8-Track: Blind Guardian

Blind Guardian is a band so synonymous with the term “power metal” that they basically defined the genre for countless bands that exist to this day. With a career spanning

8 years ago

Blind Guardian is a band so synonymous with the term “power metal” that they basically defined the genre for countless bands that exist to this day. With a career spanning more than thirty years, the band began as a thrash metal in 1984 known as Lucifer’s Heritage, but began their evolution into a huge and epic power metal band sometime in the early 1990s with their thrash/power fusion record Somewhere Far Beyond. By the time Imaginations from the Other Side and Nightfall in Middle-Earth had released in 1995 and 1998, respectively, the power metal sound had nearly eclipsed their thrash influences, but they certainly remained in the background.

We at Heavy Blog is Heavy have chosen the eight tracks that we feel define Blind Guardian’s career over their massive ten-album discography.

Somewhere Far Beyond – The Bard’s Song (In the Forest) – [1992]

Honestly, is there a more iconic Blind Guardian song out there than this one? The band almost doesn’t even need to play the song past the intro, as the song immediately follows with some of Hansi’s most confident and beautiful vocal performances of all time. Practically every line of the first part of “The Bard’s Song” is instantly quotable and pulls off the Tolkien worship just as successfully as anything off of Nightfall in Middle Earth. Are you looking for incredibly charismatic and hyper-dramatic material about the struggles of hobbits, dwarves and men? Yes, it’s obviously campy and pretty heavy-handed if you go into listening to this band without any sense of levity, but as long as you do, it’s one of the finest examples of a ballad to ever come out of the power metal scene. The instrumentation accompanies the lyrics perfectly as well, as the highly-nuanced guitar interplay and incredible use of counterpoint between Andre Olbrich and Marcus Siepen instantly transports the listener to an undeniably medieval atmosphere.

Blind Guardian has had a host of incredibly moving and well-written ballads over their career, but none of them are as instantly synonymous for what the band’s M.O. is better than this three-minute masterpiece. Plenty of other bands in the power metal world have tried their damndest to capture the same incredible sense of storytelling and drama as this, but have never really matched this level of quality. As long as you’re willing to have an open mind and an affinity for the otherworldly, this tale of a brave man who lived far from here will go down as one of the greatest ballads to not just come out of power metal, but heavy metal as a whole. Now go slug back a flagon of mead and drunkenly sing this with your brethren as soon as humanly possible.

-Kit Brown

Somewhere Far Beyond – Somewhere Far Beyond [1992]

Why do we listen to power metal? The answers are many but there’s no doubt that speed and technicality are one of them; nothing quite scratches the same itch that breakneck gallop guitars, moving solos and furious bridges. For that, the middle of Blind Guardian’s career is one of the best motherloads. As the band were transforming from their origins into their established sound, the original thrash elements were still very much present. Coupled with an increasing understanding of how dynamics and variety play a big role in what makes an album great, this rudimentary aggression makes for very fulfilling power metal.

Case in point: “Somewhere Far Beyond” from the album of the same name. Good lord, just listen to the first riff, a riff that will carry us all the way through the track. It sends your blood churning and your feet a-stamping, marching in beat to places far away. Not enough? Around the first minute mark, a short solo arrives that ignites the already electric atmosphere with immense energies. How could one forget mellifluous Hansi, still bearing the power and timbre of his youth? And if all of these are not enough for you, wait for the folk section near the middle of the track. This song is all about basic, guttural power metal which doesn’t waste time with apologies and doesn’t hold back for one second.

Somewhere Far Beyond is one of Blind Guardian’s most powerful albums exactly because of that. Where others are more refined and still others more far-reaching in their concepts, Somewhere Far Beyond is pure, unbridled power metal fury. It makes you want to jump, shout and move. Please do. Jam this fantastic track wherever you are and proceed to nerd the fuck out. After all, that’s what power metal is all about: loving what you love passionately and not being afraid to express it.

