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Imaginations from the Other Side, Part 2 - 80%

Jophelerx, January 31st, 2017

While I posit that Dreamland Manor is the true successor to the 1995 Blind Guardian album Imaginations from the Other Side (which I assume most readers will be somewhat familiar with), I will begin by briefly addressing Hansi Kursch's idea that Blind Guardian's 2015 album Beyond the Red Mirror is also a sort of successor to Imaginations. To clarify, this is clearly only meant in the sense of lyrical concepts, as anyone who has listened to both Imaginations and Beyond the Red Mirror can easily tell that there are few musical similarities past the fact that both are power metal. The 2005 debut from Savage Circus, on the other hand, is the successor to Imaginations inasmuch as it's closer musically to Imaginations than any other album I'm currently aware of. Certainly the similarities are very strong, and will be examined in some detail.

A large part of the reason for the similarities, I assume, lies in former Blind Guardian drummer Thomen "The Omen" Stauch, who initially formed Savage Circus and takes care of drumming duties on Dreamland Manor. While I'm not sure how much influence he had on the songwriting, I assume it was a significant amount. Regardless, the person or persons who were behind the songwriting clearly listened to Imaginations and decided they wanted to create an experience that was as similar as possible. It's certainly no accident that vocalist Jens Carlsson is about as close to a dead ringer for Hansi Kursch as I've ever heard. He sounds a bit more raw and manic perhaps, but for worship of this Blind Guardian era, it seems to me that can only be a boon to the overall sound. We've also got Piet Sielck of Iron Savior on guitars, alongside Emil Norberg, who plays in Persuader with Carlsson. The lineup is definitely pretty strong, and seems pretty promising on an initial glance.

The ultimate results are mixed, but lean toward the positive side. "Evil Eyes" and "Tomorrowland" in particular are excellent, and rival pretty much any song on Imaginations. The former is evocative of "Another Holy War," with the main riffs sounding vaguely similar while the chorus sounds like someone wanted to create a variation of the "Another Holy War" chorus that sounds as similar as possible without being a literal plagiarism. This description may not sound flattering, but make no mistake, the song is top-notch power metal, with Carlsson's passionate belting in the chorus possibly even outdoing Hansi's in "Another Holy War." Whenever I hear it, I can't help but feel the urge to sing along to the glorious lines: Life and death embrace in the morning, shadows of the final dawning!. "Tomorrowland" is of similar quality, this time sounding more like the titular Blind Guardian track "Imaginations from the Other Side." While the main riffs are again only vaguely similar, at the very end a riff pops in that's at least 90% the same as that of "Imaginations." Seriously, listen to the two songs side by side, especially with "Tomorrowland" first and then immediately into "Imaginations," and it's impossible to miss. This clearly had to be intentional, though with Thomen in the band it's hard to exactly call it plagiarism. More like an homage, I suppose.

The other tracks aren't quite on the same level, but they're still quite enjoyable. They all sound like something that could have come from Imaginations, but none of them really sound quite as similar to one specific song as "Evil Eyes" and "Tomorrowland" do. For example, in "The Gathering," I hear touches of "A Script for My Requiem" throughout, and a bit of "I'm Alive" in the guitar solo, but not enough from either track to say it sounds specifically like a copy. It is interesting that the two best songs on the album sound inspired by one specific song; it makes me wonder that, had they simply done a 1:1 reimagining of every song on Imaginations from the Other Side, the album might be even better. However, this is impossible to say, and the album is certainly good enough as is. "Beyond Reality" is certainly a bit on the long side for a ballad, and cheesier than most of Blind Guardian's ballad, but still works to the extent that it doesn't detract much from the experience of the album.

The other tracks are what you'd expect, to varying degrees of success but always still fairly good, better than the vast majority of power metal bands out there. I'll also posit that this is at least in part due to the presence of Thomen - while the drumming is rarely the highlight of the album, it just seems that albums which include him are always better; Blind Guardian hasn't put out a classic since he left, and the followup Savage Circus album sans Thomen is utterly bland and forgettable. Whatever the reason, anyway, Dreamland Manor is a solid piece of Blind Guardian worship recommended for fans of (obviously) Blind Guardian, Persuader, Iron Savior, etc. It's not a classic, but it's not completely talentless and derivative, either. The next time you feel like giving Imaginations a spin and are simply tired of it, try Dreamland Manor instead.

