Black Chamber” and you'll have an idea of how this song sounds like.
I've listened to this album for almost two years and it still remains interesting and don't bores me at all. I could speak about this piece for years and years, there are lots of things to discover about “Nightfall in Middle-Earth” and so I recommend the album to every one out there who likes power/heavy/speed metal. While Blind Guardian released tons of other good albums (their debut, “Somewhere Far Beyond”), this record probably is my favourite one. The only two problems I have with this album is the production, which doesn't highlight the guitar work that much, and the presence of too many interludes, since they, after repeated listens, harm the whole listening experience. Still, this album is simply awesome and one of my favourite metal records ever released. And well, if you read the “Silmarillion” you'll enjoy this piece even more, I assure you!
Best Moments of the CD:
-the transition between “War of Wrath” and “Into the Storm”.
-the choruses of “Time Stands Still at the Iron Hill”, “The Eldar” and “Nightfall”.
-the solo and intro of “Mirror Mirror”.
-the outro of “A Dark Passage”.
Bah, the perpetual flaws of the descendents of two orchid thieves! Here you are presented with power metal gold... and lo, you dismiss it! Pompous you say? Well, I for one didn't expect a conceptual piece based around the Tolkien book most people don't like to be a street-level thrasher. Maybe you were disconcerted as you specifically asked the clerk for Motorhead's 'Overkill'... I for one don't know. But to me, power metal is a sub-genre of much absurdly pompous moments and inherent silliness. But it can be joyous and to me, 'Nightfall...' is a exceptional slab of monumental power metal. "This porridge is too hot, this porridge is too cold and this porridge has too many segues."
'Nightfall...' is a victim of heavy metal revisionism. Heavy metal revisionism, at times, has its place - 'Master of Puppets' is worthy of being knocked down a peg or twenty, it's not the masterpiece that has Metal Hammer tripping over their own boners each time you mention its name... especially if it is shortly followed by the phrase 'The Blackening'. However, for every gargantuan monstrosity put in its box labelled soiled in big black marker, we have a hapless victim. Celtic Frost's 'Into the Pandemonium' springs to mind, a fantastic record but subject to much flak since some fucker decided, "Whoa, this isn't Hellhammer!". I suppose I'm just overprotective of 'Nightfall...', just like those whiny "take my baby with you!" parents at the fall of Saigon... calm down love, the NVA is only going to murder you. Anyway, 'Nightfall...' came to me at a time when I decided their must be more to power metal than early Helloween. I remember fondly - being a sixteen year old, drunk on youthful exuberance, the smell of women's shoes and unsurprisingly, cheap bitter. It was a warm July night, in that filler week between exams and the summer holidays... I'd emerged from an awesome party into the still night air and in my CD player was a bootlegged copy of Nightfall. The track listing was fucked, some of it skipped... but it was wonderful and it has served me well ever since that moonlight stroll.
Make no mistake about it 'Nightfall...' isn't a cool record, it's not something you can go; "Hey baby, I got some Blind Guardian at home, what say you? Can we make a night of it?" with. Never has this situation occurred and it probably never will (correct me if you must, send a self addressed post card to the dingy room above the S & M dungeon). 'Nightfall...' is a record that you can only listen to, sans headphones, when everyone else is out of the house... unless you really want a "What the fuck is this Hobbit shit? Why don't you listen to some sweet Bob Dylan records?" conversation. Thankfully, all my kin was killed in a Yorkshire Tea plantation explosion and as such I'm an orphan, so I've haven't had this problem in years and 'Nightfall...' actually helps stifle the screams of my nearest and dearest being ravaged by hellfire that was both rich in antioxidants and refreshing to the taste.
One thing that persists in surprising me about 'Nightfall...' is its consistency. Ten out of these eleven actual songs range from good, to great and then of course we have the tracks which had many a youth wishing to abandon his life as a high school outcast and take up residence in the Shire. The vast majority of songs on here have numerous ideas that I find are interesting melodically, memorable and generally are very well composed. Only 'The Eldar' falls short and it's not bad by any means. However, it is a blatant Queen homage and I've never been a fan of Freddie Mercury. Thankfully it's not 'Another Bites the Dust', it's a morose and slightly tacky ballad nothing truly repugnant but it doesn't really achieve much either. Others have a glaring obsession with the albums segues, to me they aren't really an important part of the album totaling to approximately seven minutes, which isn't really that much when you have just under an hour's worth of music (excellent music as well!). In my opinion, the segues are generally quite well done and contribute to the Tolkien-esque atmosphere of the music. They add to the pompousness, certainly, I'll give you that but somehow it works. In my review for Virgin Steele's 'The Marriage of Heaven & Hell: Part One' I referred to the quail invested seas of Overblown, while Virgin Steele remained safely on a vessel in these seas, Blind Guardian seemingly hover above the water whilst playing lutes. They tackle everything that could have gone wrong in the power metal genre, somehow manage to avoid the pitfalls and stay high and dry. A noteworthy achievement of this album if there ever was one. So yes, somewhat pompous (though not using the word in a negative sense, despite its negative conations) but not overblown. This isn't the lost Rhapsody album!
