Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Blind Guardian, "Imaginations from the Other Side"

First, a confession...I never listened to Blind Guardian until the 2000's. I was one of those American metal fans from the 1980s who transitioned to grunge and alternative music in 1991. I could write a whole post about what I liked about 1990's alternative music -- and could probably write many posts about my disappointments, but that's not my purpose here. I need to write a little something about how unfortunate such a lengthy departure from metal was. I missed Blind Guardian!

And, really, I never should have missed them. They put out two solid speed metal-ish records in the 1980's and they should have come up on my radar. But by 1989, my side-journey was already beginning: Faith No More and Jane's Addiction had started the transition. But I think I would've incorporated Blind Guardian into my full-time collection had I heard "Tales from the Twilight Hall" in 1990. "Traveler in Time" and "Lost in the Twilight Hall" are killer songs and may have kept me interested enough to pick up their 1990's releases. But, alas, my social network was only as broad as the people I knew personally. (No metal blogs were around to persuade me to stay).

When I did get around to listening to Blind Guardian in 2002, I was not impressed. I had read some fantastic reviews of their current album, "A Night at the Opera," so I picked it up. I liked the first song, "Precious Jerusalem," but then I lost interest. The production really bothered me. The lead guitar, with its thick and cloying sound -- and the fact that it was ever-present through the songs (even the vocal parts), was really annoying. I wanted more oomph in the rhythm guitar. Instead, it seemed like an over-orchestrated mess.

Funny thing? I still have the same feeling about "A Night at the Opera." Obviously, I've come around to some of the songs. It's not half bad. But it's clearly not their high point. For me, their high point is 1995's "Imaginations from the Other Side." The vocal melodies are incredibly memorable -- and powerful. Some died-in-the-wool metal people grimace when they hear that a band has "catchy choruses," but a song's catchiness says nothing about its power. These guys know how to be heavy and aggressive, but the melodies are strong and they stick with you.

When the whole chorus of background vocals come in, everything sounds perfect. A great example is in "The Script for My Requiem," which has one of those rousing, gang-vocal backgrounds. The vocals emerge from a speed-metal pace to a slow and powerful, half-time beat with that stellar melody.

What's great about this album is that it's strong all the way through. It starts on a great note with "Imaginations from the Other Side," which has the feeling of a tribal incantation. But where a lot of great albums use up their good ideas in the first few songs, this album continues to pummel you. My favorite songs are the last three: "Bright Eyes," "Another Holy War," and "And the Story Ends." "Bright Eyes" is especially strong. I love the eerie intro, those chanted background vocals, and then the lead vocal, which holds that one powerful note while the rest of the music stops at about 45 second in. Perfect. Then the subversive repetition of "watching you, watching you, watching you" in the background -- very freaky. It gives me chills. But again, it all comes down to the chorus: very memorable and beautiful, without lacking in power.

This album has to go down as one of the best metal albums of all time. For those of you who gave up on metal in 1991, you totally missed out!

1 comment:

  1. Poetry, metal and a PKD thesis? I look forward to reading your stuff as well!