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Blind Guardian's final speed metal release is nice - 85%

SilenceIsConsent, March 13th, 2008

Blind Guardian is a band that I heard quite a bit about before never actually listening to. I have heard this German heavy metal quartet (officially a quartet, technically a quintet) been praised again and again from everything from Hansi Kursch's amazing vocal performance to Andre Olbrich's lead guitar. So ever since then I have been listening to Blind Guardian. I've listened to many songs (at least one off of ever album) and currently own five albums. Tales From the Twilight World was my most recent purchase, one that I bought through Virgin Records as a reissue.

This is Blind Guardian's final offering as a speed metal band. Some would argue this is Blind Guardian's first true power metal album. Then again that is said about every single release before it (Battalions of Fear, Follow The Blind). All three of these albums have power metal elements but the speed metal really prevails more then the power metal for the most part. On Tales From the Twilight World, speed metal once again prevails over power metal. All in all, the album is pretty good. It shows Blind Guardian's dark, powerful, and spirited approach to metal further evolving and the progressive elements beginning to show more and more into the music. Though it took me time to get into this album (as it did with any Blind Guardian album that I own) and there are several things about the album that I do not like, I have truly grown to appreciate Tales From the Twilight Hall as the final offering of one era of Blind Guardian and one that highlighted the beginning of another nicely.

Like many power metal bands, Blind Guardian recognized early on their greatest asset was singer (in this case Hansi Kursch). So they immediately give him the most control so that way they can sound the best they can while the rest of the band gives good input. Unlike other bands (for example Edguy) who do this, they end up compromising the band's talents just to allow the singer to perform his best. Blind Guardian never quite did that for the most part. Though you can tell that the band is compromised by Hansi to an extent, Hansi himself realizes that he has a few musicians to back him up that are truly talented and may not always be what people want but possess very nice skills for the most part. So the band is able to put in some offering and make music that sort combines Hansi's need for melody with their desire to be fast. This makes for music that is about seventy five percent nice, twenty percent not so nice, and five percent crap. Not exactly the best numbers but I have seen much worse.

Vocally, this album is (at least) very good (as is any Blind Guardian release). I got to say that I love the performance offered by Herr Kursch (as I mostly have on any Blind Guardian release). He's an incredibly talented singer and frontman that deserves most of the acclaim that he gets. While Hansi does not really move beyond the tenor and soprano range, his voice is incredibly clear and unique. Really few vocalists have ever sounded like Hansi (many have tried and failed) and this is a very good thing. He sounds just like someone out of medieval times, just how you would think the minstrel in all those fairy tales your mother and father used to read to you before they would tuck you in at night when you were a child would sound. His vocal patterns are downright catchy for the most parts and his choruses are highly memorable (my favorite are the Lost in the Twilight Hall, Traveler In Time, and Goodbye My Friend). He possesses a massive amount of emotion and knows how to apply it, for the most part. There are several times when I feel Hansi wants to sound dramatic or sad and he just does not really do that. The biggest place to kind of really see this is on Lord of the Rings. He also really cannot seem to sound angry to well even when he tries to. The best place to kind of hear him faltering here is on Tommyknockers, where in the choruses he tries to sound angry and serious and it just kind of sounds childish and rather immature. Otherwise, his vocal talents are shown to an amazing degree and he is just great.

His lyrics also possess considerable prowess. Hansi is a true story teller. He puts in the fantasy not to make it cover up an underlying moral. He's like King Diamond. He wants to tell a story for the most part with his songs. Though these songs probably do have a moral to them (one that I have not figured out) in their lyrics, for the most part Herr Kursch seems like he just wants to tell a story and he does good at that. On the flip side though, it makes the lyrics really seem rather mindless and without a clear focus.

What's worth noting though is he is not the only singer on this album. The man who sang on Valhalla on their previous offering is back (yes, it's Kai Hansen). This time around, Kai contributes on the title track. There he harmonizes with Hansi amazingly as well as sings great on his own for a few lines, and also harmonizes with them amazingly with Andre Olbrich and Marcus Siepen. The band's two guitarists harmonize with Hansi on all the songs at some point or another when they do backing vocals, and they really help add a lot to the lines they contribute to. They make them more catchy and give them a lot more depth then Hansi could give on his own. It's good to hear that Hansi let them do this, because they honestly sound great.