Both in terms of production and performance this is a very slick affair. But there is actual life and feel to these performances and the atmosphere has not been castrated as it is on 'A Twist in the Myth'. Flemming Rasmussen is also giving a hand with production here, as he did on 'Imaginations...' . Though not quite as strong as his previous BG production, this a great sounding album (especially considering I've been listening to a downloaded copy for the last two or so years, I promise I'll buy the bloody thing one day). The only minor quibble I have is that I would of preferred a more pronounced rhythm guitar in the mix. The most notable improvement in performance here is that Hansi has finally stopped playing bass! It only took about fifteen years of honky, godawful low end for him to come to the conclusion that he couldn't play bass... fuck, even Sid Vicious could have given him lessons... almost. Better still is that new session member Oliver Holzwarth is an excellent bassist - imaginative without being overpowering or flashy. Elsewhere, Andre Olbrich does a commendable job on lead guitar. I hear flashes of Blackmore in his work in the vaguely eastern melodies and solos. Although quantity does not equal quality, Andre has a seemingly never ending slew of melodic leads... every song has about ten of them and they're all brilliant. Sure, your favourite sub-Yngwie shredder in Dragonhymen or Poop Deck may play faster, but Andre's leads are really something else.
Even the album's detractors have to admit 'Nightfall...' has some astounding moments. 'Mirror Mirror' is just one of these. It begins with a whole lotta heraldry, it screams grandeur, guitar upon guitar is layered and it sounds fucking immense. It's a magical song with all the minstrelsy and fantasy you could want. When I first heard it I was instantly reminded of Jethro Tull's 'Songs From the Wood' album, albeit played in a power metal fashion. The lead guitar duals at the end of the song are about as anthemic as guitar playing can be. 'Into the Storm' is another favourite, brimming with energy and life, it's a rip-roaring opener. I love the brief stabs of harmony guitar in the chorus. The song moves along at an excellent pace, one really gets a sense of purpose from it. It really is a near perfect opener with a real sense of desperation to it. Another noteworthy, if unsung, song is 'When Sorrow Sang'. This is like a last hurrah for old school Blind Guardian, with its galloping pace and twiddling riffs. Though it does share the same beautiful pathos as the rest of the album.
Elsewhere we have the album's more controversial numbers. The title track is a sort of Blind Guardian power ballad and thankfully, it doesn't reek of "Oh shit, ballad time!" like say Helloween's 'Time of the Oath' album or even the godawful Medieval fete music 'The Maiden and Minstrel Knight' from the subsequent 'A Night at the Opera' album... if there ever was music for fat couples in medieval garb! Like much of the album, 'Nightfall' is a well crafted song with loads of great ideas, most notable of which is the seductive 'farewell...' melody. Though, I would scorn the band for not ending the album on the impossibly grand 'Mirror Mirror' (of course that would be ignoring the album's concept, like I care!), closer 'A Dark Passage' is unsurprisingly dark and rather interesting. Vocally, the band really excel here with some near Gregorian harmonies and a bombastic chorus refrain. The whole thing screams "RPG nerds! To battle!", which would then be followed by the sound of puffing inhalers. But those are just a few highlights, this album is seldom less than stellar (barring a certain sub-Queen ballad).
So is 'Nightfall...' the album where Blind Guardian went astray? Is it sugary enough to give you diabetes? In the words of John Bush when asked to rejoin Anthrax, a resounding no. It's my guilty pleasure and hey, we've all got to have one of those. Maybe you jerk off to daytime TV or dress up in your mum's clothes? I listen to this instead and for that I remain a slightly more functional member of society.
Ah, Nightfall in Middle Earth. One of the most raved about power metal albums, and probably metal albums in general. It's hailed as one of the greatest adaptations of a story ever (JRR Tolkien's Semarallion was the one adapted), Blind Guardian's magnum opus, and a whole lot of other things. So I expected these things when I first got my copy of Nightfall in Middle Earth.
Unfortunately I got none of that. Plain and simple, Nightfall in Middle Earth is what I consider to be the band's only failure of an album. This album failed in so many aspects that it's not even funny. Not only is this not Blind Guardian's magnum opus, it's probably Blind Guardian's worst album ever. There is simply no way I can believe people are raving about this album the way I have seen before. There is nothing on here to rave about. It is just a bad album.
The main problem here is obviously the long time. Trying to be like Queensryche on Operation Mindcrime, Blind Guardian hired a bunch of voice actors to do some acting to help further along the story when necessary. Unfortunately, this effort falls flat on it's face. No, I don't care if Blind Guardian had hired Pamela Moore or Anthony Valentine to do any of the voice acting on Nightfall in Middle Earth, the way they did it still would fail horribly.
The reason, the way Blind Guardian implemented the voice acting. Instead of integrating the voice acting into the songs like Queensryche, Hansi and company decide to just make a whole slew of filler tracks to put in for the acting and story pushing. This makes listening to Nightfall in Middle Earth a long and pretentious affair that I had a hard time doing. Admittedly, I did not listen to the whole album when I first got it. I actually had to find a way to distract myself so I could listen to the whole thing, and if I have to do that for listening to a metal album, then that is not a good sign (or listening experience) at all. I really wish that Blind Guardian had either done what Queensryche did or just not at all had the voice acting, doing what many more concept album masters like King Diamond do. Just tell the story through the fucking songs! There is no need for voice acting and fillers, and Nightfall in Middle Earth is part of that.