Savage Circus - Dreamland Manor - 74%

padshiyangel01, June 14th, 2011

One of the main discussions that can occur is considering the possibility of two or three bands jamming together, and what would emerge. They could be as crazy a combination as Public Enemy and Anthrax, or they could be slightly more realistic like the birth of Savage Circus. The creation of (now ex-)drummer of Blind Guardian, Thomas Stauch, this debut also includes creative input from Persuader and Iron Savior. On paper, it sounds like a sensible suggestion, if executed correctly...

So what is to be expected? Power-metal riffs flying everywhere, keys either matching them or setting the atmosphere in the background, with galloping bass and pounding drums to keep the rhythm going. And that's exactly what this album delivers on most of the tracks. Strong opener “Evil Eyes” exemplifies this, and Stauch's choice of Jens Carlsson immediately becomes apparent due to his ability to sound almost identical to Hansi Kürsch. To give him credit, though, he does showcase a range of styles taken from his own band as well as Blind Guardian, most prominently in “Between The Devil And The Seas”.
Unfortunately, the lyrics could do with a little reworking. I realize that power metal lyrics generally delve into the realm of fantasy and magic, but lines such as “I close my eyes and I make a wish/Bring me home to Tomorrowland” do not lend much credibility to the band. That said, the delivery makes the lyrics a lot more bearable than solely reading them.

From the first to last moment, this band do not beat about the bush in wearing their respective bands on their sleeves, although in terms of production the drums come out strongest in general. The rhythm guitars are occasionally lower in the mix, although the leads and solos come through well. Bass, as can be expected, does not make much of an appearance aside from during “Tomorrowland” and the solo section of “Beyond Reality”, but gets the job done elsewhere too.
Not being overly familiar with Iron Savior, I can't speak much for Piet Sielck and Yenz Leonhardt, although their guitar- & bassplaying fit in smoothly with the others, there's never a moment of clashing.

When not galloping along at high speeds, the band do slow down half-way through with a semi-ballad. Laden in orchestral and acoustic sections, and with a slightly lackluster performance from Carlsson, this song ends up being one of the more forgettable ones on the album, lost amidst the faster-paced ones. Also interesting to note is the transition throughout the album from a Blind Guardian influence to a Persuader one, the ballad marking a turning point.

Aside from the slight lack of originality in the album, there are a couple of things that stop me from truly falling in love with this project and keep it to an occasional spin when in the mood. Firstly, the production really does get overbearing on the drumming front, especially on “Ghost Story”. There's also the factor of song length, and sometimes I find myself impatiently waiting for a repeat chorus to end, or for the extended drum outro on “Born Again By The Night” to end. Even my favorite track, “When Hell Awakes”, is marred by these problems, although they don't stop me from headbanging along.

So in short, if you are an avid fan of either Blind Guardian or Persuader, and need something to tide you over, then this will surely appeal to your musical taste buds. For an avid fan of the genre, give this album a try as a worthy addition to your collection. For a casual fan looking to get into this sort of power metal, check out the original bands instead for something more authentic.

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I still prefer the original, sorry guys - 50%

Tio_Mac, May 26th, 2010

I'm a big fan of Blind Guardian's earlier years, I have first to admit that. Since I heard news of Thomen moving on to do something he was happier with musically speaking and was recruiting two Persuader members I was expecting something good to listen to, even though I wasn't prepared for this in any possible way.

The things I like about Savage Circus are obviously at sight knowing I love Blind Guardian's first six releases, and that's of course the similarities in the sound between the two bands. Jens' vocals are really good, really in the style of Hansi, but hell, even though they had Thomen in the band at this moment they're not Blind Guardian, just pretty much a look-alike thing.

The riffs, the solos, the easy sing-along vocal lines and choruses, the energy, the power... They're there, but the context lacks the magic of the original phormula. A masterful execution still can't match the spirit put on by Blind Guardian in any of their releases before 2002. Anyway, some certain moments of the album send shivers down my spine thinking back of the glory days of Blind Guardian when I listen to "Between the Devil and the Seas" or "IT - The Gathering" to set a few examples. Even the production imitates the one made by Fleming Rasmussen in the now far "Imaginations from the Other Side" which I still refer as one of my capital albums of all time.

