The discovery of a new band is always exciting. Will it be something you’ve heard countless times? An experience that leaves a bad taste in your mouth? Or is it a treat from which you cannot stop consuming? I wanted to take a trip back in time to reminisce about bands/albums that not only introduced me to heavy music, but kept me coming back for more…
From The Archive: Blind Guardian – A Night At The Opera
To me, power metal has always been, and will always be about Blind Guardian. They’re the first power metal band I heard, and they also are my favorite. Unlike other power metal bands, they don’t really care about slaying dragons or being heroes of the land. They’re all about telling melancholic and grandiose stories. Nightfall In The Middle Earth is entirely about The Lord of The Rings (way before the movies), and Imaginations From The Other Side is possibly the best album in the genre. The special thing about Blind Guardian is that they don’t rely on the cliches of the genre, which are constantly tremolo picking guitars, a voice that is in very high falsetto all the time, and upbeat lyrics. No, Blind Guardian songs are at times very dark, very deliberate, and vocalist Hansi Kürsch has remarkable range to bring it all together. There are almost always two distinct guitar lines to spice it up.
So if Imaginations is their best album, why am I talking about Opera? Because Opera is where they went over the top with their sound and became more of a progressive band. Don’t get me wrong, you should definitely listen to Imaginations, but Opera should also be on your list. Most power metal purists shun this album because of the aforementioned fact. This is a shame, because the album is quite unique. It was also the album that really grabbed me and made me a Guardian fan. After this album, they went soft and lost what makes them unique in my opinion, so this is also the peak of their career, the ultimate cultivation.
The songs on Opera contain references to all kinds of stories, fictional or real. The way the stories are told within the songs is also very impressive. It’s what every power metal does, but most power metal songs retain the same texture regardless of the story told. This is not the case with Opera though. Take a look at “Battlefield”.
Note: For some reason their label seems to be very particular about the copyright of songs on Opera, so these videos will unfortunately be unavailable in certain regions, and there is no simple, legal around this. I apologize.
As the battle gets more intense the tone of the lyrics, the song, the instrumentation, everything changes. This is also amplified by singer Hansi Kursch’s range of tonality, he can be heavenly or hellish. The clear changes of tone and pace the song goes through many times goes to show the progressive nature of this album. There is also a lot to be said about the instrumentation of the guitars. While rhythm guitarist Marcus Siepen does exactly what his job title suggests, it’s an essential part of the soundscape. However, lead guitarist Andre Olbrich is the real star here. While his playing is not a mind-blowing displaying of technicality, it fits the texture of the song perfectly, and evolves with the songs structure. On my first listenings of the album, I hadn’t even noticed this, because I wasn’t an active listener back then. A year later, when Blind Guardian made a live album with songs from this album on it, I noticed how prevalent and thematic the lead work was. Unlike many power metal bands, his lead work is not a re-tread of tired musical principles, but more of a neo-medieval sound. I know that doesn’t make much sense, but listen to the songs and you’ll understand.
While Blind Guardian are known for having a dramatic flair, the grandeur on this album is on a very different scale from their earlier work. Most of their older songs had a feel of ‘doing more with less’ while this album does more with more. There’s some orchestration on many of the songs, and the songwriting favors a more ‘big picture’-driven approach. Their 14 minute epic “And Then There Was Silence“, which is based on Homer’s Iliad, is possibly the best song they’ve ever written. Normally power metal fails to evoke a lot of emotion from me because it’s always “up to 11”, but Blind Guardian have never been like that. The subtleties in their music emphasize the epicness, which is best showcased in their longer songs. Perhaps this is because I’m more of a progressive metal fan than a power metal fan, but the quality of the song speaks for itself.
After this album, Blind Guardian fell victim to the classic problem many long-running bands face: They lost drummer Thomen Stauch and took a long break. Their comeback album A Twist in the Myth, while decent, was missing the epic flair of A Night At The Opera. However, all is not over, as they’ve recently announced that they’re working on an orchestral album. If they can achieve the glory of their older works, it will be awesome. In the meantime, one can still listen to this album and Imaginations From The Other Side. Bands nowadays don’t make simple yet effective melancholic music like this nowadays. Hopefully I’ve been able to awaken the desire to explore the soundscape that Blind Guardian have painted for us to listen, and also do a good job of taking Dormition’s column for an album that’s very special for me.