That's not to say the album is total garbage. Nightfall still has a few at least decent tracks to offer among all the filler garbage. Easily the best is Into The Storm. It's melodic and catchy choruses as well as Hansi's use of vocals and Andre's harmony and lead work make it the best. But other tracks such as The Curse of Feanor and Time Stands Still At The Iron Hill are alright as well. But the problem with many of these tracks is that they are very inconsistent. Many of them will start out good, and then get boring, and then get good, and then end on a painfully bad level. The only song that doesn't do this is Into The Storm, and that is why it is the best song on the album. I don't know why, but it's just boring.
Andre Olbrich is not shredding anymore. No more of his bursts of staccato and tremolo picking, he's now just playing "pagan" dance tunes. Alright, now I'm drawing the line. I know that this is what you typically do Andre, but now it's just boring. Enough is enough. If he had actually shredded for real on Nightfall and not just played "pagan" dance tunes for his leads, I would actually have liked Nightfall in Middle Earth a lot more then I do now. That isn't the case though sadly.
Hansi's vocal performance is spectacular as always, as well as how he gets the story moving throughout each song. It's actually hard to tell if he's singing about the story when he goes through Nightfall, and that is a nice bonus considering the rest of the album is just above something more worthy of being in the trash rather then being in my record collection.
I don't know what went wrong here, but Nightfall in Middle Earth is just something that Blind Guardian should not have done at all. It's an album that I find boring, contrite, and just lame. Avoid it all together and go to other Blind Guardian releases, especially their material before this if you want to hear the band with their game together. Otherwise, ignore Nightfall in Middle Earth entirely.
Blind Guardian, one of the greatest (or at least most popular) metal bands of all time. Their influence upon up and coming youngsters with stars in their eyes is undeniable; and they have, without a doubt, crafted some of the most masterful power metal anthems of all time. So why? Why oh why did we let all of this get to Hansi's head? Why in the living fuck was this abomination allowed to be released?
When I was still new to power metal, I was told to promptly check into Blind Guardian, specifically their 1998 opus Nightfall in Middle-Earth. Thankfully, I also nabbed Follow the Blind and Imaginations from the Other Side at the same time, or else I would've only heard this overindulgent hunk of ass and just ignored the band forever.
Let's get one thing straight, this album is the antithesis of a concept album done right. It is completely unnecessary for about 95% of those damn interludes to even be there. They don't move the story along at all. In fact, I have a hard time following any story here. I could MAYBE understand if this came with a free copy of The Silmarillion, but the "story" is completely impossible to follow without any prior knowledge of the literature in question and makes all of the interludes come off as pointless delays... and you know what? They are. Concept albums are done right when the story is told through the music, and the message is not only interesting, but captivating. Maybe it's because I loathe virtually everything Tolkien ever wrote with a vehement and burning fucking passion, but I don't give a rat's ass about this story. If you are going to devote half of the album to musicless tracks that "help carry the story", for the love of god don't make the story so goddamn ambiguous. I have never read The Silmarillion, so at the very least don't alienate those fans who don't read garbage in their spare time. And if it was meant to be for those who've already read the book, then the interludes are completely pointless ANYWAYS.
Okay, forget about the stupid interludes, let's get on to the actual music shall we? Well, out of the 11 actual songs (there are 22 tracks, just so you can get an idea of how little of the album is actually devoted to music), about half of those are downtempo ballad type songs. So how much metal are these "metal gods" actually delivering? About a quarter of the album... which is not enough to qualify as a heavy metal classic in my book. Thorn can't seem to decide if it wants to rock out or sing me a lullaby, which is frankly annoying. Noldor (Dead Winter Reigns) has the same problem, as both seem to awkwardly jump between double bass patterns with semi powerful riffs and slow sections with sweet, affectionate singing with zero flow whatsoever. It's like falling out of an airplane, you tumble through some clouds, yet some clouds are made of brick. No transition whatsoever, you pass harmlessly through one puffy formation, and splatter yourself all over the next one. And in the end, you land ass first on a cactus, just so God can laugh at your corpse before he sends you to hell for all of you impure thoughts about the prepubescent redhead next door.
On that note, let me address the vocals. They fucking rock. I don't know what irks people about Hansi, or why they dislike his layered choir sections so much, I think he actually makes them sound great, despite some otherwise mediocre music. He never strays from the proper key (something another "legend" should take heed of *glares at Kiske*), and honestly has a wonderful voice. Kursch has a power that very few can match, and honestly has a knack for melody that most vocalists would willingly chop off, broil, and consume their own dicks in order to possess. That said, he is also one pompous motherfucker, I wonder how they fit his head in the damn studio. Seriously, he stops playing bass so he can concentrate on vocals full time, so they decide to hire Oliver Holzwarth for "live and session bass". What this translates into is "I get to sit back, have no input, make less money, and get zero credit for absolutely everything because Hansi is a dicknosed anusbreather who can't stand to share any of the glory".