Maybe, just maybe, if I was fourteen (as I was when I listened to Blind Guardian first time) I would have loved this album. This is certainly not the case. Even though I like it and I can give a thumbs up for the effort and because of some elements of "Dreamland Manor" I really like, I still rather buying the original stuff than the carbon copy (and this one is really good).

I wish Blind Guardian were still doing this kind of albums.

Execution makes up for lack of innovation - 70%

Twistedeyes, April 25th, 2010

Savage Circus, a band featuring very competent musicians from Iron Savior, Persuader and Blind Guardian. Dreamland Manor sounds exactly how you would think it does. A mixture of Iron Savior and Persuader, a vocal style by Jens Carlsson which is a bit toned down, not as aggressive nor as good as his excellent Persuader/Dark Empire work and of course lots of Blind Guardian mannerisms that Thomen carried over from that band.

This is definitely a power metal album that doesn't try to hide that fact. It splits the difference between the heaviness of your typical German and American power metal bands, having quite catchy/melodic chorus but and being quite fast and aggressive for this genre at times. If you have had heard any of Blind Guardian's first five albums just think of power metal infused with speed elements styling they have shown you there and you will have the groundwork of this album under wraps.

Now everything on Dreamland Manor is performed at top execution and musicianship. There are some fantastic segments e.g the solo in Evil Eyes, incredible catchy chorus of Waltz of the Demon and many more noteworthy parts, but there isn't much in the way of new and unique ideas in the mix. It gets to the point where they either try to purposely or they subconsciously emulate several elements of Blind Guardian albums most specifically Somewhere Far Beyond and Imaginations From the Other Side e.g rhythm/lead guitar tones and ideas, identical backing vocals and of course the drum work of Thomen Stauch. Lyrical themes and even some of the lyrics themselves have either been directly lifted or spliced with some their own original lyrics as well e.g Blind Guardian's Black Chamber and Savage Circus's Between the Devil and the Seas.

Vocally I think Jens Carlsson doesn't sound like a Hansi Kursch clone in Carlsson's other band endeavors, I mean they were comparable at closest there but here I will perceive the point of his vocal delivery was to resemble Kursch as much as possible due to the calmer tone and multiple layered vocal parts.

If you're looking for high quality power metal and are a fan of any of the other bands that Savage Circus members have been in then you would benefit from a listen of Dreamland Manor. The glaring problems that make this not get a much higher rating are lack of uniqueness and inability to find it's own musical identity but if you can get past those issues then you have much to look forward to. The execution in Dreamland Manor makes up for it's severe lack of innovation.

Savagely Entertaining - 81%

DawnoftheShred, February 18th, 2009

Power metal is kind of dead to me. Most of the old-style bands (Blind Guardian, Yngwie Malmsteen, Manowar, Helloween) have fallen into redundancy, making way for a lot of new-style bands that have never known anything but redundancy (Masterplan, Edguy, Twilightning). But every once in a while a fresh face comes along and delivers a nice performance that gives me hope for the genre. In this case, it’s Savage Circus. They don’t deliver anything new on their debut, Dreamland Manor, but what they do deliver is solid.

For a latter-day power metal release, Dreamland Manor is surprisingly intense. Rather than utilize the power of modern production to cover up their own inadequacy (as a lesser band might, see Demons and Wizards), Savage Circus use it to add an extra layer of brutality to their already devastating sound. “Brutal” and “devastating” are not typically words used to describe music by a band that features elves and goblins on their album covers, but they’re fairly applicable here, making Masterplan sound like Whitesnake by comparison. Guitars and drums are the predominant instruments in the mix, while keyboards are less so. There’s a fair amount of integration present in the form of harpsichord, violin, and other effects, but the songs rely on the rhythm section and the vocals. Speaking of vocals, Jens Carlsson strikes me as a second-rate Russell Allen, but he does manage to pull his weight and covers a broad range while maintaining a darker tone than many of his peers. This helps to legitimize some of the more derivative lyrics and upkeep the image that this isn’t your average power metal group.

