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Two eras blended; BG's first truly great album. - 83%

ConorFynes, May 11th, 2015

This will undoubtedly seem like a left-field association for most people, but I can't help but feel there are more similarities between Blind Guardian's Tales from the Twilight World and Death's Spiritual Healing than first impressions would appear to indicate-- certainly to the point where I will often recall one while listening to the other. Both albums were released in 1990, ten months apart from one another, both constitute the third full-length in their respective bands' discographies, and while we're on the topic, it's arguable that both albums are unduly overlooked in the context of later, better-sculpted masterpieces. What really enforced this psychic association however is the common role the albums share in each band's artistic development. Where Spiritual Healing merged Death's primitive origins with a freshly progressive and technical outlook, so the same could be said for Blind Guardian. Tales from the Twilight World represents a unique blend of the band's gritty speed metal with the lavishly arranged prog-power hybrid we know them for. It was Blind Guardian's first truly 'great' album, and though it may sound primitive in the context of what the band have done since, the fusion of eras still makes it a fairly unique statement in their career.

Admittedly, I didn't always feel so warmly towards Tales from the Twilight World, and it wasn't until a more recent revisitation of the album that I realized what I had been missing. In fact, the primitive speed metal grit that turned me off initially about the album is exactly what I like most about it now; particularly from A Night at the Opera onward, Blind Guardian have become increasingly refined in their presentation. Considering the technical demands of their music, this isn't necessarily a bad thing, but there's a certain amorphous energy in raw-produced music that Blind Guardian had lost by the time they transitioned completely on their fourth record, Somewhere Far Beyond. On Tales from the Twilight World, Blind Guardian were in the midst of that transition. The album's style has more in common with the progressive trends of later albums. Acoustic arrangements are featured heavily (see: "Lord of the Rings") and some of the albums best tracks highlight increasingly sophisticated songwriting. While "Lost in the Twilight Hall" and "The Last Candle" are both fuelled with the same ravenous speed as the material on Blind Guardian's first two albums, the songwriting is more ambitious in its scope. Even at this relatively early stage, the band had already adopted the 'more is more' approach to their execution; the now-signature vocal arrangements were as complex and lavishly overblown as anything heard in power metal in the day. Of course, any claims to complexity that Tales might claim are dwarfed by the bombastic insanity of A Night at the Opera. Even if Blind Guardian would ascend to ever-more ridiculous heights with their orchestration, the ambition here was considerable, and the retroactive context doesn't serve to hurt that impression.

Although it's safe to call this the first 'modern' Blind Guardian album, the sound and feel of Tales from the Twilight World shares far more in common with Battalions of Fear and Follow the Blind than any well-laboured masterpieces that came afterward. Even if songs like the classic "Lord of the Rings" show them operating with an unprecedented level of musical sophistication, their recording still sounds a significant step away from the standards of the 'big names'-- in hindsight, this limitation is a large part of what gives the album its unique charm. Blind Guardian have never been a slow band by any means, but the growing sophistication would eventually come at the cost of some of their aggression. Fans of the band sometimes forget just how fierce Blind Guardian really were at the start, and though they would have lost part of that energy by the next album, there were no signs of slowing down here; "Traveler in Time" and "Welcome to Dying" sound just as ear-splittingly energetic as anything they did on the first two albums, with the added benefit of improved arrangements. Hansi Kursch had hinted at his now-signature choral overdubs earlier on, but it's only here where the big vocal impressions came full force-- even then, there's still an audible presence of the visceral 'gang shout' in these choruses. Considering that the vast majority of power metal favours a glossy representation, it is powerful to hear those bombastic aspirations performed with a proud coat of grime.

Even if the album doesn't always feel as coherent as Somewhere Far Beyond or Nightfall in Middle-Earth, there is a concentration of excellent songs here that is impossible to ignore. Only a handful of songs on the first two albums compare to the bite of "Traveler in Time", "Welcome to Dying" and "Goodbye My Friend". Simultaneously, their boundaries were expanded with relatively forward-thinking tracks like "Lord of the Rings" and "Lost in the Twilight Hall". For what it's worth, I'm glad I gave this album another chance. It's the work of a band in transition to be sure, but in navigating the evolution from speed to power metal, they created the first in a string of masterpieces that only ended sixteen years later with A Twist in the Myth. Even then, there are some days when I'd argue they're still going as strong.