And the most insulting part about this album, is the fact that it contains one of the single greatest metal songs in recorded history, Mirror Mirror. The songs they got right on this album, they do EXTREMELY right. Mirror Mirror, Into the Storm, and When Sorrow Sang are all instant classics that deserve everybody's attention. The Curse of Feanor tends to meander a bit and start wading into the ocean of shittyness for a bit before deciding it'd rather bask in the warm glow of badassery. And while Time Stands Still (At the Iron Hill) is one of the most self indulgent and cheesiest pieces of music I've ever heard, you'd have to be clinically insane to say it doesn't rule complete ass. The songs like the ones I just mentioned are wonderful, the riffs are memorable (honestly, I'm a huge fan of AndrÃ© Olbrich's tone), the drums complement everything perfectly, the big epic choruses are catchy, there is very little to complain about. As I've previously stated, Mirror Mirror is one of my favorite songs of all time, and I may even go as far as to proclaim it the most perfect power metal song ever.
The slow balladry, while annoying, is actually done pretty well half of the time. Nightfall is placed in a very poor strategic location, never put a ballad as the second actual song. It was a bad idea on Number of the Beast and time has not sweetened it. However, despite it's crappy placement on the record, it is a great song with a chorus you'll find yourself humming for weeks.
But unfortunately, this album comes of bad as a whole. The songs that are good, are amazing, but all of the useless garbage in between them all really bogs down what could otherwise be a wonderful album. I guess if you can focus on the perfect melodies, infectious choruses, Hansi's tasteful use of his choir of clones, and the powerful riffs, this could be one of the greatest albums ever. But, if you're like me, and aren't so thickheaded as to not realize that NO album ever needs a thirty second track dedicated to a fucking elephant roar, then you will understand that this album is sadly broken. If nothing else, you owe it to yourself to hear Mirror Mirror, honestly, if they could've kept the power from that song and applied it to everything, I'd easily give this album a 100%. One of the greatest vocal performances ever witnessed in the world of music is contained there, but it is unfortunately overshadowed by all of the pompous anal seepage that saturates the rest of the record. A failing grade for a top notch band.
Kids, this is why you should never let the feeling of making an "epic" album get to your head, you'll end up like either Peter Jackson or Nightfall in Middle-Earth, neither of which are anything to be proud of.
Sometimes you have good, enjoyable metal albums that are actually quite lacking in the musical talent/virtuosity department, such as several early 80s extreme metal albums (Venom, Possessed, Death, Celtic Frost in their Morbid Tales era, et cetera forever). And then you have albums like Blind Guardian's much lauded Nightfall in Middle Earth, which is obviously the work of a group of exceptionally talented and respected musicians who have quite a lot of weight in the metal scene. Not a note is out of place, nor a vocal line out of key. Every song here is executed with razor-sharp intensity, but Blind Guardian have missed one fatal piece of the puzzle in the making of this album - and that is the ability to captivate the listener and create memorable, lasting and powerful songs. No band will ever make a good album by simply putting on a flashy show without soul or substance, and Blind Guardian is no different.
But really, come on, it's Blind Guardian. They made a few of my favorite power metal albums before cranking this out; big, epic, pounding slabs of steel that could keep one headbanging and singing along all afternoon without wear or tire. Somewhere Far Beyond and Imaginations from the Other Side are still some of my favorite metal records, packed with instant classics like "Another Holy War", "Time What Is Time" and "Ashes to Ashes", amongst legions of others. And then we got this album; a slow, majestic, medievally influenced piece with 22 tracks and much more "atmosphere" than anyone had ever seen from Blind Guardian. It was either innovate or stagnate for them, as something like Blind Guardian's old musical style doesn't last forever. Sure, they could've just kept repeating their formula of classy, stylish solos and balls-to-the-wall riffage along with Hansi's grandiose, bellowing voice and a healthy dose of Tolkien-esque fantasy sprinkled heavily over the lyrical department, but how long would it have lasted? Blind Guardian needed to change their sound a bit, and Nightfall is the result of that. It's an ambitious, challenging album that really doesn't sound like anything the band had done before, and it doesn't sound much like anything they've done since, either. I don't hate this album, since it's obviously not a bad piece of work and the band has put a lot into it, but it really doesn't do much for me.
The production here isn't the best. Technically it might be good, but the guitar tone is really weak for a Blind Guardian album, really neutering any muscle the band might've had on the faster tracks here. Instead, these tracks rely more on Hansi's multi-tracked vocals, which are more souped up and flashy than your dad's new car when he's trying to be "hip." Hansi has a great voice, and he has always layered his choruses, but this is just too much. This is especially evident on the opener "Into the Storm", which would be a fucking awesome song if it were recorded five or six years before this album came out, but it wasn't, so here it is layered with tons of orchestrations and keyboards and choir-esque vocal effects over that galloping speed metal riff. It just doesn't work. Hansi's vocal overdubbing has gotten almost unbearable at times here, leaving me cold and dead toward the whole deal, and the rest of the band is not much better when it comes to restraining themselves. This album is like a layered cake, piled with tons and tons of different types of frostings and sprinkles and assorted something-or-other's. Sometimes you don't really need a bunch of fancy layers on your cake, though, as a simple chocolate cake is possibly even more gratifying than the deluxe, super-layered cake that is being advertised for a larger sum of money. There are several songs here such as "The Curse of Feanor", "Noldor", "When Sorrow Sang" and especially the rushed, half-baked closing track "A Dark Passage" that are unfocused and not catchy at all due to the messy, cluttered song arrangements and general fuckery on display here. Disappointing from such a veteran band.
