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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