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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.