The interludes here are pointless, and serve no purpose other than to further the story being told here, which is apparently a recounting of Tolkien's Similarion. The concept is definitely a plus for fans of Tolkien, but I've never bothered to read into the lyrics, preferring just to listen to the music. Unfortunately, the concept crosses the boundaries of the lyrics and begins to influence the music as well. I mentioned before that there are 22 songs on this album, and half of them are interlude pieces that do nothing but tell a story. Most of them are barely even half a minute long, and none of them are long enough to actually be memorable. It doesn't take much away from the listening experience, but if the band had cut out all of these interludes and shortened the track listing down a bit, the album would be much better. It doesn't hurt my ears or make me wish death upon the band members, no...but it does make me ask what the point is. Blind Guardian got really pretentious here, and I don't know about you, but I don't really care about how artsy a band is, especially not when the band in question puts out a heavily flawed album such as this one.
This isn't worthless, however, as there are a few very good cuts here. "Thorn" is probably the best; a sort of ballad with some excellent orchestrations drenched with a sorrowful, regretful air that really shows what this album should've been. It's an epic song, and the soft, romantic keys layered over it remind one of Savatage's symphonic period. The song sounds like something you'd here in a gospel church or something, and while that might not sound good, the song soars to the stratosphere, boasting tremendous power and heartfelt emotion, two aspects of which most of the rest of this album is severely lacking. "Blood Tears" is in the same mold, though slightly weaker. "Time Stands Still" is epic (yes, again) and stomping, with a firebomb chorus that reminds of the previous album (also something which the rest of the album lacks). It'd be quite a kickass song if not for the weak guitar sound. "Mirror Mirror" is fast and catchy, with one of the better choruses on the album, and it's yet again quite reminiscent of the old Blind Guardian days. And "The Eldar" is a quiet, rather soothing piano ballad, this album's answer to "The Bard's Song: In the Forest" and "A Past and Future Secret." It's a good song, one of the few that displays solid and well-thought-out songwriting on this disc. When the good songs on a 22 track album can be counted on one hand, you know something is wrong.
First things first: Blind Guardian’s Nightfall in Middle-Earth is a good album. Nothing more, nothing less. But is it the perfect power metal album, as some reviewers on this site have claimed? I don’t think so. Even as a “symphonic” metal album, if that’s what the band was actually aiming for, it is still far from perfect.
After playing pretty much pure speed metal on their first two records, with plenty of borrowings from influential forerunners Helloween, Blind Guardian initially began incorporating progressive or, as it were, symphonic elements into their music on their third album, Tales from the Twilight World, which was still basically speed metal, only with exceptionally opulent choruses. On subsequent releases, their progressive leanings became more and more obvious, reaching a preliminary climax with Nightfall in Middle Earth. Now, I’m not going to discuss whether they were right in taking that direction, or whether they should have stuck with conventional speed/power metal instead. The point is that if Blind Guardian were trying to evolve into a progressive/melodic power metal band, they had already completed that development with Imaginations from the Other Side. Nightfall in Middle-Earth, on the other hand, pushes the agenda a little too far, almost transgressing the borders of the dreaded realm of flower metal. Of course, they would eventually go even further with A Night at the Opera, but that’s a different story.
So what exactly are the shortcomings dragging this album down? There are basically two of them going hand in hand with each other, namely bad production and over-ambitious arrangements. When I say over-ambitious, I don’t mean the short spoken-word interludes separating the proper songs. Since Nightfall in Middle-Earth is supposed to be a concept album, these are perfectly justified—and besides, lasting only about thirty seconds each, they are short enough to not disrupt the flow of the music.
No, what I mean is all the pompous pseudo-symphonic bombast that just goes completely over the top here. At times, it seems like the actual songs are suffocated by countless layers of keyboards, bells and chimes, whistles, flutes and choirs. While mighty choruses and choirs have been one of Blind Guardian’s trademarks since Tales from the Twilight World, they are so overbearing here that it sometimes sounds like they dragged the entire Red Army Choir into the recording studio. Listening to Nightfall in Middle-Earth, it becomes clear once again that less sometimes is more. I understand that the songs on this record naturally call for a certain pathos, a certain bombast, but, and I may be repeating myself here, this is just a little too much.
To make matters worse, the production accentuates the symphonic elements while neglecting some of the other instruments, particularly the rhythm guitar, which is way too low in the mix and gets buried frequently beneath all the added ballast. And even in the far too few instances when you can clearly hear the rhythm guitar, it doesn’t nearly have enough crunch, sounding paper-thin and muffled instead—definitely not what metal guitars are supposed to sound like.
In view of all these shortcomings, it has to be considered a minor miracle that Nightfall in Middle-Earth still manages to be a fairly good album. That says a lot about the quality of the songs, which include some of the best Blind Guardian have ever written. The powerful “Into the Storm”, “Nightfall” with its amazing chorus, the heavy “The Curse of Feanor”, the fast “Mirror Mirror”, which is probably the best of the bunch, and “When Sorrow Sang”, with its more basic speed metal approach, are definite highlights, blending intricate guitar leads, some nice vocals by Hansi Kürsch, insanely catchy choruses and just enough fast passages into very good songs, songs that could have been absolute classics if not for the weak production and excess pomp draining them of their energy. Even with better production, however, some of the songs on Nightfall in Middle-Earth would still be quite flowery, particularly “Thorn”, “The Eldar” and “A Dark Passage”, which sound like the band tried a little too hard to emulate the mighty Queen.