But really, this album is a treat for guitarists and drummers. Thomen Stauch is a monster behind his kit and the production lets every hit rattle around in your head, while Emil Norberg and Piet Sielck’s classically inspired riffage is both intimidating and ear-pleasing. The songs produced by this group are also ear-pleasing in that while they never overstep the bounds of what is acceptably power metal, they manage to be genuine. The band has their own sound, despite bearing similarities to other genre mainstays, and a lot of times it resembles old video game music (a lot of Mega Man melodies come to mind), which for me is always a good thing.

That the lyrics are predictable and the choir vocals get a bit annoying are about all I can complain about this release, which means it’s pretty fucking good. Perhaps not a legendary album, but how many of those do you find that were released in 2005 anyway? Definitely worth looking into.

*DISCLAIMER* - I'm not familiar with later period Blind Guardian, so if this album's sound is copped directly from their stuff, I apologize for the high score.

The EPITOME of Power Metal !! - 99%

Emporium, May 23rd, 2008

Recently registering, though by no means a novice in the metal evolution (with 20 wasted years of metal mania), I had to meticulously select a special album for my first review.. I hope it doesn't suck...

Simply put, Dreamland Manor is one of the BEST albums in the history of power metal.. The talented quartet speaks the ultimatum of power - the catchy melodies of Blind Guardian, the insane intensity of Persuader, and the clean riffs of Iron Savior..

This album is a mixture between speed and power metal but the power metal section is more dominant than the speed metal section There are no highlights in this album. Every song is a masterpiece. The first 30 seconds of Evil Eyes covered me in sweat from head to toe. I knew this was no ordinary album. Between the Devil & the Sea pumps the adrenaline into every vein as you hear Carlsson's screams touch every nerve in your brain. It's needless to go on complimenting every song as they are flawless.. with special mention to Born Again By the Night - an all-time favourite with perhaps the best chorus in the album..

I only disagree with SC being the clones of BG.. Though there are similarities, I must say, albeit shyly, that I find SC more direct and less meandering through various musical compositions with their riffs more powerful than BG's. Looks like Jens has found his perfect buddies - His voice cuts are better than Persuader's.

In short, this is a must-have-die-if-you-don't piece of art

Savage Circus - Dreamland Manor - 100%

DarkDryad, September 6th, 2005

Well when people complained that Persuader sounded awfully a lot like Blind Guardian and Iron Savior, what did they do? They said screw them, went and teamed up with Blind Guardian’s ex-drummer Thomen Stauch and Iron Savior’s Piet Sielck on bass, guitar and backing vocals. And of course, from Persuader you have Jens Karlsson (vocals) and Emil Norberg (guitar). Together they created a masterpiece which is their debut album with a refreshing sound. Even though the resemblance with Persuader is patent, the album is more melodic and Sielck’s backing vocals create a great effect misleading us to think at times that the band hired an orchestra (which is not the case).

The loveable thing about Dreamland Manor is that it is intense from beginning to end. As seen in Persuader, there isn’t any crappy ballad to come and ruin the atmosphere. The only slow stuff on Dreamland Manor would be the intro to The Waltz Of The Demon and Beyond Reality which are two great songs. The guitar riffs are in the exact same style as Persuader, catchy as hell, clean, new and incredibly melodic. One after the other you let yourself be enthralled by its melodies and by the very nice and soothing solos. But everyone will agree that what compliments those great guitar riffs are Karlsson’s brilliant vocals. It seems like his vocals are even better on this album where you even have the chance of hearing him doing clean vocals (Waltz Of The Demon) which sound fantastic. And everyone will be very happy to see that Karlsson keeps on doing his signature move; when he sings and then the instruments go dead leaving only him and his semi-harsh screams. This is done nicely in Ghost Story when he screams “Let me die” and is present in every other songs too. Bass lines are also very pleasant (when the sound is put up that is), but could have been a bit heavier in order to have this contrast between the high vocals and guitar melodies.

In no case would anyone be displeased by this album. Every criterion for an album to be called a masterpiece is fulfilled with this album. The gathering of these four amazing musicians truly created something great in the veins of Persuader. And whoever still complains about Karlsson’s vocals resembling those of Hansi Kursch should get over it, because Karlsson’s vocals are much better than Kursch’s. I could not have asked for more, this melodic blast will probably be 2005’s greatest album. Highlights of Dreamland Manor? Well everything, there’s absolutely no filler song. This gets a perfect rating 100%, Persuader’s vocalist and guitarist truly are young metal gods.