Blind Guardian – 1988 to 2003 Reissues

Remastering albums is a tricky business. For every perceived mistake or fault which gets cleaned up, smoothed over, or completely erased; for every tweak or alteration to the mix, there will always be listeners who prefer the original, no matter what. Trying to improve a recording can often lead to losing the charm of the original, and so as much as record label Nuclear Blast have given a significant portion of Blind Guardian‘s discography a deserved facelift here, the results will lie purely in the eye (or in this case, the ear) of the beholder.

Formed in 1984 in Krefeld, Germany under the less than memorable moniker of Lucifer’s Heritage, it took until 1988 for the band to see sense, change their name and release their début album Battalions Of Fear (originally on No Remorse Records/Century Media/Virgin Records). Ostensibly a Speed Metal album in the vein of early Helloween, the unique delivery of singer Hansi Kursch helped set them apart from other bands in the genre. An impressive début album, tracks like ‘Majesty’, ‘Run For The Night’, and ‘By The Gates of Moria’ were already highlighting the band’s predilection towards all things Lord of the Rings, while ‘Guardian of the Blind’ was based on Stephen King‘s It, and ‘Wizard’s Crown’ was about magician Aleister Crowley. The (previously released) bonus tracks even include a demo of the Iron Maiden-esque ‘Brian’ which is based amusingly on Monty Python’s The Life of Brian. [7.5]

Continuing with the Python theme, the band’s second album, Follow The Blind begins with monks chanting in Latin as they do in The Holy Grail, but without hitting themselves in the face afterwards. Although a decent follow-up, FTB isn’t quite as strong as their début, or indeed much of a stride forwards, but a number of songs do feature improved riffs, hooks and choruses, most notably ‘Banish From Sanctuary’ and the magnificent ‘Valhalla’ (featuring Kai Hansen from Helloween/Gamma Ray). Although it has to be said that their cover of The Regents/The Beach Boys hit ‘Barbara Ann’ is the stuff of nightmares. [7.0]

1990’s Tales From The Twilight World saw the band venturing into more ambitious territory. ‘Traveler In Time’ retains the feel of the first two albums, as does the superb ‘Welcome To Dying’, but with more of an ear towards composition rather than straightforward speed this time. Kursch’s performance on ‘Lord Of The Rings’ is a little wobbly in places, but the song creates a familiar and enchanting atmosphere, and in a quite-possibly-drunk-off-his-tits guest appearance, Kai Hansen appears again, completely losing his shit on ‘Lost In The Twilight Hall’. The band momentarily find themselves treading water with the entirely forgettable ‘Altair 4’ and the pointless instrumental widdlings of ‘Weird Dreams’. However, it’s on the superb ‘The Last Candle’ that this good, but transitional, album shines the brightest. [7.5]

Somewhere in the two years that passed after the release of TFTTW, Blind Guardian discovered a new level of focus, direction and confidence, and in 1992 delivered the perfect combination of speed, power and that unique Blind Guardian atmosphere. Somewhere Far Beyond (originally Virgin/Century Media) is the first time that everything the band had hinted at previously finally came together, most notably on the likes of ‘Time What is Time’, ‘Journey Through the Dark’, ‘Theatre of Pain’, and ‘The Quest For Tanelorn’. ‘The Bard’s Song – In The Forest’ became an instant favourite among fans, and especially with the cover of ‘Spread Your Wings’ (originally included as a bonus track), the band’s Queen influence really became apparent. [9.0]

Live albums can be hit and miss, and although 1993’s Tokyo Tales is pretty good, it does occasionally give the impression that the crowd were added in post-production, with brief, randomly placed swells of noise seemingly there only to nudge the listener into remembering they’re listening to a live recording. Much of the interaction during songs is fine, but there are times when it all sounds a little too reminiscent of that scene in Sylvester Stallone football movie Escape to Victory when the German commentator turns up a tape recording of crowd noise to make things sound livelier. Overall, Tokyo Tales is an enjoyable live album, and even though ‘Valhalla’ was yet to turn into the ten minute sing along it is these days, restricted here to just some polite hand clapping, it’s still one of the best tracks on display. Although, German sense of humour or not, ending such a good set with ‘Barbara Ann’ was downright criminal. [6.5]