In the end, Nightfall in Middle-Earth is a potentially great album spoiled by poor production and over-the-top arrangements. There are times when I really enjoy listening to it, but that’s only when I’m in the right mood, and I usually give it only one spin before I get fed up with it again. Somehow, this record is the equivalent to an excessively rich, fatty meal: It’s great to have one once in a while, but you wouldn’t want to eat it every day. Blind Guardian simply tried too hard here, turning what could have been their crowning achievement into something that’s merely good. What might have been indeed …
Nightfall on Middle Earth is by every standard the most loved, hated, well known, and ultimately the most influential album released by German Speed/Power Metal outfit Blind Guardian. Although composing a lyrical homage to the various works of J.R.R. Tolkein is nothing new either to this band or the entire genre of Metal, the amount of ambition on both the compositional and the production ends of album creation found on here has never been seen before this release, nor will it probably ever truly be realized again. And like many truly towering works of art, it has made Blind Guardian a fair share of friends and enemies.
Previous works by this band were more geared towards the old style of Speed Metal originally pioneered by the Thrash scene and early Power Metal releases such as Helloween’s “Walls of Jericho”. The focus of the first 3 albums was primarily on the guitars and the drums, while the bass was playing support and Hansi’s vocals were geared primarily towards singular melodies. The beginnings of the evolution of the changes found on this release showed themselves on it’s predecessor “Imaginations from the Other Side”, and included a larger keyboard presence, a more harmonic approach to choruses in the vocal department, and a greater emphasis on the atmospheric side of their folk inspired ballads.
Another truly dramatic change in the instrumentation is the increased presence of Andre Olbrich’s harmonic lead riffs, often times nearly co-existing and competing with Hansi’s vocals during the verses. Guitar solo sections on “The Curse of Feanor” and “When Sorrow Sang” come in and out of various parts of the song, sometimes throwing the otherwise straight-forward structure of these songs for a loop. The opening lead tracks found on “Time Stands Still” and “Into the Storm” provides a rich contrapuntal texture to complement Marcus’ bottom end power chord riffs. The solos sections on “Mirror Mirror” and “Thorn” are the most memorable, sounding heavily like Renaissance Madrigals set to electric guitar.
Acoustic instrument presence is also a driving factor of several tracks on here and is obviously a point of contention for old guard purists whom are the primary detractors of this album. “Nightfall” and “Blood Tears” have rather prominent acoustic guitar lines that come in and out of the mix, the latter having an intricate delay effect to give it an otherworldly feel to it. “Eldar” is pretty much a vocally driven song with plenty of gut wrenching screams out of Hansi over a rather somber piano line, somewhat similar to “Black Chamber” off the Somewhere Far Beyond release, but longer and much more musically ambitious.
The structure of this album is also a bit unique, as half of the tracks found on here are brief spoken or musical interludes that fill in plotline between the 11 full length songs. If one were to approach this album as a plain metal release, one would obviously have a hard time feeling the smooth flow from track to track that is on this album. But if you treat it more as a metal opera or a recording of a musical, it is a lot easier to digest. If you are not a fan of Tolkein’s works or the fantasy genre in general and you have this album, questions about your intelligence are to be asked on general principle.
Although one could fill another book describing the massive lyrical and musical content of this work, its impact is a far more pressing matter as it is the most contentious point of its existence. With the exception of Rhapsody’s “Legendary Tales”, which was no where near as musically ambitious as this release, creating long winded concept albums based on fantasy sagas were unheard of amongst the metal genre. In subsequent years, many bands have come up across Europe who picked up on this formula, and thus the Symphonic Power Metal genre became a reality.
Unlike more traditional speed metal, this style of melodic metal includes a wide array of alternative instrumentation, sometimes even challenging the dominance of the guitar riffs. However, in most cases the guitar still carries the role of principle instrument, as is the case on this album. Unlike Rhapsody and the bands following their formula, Blind Guardian is still a guitar driven band, and this album is different only in that there are more instruments behind them. The assertion that this album lacks guitar presence is laughable, and exposes a lack of ability in the listening comprehension of many of its detractors.
Those who are musically eclectic and have no issues with large arrangements complementing the metal style will like this album, particularly those of the Symphonic Power Metal persuasion. Fans of Progressive Metal and Neo-Classically influenced Metal will like this too, although the contrasts between sections are not as blatant as many bands in the former sub-genre. But for those of you who still cling to a sense of rabid parochialism and can’t stand keyboards, I suggest sticking to what you know and coming to terms with the fact that some bands get tired of hammering out the same album 5 or 6 times.
This album blows my mind. Doubtless, it will be considered the greatest Power Metal album of its decade for years to come. Let's begin with the segues, which are generally considered the "weak" part of the album. I admit that I like to skip to the face-melting as much as the next guy, so I'm not always into the segues. However, they actually serve an important purpose for the album as a whole because they allow each song to establish its own identity. Each segue cleans your musical "palate," which quickens the progression between songs, keeping the album fresh and innovative.