Speaking of Andre and Marcus, their guitar work is also pretty nice. Both of these guys really know how to play guitar, and they play guitar pretty nice. Both of them know how to crank out great riffs that are fast and heavy. These riffs are crushing and add a lot of heaviness to the music. They also change chords a lot, which is good for power metal considering most power metal riffs do not change chords and these actually do plenty of the time. Harmonization between these two guitarists also adds a ton of depth and other goodies to the music that really make you just want to keep on listening. This harmonization work is best seen on the instrumental track Weird Dreams, TommyKnockers, Goodbye My Friend, and Lost in the Twilight Hal. In these tracks, the harmonization is shown of great it is just awesome.

Acoustic guitars are also very nice, though you can only really hear them on Lord Of The Rings. Hear though they are very nicely prevalents and sound incredibly clear and vibrant. I have to admire Blind Guardian somewhat for making so many acoustic based songs (even though sometimes it gets on my nerves). It is really kind of daring and provides a nice break from the speed metal assault of this album for the most part.

Andre's leads are all in his own unique style of basing his solos off of Hansi's vocal melodies and feature primarily some minor tremolo picking and rapid bursts of staccato as well as great use of the whammy bar for expression and flair. Think of him as sort of like a toned down and less spaced out version of Joe Satriani. For me, this is a double edged sword. I got to respect Andre for having his own style, and it's a nice one at that. Unlike most guitarists who claim to play with a revolutionary style (that more often then not sucks) like Kerry King, Andre's is actually alright and his style is alright to. I got to admit, his solos are a lot more catchy then most power metal guitarists (who simply rip off Yngwie Malmsteen save a few amazing exceptions) and they sound very catchy. You can actually almost dance to most of them on Tales From the Twilight World and this sounds alright. However, considering that I got into metal listening to guys who were real shredders and truly ripped up the fretboard on their guitars (guys like Alexi Laiho and Marty Friedman), for awhile I considered Andre to be a crappy guitar player. I've since moved on from that but I do not consider him the musical genius and guitar virtuoso that most credit him as. So his leads are either enjoyed by some or seen as stale and boring by others. It all really depends how you look at it.

Bass cannot really be heard except for low frequencies that do not really allow me to judge Hansi's talents as a bassist (I will leave this for another review), so I am just going to skip that for now.

The drum work done by Thomen is really top notch. Thomen does not just rip off Ingo Schwitenberg (RIP) on Tales From the Twilight World. Instead, he takes some influence from Helloween's former drummer and combines it with plenty of his own style and even some thrash influence. He drums very fast and powerful, beating the living shit out of his drums and using every single drum in his kit in his disposal. For a power metal drummer he is pretty fast, highly technical and very unique. He never goes out of time when Blind Guardian is blazing ahead at full speed and knows just how to reserve himself when he is required. He is always using his snare drum and not just for accents. All the fills he creates are really great and will utilize all the things he can beat at his disposal. Truly a great drummer when you come to think about it.

I do not know who did the production on this album. I do not know mixed, engineered, or mastered this album but it is alright. This is old school sounding metal production. It is the kind of production where you hear the bass drums thumping rather then clicking and the guitars sound much more organic then modern day terms. This is actually very nice for the most part. It's all mixed very nicely and everything appears to be in balance. Then again, the bass is really only these lame low end frequencies that you can hardly hear at all (being a bass player like I am you kind of develop a good sense for hearing things like this). I wish they were a bit more prevalent and sounded like real bass sounds rather then frequencies, but all in all it's alright. The guitars are amazingly clear and Hansi's vocals are not affected by the mix one bit. The only other downside I can think of besides the lack of good bass sounds is the fact that for a metal album Tales From the Twilight World is really rather quiet. I find myself having to turn up the volume to really hear this album good more of then not when I choose to listen to it on Itunes or on a CD. This is good in the sense no one is really going to get pissed at you for playing it loud unless you are playing it at an extremely high volume, but then again metal albums are supposed to be loud and this is not that loud.

All in all, Tales From the Twilight World is a nice speed metal offering that would prove to be Blind Guardian's last offering of such a kind. It's worth checking out for anyone into power metal or metal with a unique approach and should be a must have album for any fan of Blind Guardian. I would not advise this to be the album newcomers use to get into Blind Guardian, they might have a rather hard time getting into it. So all in all, seek out Tales From the Twilight World prepare to be (mostly) mystified.