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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.