This leads me to the album's primary strength: its compositional innovation and variety. Each song's riffs are unmistakable, and harmony is used brilliantly throughout. Mood is established using just about every tool at a metal band's disposal. Small differences in key between songs set very strong moods for their own songs, making the whole album something of an emotional roller-coaster, which is absolutely essential to narrating such an epic story as "The Silmarillion." Down-tuning is also used skillfully and selectively to achieve this purpose, so while some parts sound very crisp and high-pitched, others sound noticeably deeper and more distorted. Of course, this is Blind Guardian, so the album tends to lean toward the former. The mind-blowing speed of many of the songs stands out because of the segues and ballads which anchor the album.
Furthermore, the introduction of sounds not integral to metal, particularly chimes, while used extensively, never comes close to overshadowing the metal here. Thus, it doesn't fall into the "Rhapsody" trap as I like to call it; this album can by no means be considered pussy metal. In fact, unorthodox instruments are used to excellent effect, supporting the metal, not subverting it. The album's orchestral influences are hardly noticeable if you’re not listening for them, but definitely contribute to the incredibly textured sound.
Of course, all these achievements wouldn't be possible without incredible technical proficiency on the part of the band. In every aspect of their performance, Blind Guardian sets a new standard for technical ability. The performances by Hansi, Thomen, and the guests on the album are all awesome, but the guitars are the most impressive, if only because of their prominence. The frequent guitar solos tend to overshadow the rest of the ensemble, but whenever the guitar backs off a bit the rest of the band keeps your attention. It’s at these moments when you notice the harmony. The timing is also excellent, as the frequent changes in speed illustrate.
The only criticism I had for this album, even temporarily, was about the production. At first, it sounded like the production was weak on the guitars. However, this was easily remedied by turning up the volume. I soon discovered that the mix was not the problem; rather, the whole album seems to be a little quieter than normal. I only mention it because it seems to be a common complaint. Rest assured, once you turn up the volume, the guitars will sound as fast and raw as you could possibly desire. So turn it up to 11 and enjoy.
Nightfall in Middle-Earth was the very first Blind Guardian album I bought. It wasn´t new at the time, in fact A Night at the Opera had been released already. I got it due to my fandom to fantasy literature, than to BG. I knew some songs of them (like Into the Storm, The Bard´s Song – In the Forest, The Script of My Requiem, among many others) because a friend of mine passed them on. But even so, I was never truly attracted to them, not because they were bad, in fact I liked them, but they did not struck any nerve. Boy, was that going to change.
At that time I had already read The Hobbit, and was in the middle of The Lord of the Rings, and missing The Silmarillion; but I was well aware of this concept album based on the later book. After hearing it, I was an instant Blind Guardian fan.
As aforementioned, Nightfall in Middle-Earth it is a concept album based on Tolkien´s The Silmarillion, particularly on the Quenta Silmarillion (The Silmarillion itself contains 5 different stories, being the Quenta Silmarillion the main one), which tells of the first age of the world, the Silmarils, and of the first Dark Lord Morgoth, of which Sauron was a mere underling. The album tells the story focusing more on events and chaining them together, so it doesn´t follow the chronology of the book. It comprises 22 tracks, 11 intros and 11 songs.
Into the Storm – first track after the War of Wrath intro, in which Morgoth tells Sauron to escape, while the hosts of the Vala attack them, quite a good intro, with war sounds and soldier´s screaming. After the dialogue, the song kicks in quickly and aggressively with a guitar part, the Hansí´s vocals enter. Drums mark the speed of the song, and the chorus is quite catchy. The lyrics tell of Morgoth refusing to give Ungoliant the Silmarils, most beautiful of the gems, that encase the light of Valinor, land of the angelic powers. Quite a good power song, and a perfect starter for the album.
Nightfall – after the Lammoth intro, called after Morgoth´s scream being attacked by Ungoliant. A slow but great guitar and orchestrated start, it slowly but surely turns into a powerful song with a hymn like chorus; chanting Nightfall!!! along with Hansi is almost inevitable. At the start, I tended to consider this song a ballad, but its more of an hymn, with a good I SWEAR REVENGE scream about halfway the track, which most definitely urges us to war. The lyrics are about the darkening of Valinor, after Morgoth and Ungoliant kill Finwe, elvenking of the Noldor and the first blood spilled, and destroy the trees of Valinor. An excellent song, one of the best songs in the album. “The enemy of mine, isn´t he of your kind?”
The Curse of Feanor – the beginning is literally a fast blast of drums and guitar, which sets the pace for most of the song, although in the bridge and the chorus it gets a bit slower, not as catchy as others though, but still worthy of remembering. The lyrics deal with the curse that befell Feanor and his followers for daring the Vala, by swearing war against Morgoth for stealing the Silmarils, which Feanor wrought out of the light of the trees of Valinor. This song is great, and I really don´t know why this song is not a fan favorite because it is a really good song, although a bit similar to Into the Storm in the beginning. This song stands on its own, but sadly eclipsed by others in the album. Well, maybe that´s why it is not a fan favorite.
Blood Tears – after Captured, intro about the chaining of Maedhros to a mountain. It’s a sad ballad, with a memorable start with a guitar tune that feels really epic. Although it starts a bit slow, it kicks in after the first chorus, with the infamous line “Welcome to where time stands still, no one leaves and no one ever will” (I´m reminded of Metallica´s Master of Puppets), and then, paces low into a regular speed. Its lyrics are about an elf (whose name is important, and goes unremembered by my twisted memory) rescuing Maedhros, by cutting off his hand, since he cannot break the chains that bind him to the mountain. At first I got tired of this song because I listened to it often and started boring me, but its really a good song.
