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Legends in the making! - 84%

ConorFynes, May 26th, 2015

Really; could a more perfect setlist have been picked out for Tokyo Tales? While more is obviously involved in the making of a truly great live album, it's as good a start as any.

It's important to keep in mind that, at the time of recording their first live album over two performances at Tokyo's NHK Hall, Blind Guardian were little over four years since their debut, and just a few months following their fourth LP Somewhere Far Beyond. Even with some of their best work still a few years away, these guys had amassed an impressive host of material. Their gradual shift from speed to power metal had resulted in a string of incredible work; even the relatively weak Follow the Blind had a couple of amazing songs to offer; both of which are showcased on Tokyo Tales.

It is in spite of-- or, I should say, because of their up-and-coming youth on Tokyo Tales that makes this live album so good. You tend to see live albums in the rock and metal spheres released as a self-congratulating testament to some established band's past achievements. More often than not, live albums are approached as a safe commercial bet when a band is past their glory days. It's not as common for a band to release them in the midst of their creative peak, and rarer still for a band to release one when they're still on their way up. While there's a certain enjoyment is seeing an experienced band playing songs they have spent half their lives perfecting, there is greater satisfaction in hearing a band performing long before the comfort of success. Of course, hearing Tokyo Tales, you wouldn't get the impression they were still dismissed by some as Helloween's little brother in the West. Leave it to Japan to embrace quality and talent when they first hear it. Contrary to the usually reserved concert etiquette Japan are known for, you can hear the crowd chanting away to virtually every chorus and verse of their set.

Before going into Blind Guardian's live albums, I had been wondering how they took to approximating the lavish vocal arrangements without the help of overdubs. As it turns out, the audience does it for them! Although the roar of a possibly intoxicated audience doesn't leave quite as much room for intricacy as intensive in-studio work, there's a different sense of exhilaration to be felt from a 3800-occupancy hall chanting along to these songs along with Hansi. Whereas the crowd ambiance is usually a grating distraction on most live albums, here it truly benefits the effect of the music. Though it becomes more apparent with each listen that Hansi's stilted banter between songs is dreadfully awkward, hearing the sheer enthusiasm of the crowd is enough to make this downtime worthwhile on the album. I can't begin to imagine how inspiring it must feel for Hansi and company to hear a response along those lines every night they play!

It really deserves second mention that Tokyo Tales boasts such an impeccable setlist. Despite their significant shift of style over the course of four albums, these songs sound like they're meant to fit together in a single set. While I do enjoy the more all-encompassing experience of their Live 2LP released a decade later, I do think a lot of Blind Guardian's peak-era material became too dependent on studio trickery to be done full justice live. Nothing from the first four albums risks this shortcoming; the songs off Battalions of Fear and Follow the Blind were already blistering in their original form; even the relatively tempered Somewhere Far Beyond has the right sort of energy to work wonders live. Although I'm no fan of Follow the Blind, "Banish from Sanctuary" and especially "Valhalla" sound perfect; while I might have liked to hear "Run for the Night" or the title track off Battalions of Fear, the inclusion of the epic "Majesty" was a smart choice. Given that Tales from the Twilight World is my favourite album from the period until Nightfall in Middle-Earth, I'm delighted that so many cuts from that album found their way onto Tokyo Tales. "Lost in the Twilight Hall" was a highlight on the original record, and so it is here. Most of all however, I think their live rendition of "Lord of the Rings" steals the show. Blind Guardian's speed metal material might as well have been written with live performances already i mind, but "Lord of the Rings" was among their first attempts at a more sophisticated sort of arrangement. With the help of keyboardist Marc Zee, they give the song a rekindled brilliance, with one of the best vocal performances Hansi's ever committed to the recorded medium. It is conspicuous that a song as chant-worthy as "The Bard's Song" off Somewhere Far Beyond was excluded from the show, but considering that it's since become the most overplayed song in their repertoire, that might actually be a blessing in disguise.

While Blind Guardian made an exception in writing A Twist in the Myth with live performances in mind, the other albums they've done in the time since Tokyo Tales have been progressively more ornate and bombastic-- some might even say overproduced. Whatever the case, their studio albums have been generally incredible, and in spite of the obvious challenges of bringing a metal symphony to life each night, they've garnered one of the strongest reputations as a live act in metal. Even so; given the chance, I'd probably still have rather seen Blind Guardian play back in the day. They have incredible enthusiasm here on Tokyo Tales, and their audience matches it note for note.