Blind Guardian, Nightfall in Middle-Earth (1998)
I think Germany’s Blind Guardian are probably still a little too current to fall into the realm of “classic metal,” but if they were going to enter the discussion, I think 1998’s Nightfall in Middle-Earth would be grounds on its own for consideration. The album followed 1995’s Imaginations from the Other Side, which wasn’t exactly where they made the turn from thrash to power metal, but was just about where they perfected their approach to the latter. What makes Nightfall in Middle-Earth stand out from its predecessor is the complexity and execution of its theme, based around narratives culled from J.R.R. Tolkien‘s The Silmarillion.
If you’ve never read it — I’ll confess that I didn’t get the whole way through — The Silmarillion tells tales of the first age of Middle-Earth, before the coming of men and the decline of the immortal elves. It is essentially a Bible with many gods for the world in which the Lord of the Rings trilogy takes place, and as ever for Tolkien, it’s a world no less winding than it is complete. For Blind Guardian to tackle such a thing wasn’t necessarily new for them even then — as early as 1992’s Somewhere Far Beyond they were referencing Tolkien‘s The Hobbit – but for them to do so with such a narrative thread while still writing songs so stellar as to be highlights of their discography now 16 years later like “Mirror Mirror,” “Nightfall” (“…quietly it crept in and changed us all,” goes the chorus), “Blood Tears” and “Time Stands Still (At the Iron Hill)” feels like twice the achievement. Imaginations from the Other Side is a damn good record, but when it comes to Blind Guardian and everything they’ve embodied as a band ever since, Nightfall in Middle-Earth is a genuine masterpiece.
And though those tracks and others will mark themselves out on any listen, first or 50th, it remains an album best heard front to back, its many interludes and narrative components — some just spoken word over foreboding ambience — feeding into the overall listening experience. This version has a couple bonus tracks tacked onto the end, but even in its bare form, Nightfall in Middle-Earth tops 65 minutes and is no meager undertaking. Like The Silmarillion itself, it is a world to enter and be changed by, and one no less magical. The lineup of the band at that point was vocalist Hansi Kürsch, who as far as I’m concerned deserves mention among the greatest voices in metal regardless of genre, guitarist André Olbrich, rhythm guitarist Marcus Siepen, drummer Thomas Stauch, guest bassist Oliver Holzwarth, and a host of others including keyboardist, choir vocalists, flautist and pianist, and what they created was a sound larger than life that Blind Guardian — with Kürsch, Olbrich and Siepen still at the heart of the band — continues to refine to this day. It was announced today that in 2015, they’ll release a new album on Nuclear Blast called Beyond the Red Mirror, weaving an original fantasy tale set in the same universe as some of the tracks from Imaginations from the Other Side and employing no less than three full choirs and two 90-piece orchestras. They remain unafraid to go big.
Hope you enjoy.
Kind of a departure, right? That’s what I was hoping for. Something a little different, but it’s a record I’ve lived with and enjoyed since around the time it came out, so it seemed fair. If you feel like it’s not stoner rock enough, there’s always the radio stream. Plenty of that stuff in there, which I should know because (1:) I put it there and (2:) I listen to that friggin’ thing all the time because it’s badass.
Not my best week. I could elaborate. I’d rather not. Suffice it to say I’m still basically recovering from being on tour — though that ebola seems to have for the most part passed, and for that I’m thankful — and that my poor feeble brain hasn’t really managed to settle back down without feeling like it should be racing off somewhere else. I still have Bang and Pentagram and Radio Moscow and Kings Destroy songs stuck in my head, and it was a little disconcerting today when I scrolled down and realized all those posts were off the frontpage. Things go pretty quick around here, I guess.
Next week, I think I’ll have a stream of the new album by Rhode Island’s Balam at some point. I have a thing Monday — it’s like a job recruitment thing, I don’t really know — in the afternoon that will probably eat up a decent chunk of the day, but I’ll be reviewing the Ufomammut DVD sooner or later and the new Brant Bjork as well. Some vinyl to catch up on too, and a tape from The Heavy Company. I’m also still waiting to get that Lowrider interview back, but one of these days.
In the meantime, it’s down to Connecticut and subsequently New Jersey for family stuff and then back up on Sunday. We actually drove down to Connecticut tonight on I-95, the same route I had the van headed back from Rhode Island the other day. I kept thinking about how dazed I was on that trip, my head just completely somewhere else. It’s an adjustment being home, especially when — and I’ll just be honest here — I don’t have jack shit going on. Not like I went back to work, or went back to doing something with my day. Full speed to dead stop. Me and the dog on the couch, listening to records and reviewing them for nobody to read. Oh, and it’s nighttime at like 4PM now too. Awesome. Things are going really well. Definitely none of that broke-as-shit, 33-years-old-total-failure, what-the-fuck-am-I-doing-this-for stuff going on. Whatever.
Blech, as Woody might say.
I hope you have a great and safe weekend. Enjoy the Blind Guardian, have a good time, don’t break anything you don’t want broken and we’ll see you back here Monday for more of whatever you call this.
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