-Eden Kupermintz

Imaginations from the Other Side – Bright Eyes [1995]

This song. It’s not really possible to not be overwhelmed by “Bright Eyes.” The chilling intro, Hansi’s intense vocals, the powerful chorus – this song is Blind Guardian at their most succinct. It goes to show that one does not need to have fast picking or extravagant leads to have a great power metal song. With the simple riffs and subtle lead work on top of them, we see that sometimes less can be more. A lot of this is due to Hansi’s vocals, his lyrics and his delivery. In the verses he uses a lower tone, emphasizing the pain in his voice, whereas in the chorus he goes the distance with a chorus of falsettos, solidifying his place as one of the best vocalists out there. Variations on the same themes are constantly expanded upon by the guitars as the song keeps delving into new depths of darkness. Then we have the solo section which ramps up the tempo and provides some contrast to the rest of the song, making it all hit harder.

Imaginations from the Other Side saw Blind Guardian halfway through the transition between the thrashier, speed-metal-influenced sound they started out with towards the more epic, grandiose power metal style they developed later in their career. This hybrid nature of the album makes it a great candidate for their best, as they get to tap into the strengths of both styles. “Another Holy War” is a furious beast, whereas “Mordred’s Song” and “Bright Eyes” show the band’s softer, more vulnerable side. “Bright Eyes” is especially important, as it manages to take those elements and balance them with each other. But that’s not the only reason this song shines. Blind Guardian are masters of changing their tone, instrumentation and vocal styles to present a different mood and theme to go along with their lyrics. “Bright Eyes” is the most prominent example of this from their earlier career, and it set a tone for the theatrics that followed on later albums, leading to diverse masterpieces like A Night At The Opera. Even ignoring its historic contest, “Bright Eyes” is great simply because it’s an amazing, flawless song. It’s still a staple of the band’s live setlist too, and it’s still just as chilling today as it was more than 20 years ago.

-Noyan Tokgozoglu

Nightfall in Middle-Earth – Mirror Mirror [1998]

When you think of Blind Guardian, what’s the one song that jumps into your head? Well, probably “The Bard’s Song,” but if we’re trying to go a bit harder, look no further than “Mirror Mirror.” The middle track of the career-defining Nightfall in Middle-Earth, “Mirror Mirror” is five minutes purely aggressive and fun power metal. The album itself details The Silmarillion, a collection of stories that describe the mythical universe of Ea that precedes the epic quadrology comprising The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings.

Whatever your feelings on The Lord of the Rings as a whole may be, it’s hard to deny “Mirror Mirror” is monumental in sound, breaking away from Blind Guardian’s thrash metal stylings and fully embracing the huge power metal sound that would eventually evolve into their now-famous epic, operatic material that pushed the boundaries for power metal the world over. “Mirror Mirror” became so exemplary, in fact, that the band have cemented it as a staple to end all of their shows. Nothing to shake a High Elf at!

-Kyle Gaddo

Nightfall in Middle-Earth – Noldor (Dead Winter Reigns) [1998]

Nightfall In Middle-Earth shows up twice on this list and there’s good reason for that: it marks one of the highest achievements in Blind Guardian’s career and one of the finest moments in power metal. It is not only based on Tolkien’s finest work, The Silmarillion, featuring a rich, engrossing concept but it also showcases all parts of the band at their best. The guitars, perfecting the move away from the thrashy roots of the band towards an epicness that would come to define them, are well written and masterfully executed. The production is also an order of magnitude better than previous releases. But most of all, it’s Hansi Kürsch’s vocals that steal the show. Shedding the youthful trappings of previous works, it’s here that Hansi solidified his place as one of the best metal vocalist in history.

“Noldor (Dead Winter Reigns)” is a perfect example of all of this. It opens with a melodic guitar line that will later serve for as the backbone of the track, with epic chords fleshing it out for uncontainable power and delivery. Telling the tale of the Kinslaying, where upon the elves first slew each other, and the Doom which followed it, the lyrics are instantly convincing, combining defiance, loss and regret into one. Hansi, backed by plenty of choir vocals, works equally as well in the admonishing role as he is in the contrite one. Pay special attention to his scream on the last verse, where he both hits an insanely difficult note and keeps a raspiness in his voice which completely sells the role he’s playing and the rage being felt by the character.

The track exemplifies Blind Guardian’s strongest ability: to combine different musical elements around one melodic line and deliver the whole package home with incredible strength. It’s the best that power metal has to offer, fast, emotional, epic and yet subtle and varied. Nowhere until then and, arguably, since then has Blind Guardian been so skillful and seamless at producing the music for which they are so well known.