Mirror Mirror – ain´t this the show closer. One of the best songs of the album, although it took me a while to digest it. The start is almost like a march… well it is, but quite a catchy one nonetheless. Then it quicks fast and happy… yes, happy; I don´t know but the guitar tune only inspired my that word and feeling – happy. The chorus is catchy, on par with Nightfall and Time Stands Still, no surprise is a crowd favorite. The lyrics took me a while to figure them out, but at last I know. They speak of Ulmo, lord of the water, appearing before an elf and revealing him the impending destruction to befell on his kingdom(I think it refers to the destruction of Gondolin, but I´m not so sure). The single of the album, it’s a great and memorable song, worthy of being show closer.
Noldor (Dead Winter Reigns) – a similar start than Nightfall, it’s a more somber song. The very first lines, which are the second part of the chrorus, kept me from listening to the whole song at first, for they seemed monotonous to me. Until I decided to chain myself to the chair and listen to it entirely. The pace maintains itself all of the song. The lyrics tell of the Noldor, mightiest of the elven race, but also the most tragic. It’s a song with good moments, and low moments, it’s the longest track, clocking in at 6:51. Not epic by any means, but is worth mentioning… well it isn´t but I wanted to. A good drum and scream part two minutes before the ending is the best part, such a good one that is worth listening to the song just to get to that part, afterwards it’s the same as before. Don´t get it wrong, it is actually a great song, but it was one that took me the longest to like, it wasn´t that I forced myself to like it, but it definitely took me a time to appreciate it. Good song.
Time Stands Still (At the Iron Hill) – the catchiest song of the entire album, and also one of my favorite songs of Blind Guardian. The starting guitar reminds me of Into the Storm, but not as aggressive. Then Hansi´s vocals narrate us the epic tale of the brave march of Fingolfin, elvenking, daring Morgoth out of Angband to face him… “the elvenking´s broken, he stumbles and falls, most proud and most valiant his spirit survive…” The bridge and the chorus are the catchiest of the album, and the guitar tune and solo are definitely memorable. One of the best songs of the album.
Thorn – after the short but great The Dark Elf intro, Thorn enters slowly at first, but enthralling with the acoustic and orchestrated guitar. The vocals are more tragic than in Noldor, and when the chorus comes in is a definite sing along, screaming AT THE EDGE OF THORNS is impossible to avoid, quite similar to Nightfall. The lyrics speak of Maeglin, an elf born of an evil parent, and the apple does not fall far from the tree in this case. Two minutes before the end, the PLAY THE SONG OF DEATH part comes in, truly memorable. Excellent song, and one of my favorite, closing in with the initial guitar tune; truly memorable.
The Eldar – this is the truly emotive track of the album, bearing us listeners to cry and share in the elves´ pain of having to leave the earth. It is a ballad, consisting of piano and Hansi´s vocals all the way. This truly proves that Hansi has the gift of voice, making him inarguably one of the best metal vocalist, hell; one of the vest vocalists ever. His voice truly sounds sad and moved by pain, as if he himself were an elf. The tragic part, second half, is most appealing; Hansi´s vocals soar to heights only he can reach, and the piano gets truly sorrowful, accompanied by back vocals. As can be inferred, this song is apart from the others in the album. Truly, one of the most compelling and emotive songs, if not the most, Blind Guardian has composed.
When Sorrow Sang – ironically, this song is the fastest of the album, wondering where is sorrow singing? Starting with drums running fast set the mood of the rest of the song, which remains unchanged. The chorus is also most catchy, but not as Time Stands Still, but really close. The lyrics are the reason for the title, for they speak of Beren & Luthien, affair between man and elf, what could be most tragic? Although at first, I would´ve preferred this song to be more like The Eldar, as the theme is most suitable for that mood; but as a song its great, and does reflect the despair of the tale. A great song, truly.
A Dark Passage – after two intros, it starts off with an epic beginning with choir, an evil tune. It speaks of Morgoth and his glory and power. At regular pace, there are lots of screaming here, with RISE OF FALL, A DARK TALE ENDS after the first chorus being the most memorable. It’s the album closer, before an outro, but still it’s a good song and does get the feeling of and end, as it speaks constantly of Morgoth´s power, and even fades out with the lines “slowly marching on…” a great ending, a great song.
As you may have noted, I keep saying “it’s a great song”, because lots of songs are reminders of others within the album, some more similar than others. The Eldar would be the only song that is truly different, no surprise since its only piano and vocals. But even so, this is truly an amazing album.
Lyrically, it’s one of the strongest albums of BG. Obviously, being a concept album gives it an edge. It includes very few excerpts from the books, but it contains some great lines, like “A star in the night and a bearer of hope, he rides into his glorious battle alone, farewell to the valiant warlord”, or “I tasted poison when I drank the wine of fate” among several others. The adding of spoken intros is a great detail immersing one into Tolkien´s world, giving the album a narrative edge others lack, and a more epic feeling.
Put aside the concept, it’s one of the best BG albums, no doubt. Most recommendable if one is a fantasy fan, common among BG fans, as they themselves are huge fantasy fans. As my first BG album, it submerged me into BG world and it made me fan. As of today, Blind Guardian is one of my top bands, if not THE top band. Supreme.