Continuing with the more melodic approach of their previous studio outing, Imaginations From The Other Side was another high point in Blind Guardian’s illustrious career. The band remained as heavy as ever, but the speed was now tempered with a more thoughtful and progressive approach, especially on tracks ‘Bright Eyes’ and ‘Mordred’s Song’. That’s not to say, of course, that there aren’t moments of the old Blind Guardian scattered over the record. The Metallica-esque intro and pounding thrashery of ‘I’m Alive’ and ‘Born In A Mourning Hall’ could easily have been written for either of their first two albums, and ‘The Script For My Requiem’ doesn’t exactly drag its feet, but overall, Imaginations… is a more measured and complex release. Hansi’s voice, particularly on medieval ballad ‘A Past and Future Secret’ sounds far more assured, covering a wider emotional range than before, and with legendary Danish producer Flemming (Metallica) Rasmussen, at the helm, Imaginations From the Other Side sounds every bit the Power Metal classic it is. [9.0]

A mixed bag of covers, alternate versions, and a live recording of ‘The Bard’s Song’, The Forgotten Tales (originally Virgin) is one mainly for completists and die hards. Is anybody really that desperate to hear their versions of ‘Mr Sandman’, ‘Surfin’ USA’, or bloody ‘Barbara Ann’ again? That said, the covers of Uriah Heep‘s ‘The Wizard’, ‘Don’t Talk to Strangers’ by Dio, ‘To France’ by Mike Oldfield, and ‘Beyond the Realms of Death’ by Judas Priest are enjoyable, as are their alternate versions of ‘Bright Eyes’, ‘Lord of the Rings’, and ‘Mordred’s Song’. [7.0]

With the band having swapped Speed for Power and Prog, it came as no surprise to find Blind Guardian going full Tolkien and writing a concept album based on The Silmarillion. Regarded by many as the pinnacle of the band’s career, 1998’s Nightfall In Middle Earth is a sprawling epic complete with mighty battles and theatrical narration. In a time when Nu-Metal and Pop Punk were on the rise within the mainstream rock and metal scene, Nightfall…, with its classical tendencies and Queen style choral orchestration was the perfect cheese flavoured antidote. Flowing seamlessly from beginning to end, ‘Mirror, Mirror’, ‘Nightfall’, ‘The Curse of Feanor’, ‘A Dark Passage’, ‘Time Stands Still’, and ‘Thorn’ are just a few examples of the quality of the material contained in its one hour plus running time. Hansi Kursch has never sounded better, and the band’s use of flutes and piano help create the perfect atmosphere for their journey to Middle Earth. [9.5]

Brazenly, but appropriately, lifting its title from the 1975 Queen classic, 2002’s A NIGHT AT THE OPERA split many Guardian fans down the middle. Many saw the over the top pomp and classical bombast as just another natural progression, but others felt it was overly lavish, like the band were trying to cram too many clothes into one small suitcase. The truth, as ever, lies somewhere in the middle. There are times when ANATO rises majestically above many of their other releases, but there are also occasions where experimentation and wanton musical masturbation give the impression of the tail wagging the dog. However, when the band get it right, the results, like opener ‘Precious Jerusalem’, and the fourteen minute epic, ‘And There Was Silence’ can be astonishingly good. [8.0]

And so, we finally come to the tenth and final reissue. Live, as its self-explanatory title proclaims, is another non-studio outing for the band. Recorded in several countries during the band’s 2002/2003 world tour, Live is essentially a double album of greatest hits; a Best Of package performed by a band at the top of their game in front of thousands of rabid fans. There really is no comparison to previous live release, Tokyo Tales, here. With spectacular versions of ‘The Bard’s Song’, ‘Valhalla’, ‘Bright Eyes’, ‘Welcome to Dying’, and ‘Nightfall’, Live simply destroys it. [9.0]

 

So, there you go. Every full-length release from Blind Guardian’s pre-Nuclear Blast life, re-released and

remastered with extra tracks and fancy packaging for your delectation. Whichever version you prefer may be purely subjective, but the music simply can’t be argued with.

Overall: 8.5/10

GARY ALCOCK