-Eden Kupermintz

A Night at the Opera – Precious Jerusalem [2002]

The tribal drums. The modern industrial feel. The powerful guitars. One listen to the beginning of “Precious Jerusalem” would lead any discerning metal fan to believe they’ve stumbled upon a rare outtake from Sepultura’s genre-defining album Chaos A.D., which helped pave the way for nu-metal’s tribal-infused pastures. However, any doubt about the German juggernaut’s intent is short-lived when Hansi Kursch’s golden pipes grace the cones. The year is 2002 and Blind Guardian is fed up with power metal norms, instead taking a huge risk among the more elite of fans and bands alike, pushing the gas on the progressive side of their sound and aiming to break records with the amount of vocal overdubs a compressed batch of frequencies can handle. Turns out it’s a lot.

Conceptually, “Precious Jerusalem” highlights the final days of the earth’s most beloved (or maligned) son—you guessed it—Jesus Christ.  Kursch belts out every word and soaring note with the fervor of an impassioned preacher, from the betrayal of Jesus’ disciples to his temptation in the desert. In possibly the most overwhelming chorus of all time, about a thousand Hansi’s and however many additions of backing vocals from other members plead “I turn to you oh my precious Jerusalem! Deny your prophets their passion and treat them like fools.” A major production effect to add to the bombast is co-founding guitarist André Olbrich’s signature midrange-heavy lead lines, heavily layered and doubling or sometimes counterpointing the vocal lines. It’s a brilliant technique, and one that has never been effectively duplicated or even mimicked. Sadly, or perhaps thankfully depending on who you ask,  A Night at the Opera was the absolute peak of Blind Guardian’s over-indulgent studio wankery, and “Precious Jerusalem” is a testament (hurr) to this pivotal point in the band’s career.

-Dan Wieten

A Night At The Opera – And Then There Was Silence [2002]

“And Then There Was Silence” stands, to date, as the longest and, without a doubt, most epic song that Blind Guardian have ever produced. At a length of just over 14 minutes, this song, based on The Iliad by Homer and on the Aeneid by Virgil, describes Cassandra’s dream about the destruction of the city of Troy, more commonly known as The Fall of Troy.

In fact, the song is so intricate and complex that it alone took as much production time as the rest of the A Night at the Opera album.The massive sound found throughout the album, most notably on other “big sound” songs, like “Precious Jerusalem,” “The Soulforged,” and “Age of False Innocence, was more or less defined by “And Then There Was Silence,” as it was the lead single for the album. If there was any song to really build up expectations of a record, this was definitely it.

-Kyle Gaddo

At The Edge Of Time – Wheel Of Time [2010]
What defines Blind Guardian – what defines the specific brand of sweeping, grandiose, progressive power metal that has inspired so many modern imitators of their sound – is the truly epic feeling they manage to capture in their music. The combination of Kursch’s soaring vocals and diverse songwriting that always manages to feel appropriate for the mood creates a vibe of high fantasy adventure and danger; listening to Blind Guardian brings about the same tense rush of adrenaline and “now-or-never” immediacy as the last boss of a particularly tough video game, or the final, climactic battle of an engrossing novel or movie. Leading into the current decade with At The Edge Of Time, one of their finest albums out of a practically jewel-encrusted discography, and my personal favorite, this closing, quasi-eponymous track sums up everything the band does right.

“Wheel Of Time” is perhaps the most cinematic song the band has written: the quietude of the backing strings opens up the song with a low-to-the-ground shot that quickly pans out into a birds-eye vista as the music begins to swell. At the 35-second mark everything explodes with a triumphant melody and Kursch’s emotional singing, and from there, the track builds into an incredible finale that is truly worthy of the album, twisting and turning its way through melodies and choruses that no other band would be able to achieve. This song is everything modern Blind Guardian does right; it is singular in its intent to conjure up visions of grandeur and adventure, it moves naturally and easily through every idea without any part feeling either underdeveloped or overwrought, and, most importantly, it is seizing, compelling, and immediate. Nine minutes never went by so fast.

-Simon Handmaker

Kyle Gaddo

Published 8 years ago