BLIND GUARDIAN: IMAGINATIONS FROM THE OTHER SIDE (1995)
1) Imaginations From The Other Side; 2) I'm Alive; 3) A Past And Future Secret; 4) The Script For My Requiem; 5) Mordred's Song; 6) Born In A Mourning Hall; 7) Bright Eyes; 8) Another Holy War; 9) And The Story Ends.
If you are not deeply entrenched in the intricacies of the various sub-varieties of heavy metal, you will probably feel that what separates Imaginations from earlier Blind Guardian can be summed up as «small details, shades, and nuances». A bit of a slower tempo here, a bit of a choral overdub there, same old story on the larger scale. But go visit a Blind Guardian discussion board, and every now and then you will be able to come across a flame war between «speed metal fans» and «power metal fans», extolling the relative crimes against taste or leaps forward in creativity that the band has committed while making the transition to a whole new era.
As far as I am concerned, «ideologically» this new outburst of creative energy from the world's most ardent «don't-mess-with-my-fantasy-world» musical sect is as orthodox as orthodox can be. Nine more epic tunes, brimming with power and arrogance, each based on the already familiar artistic strengths of Kürsch and Olbrich, and each dealing with a fantasy theme (sometimes a thick mish-mash of fantasy themes, like the title track). Regarding the factor of speed, only three of the songs are relatively slow in their entirety: the largely acoustic ʽA Past And Future Secretʼ is more «epic folk» than metal altogether, and ʽBright Eyesʼ, along with the grand finale of ʽAnd The Story Endsʼ, could not technically be ascribed to the «speed metal» bin, unless you were cheating and playing them at 78 rpm. The rest, while they do accumulate stylistic «ruffles» that make them more palatable for the «artsy-minded» people, are quite conservative in essence.
If there is any serious change at all, it is to be sought in the melodic structures: even the speedier parts are getting more complex, like the brilliant introduction to ʽBorn In A Mourning Hallʼ that preserves the tempo, but replaces the usual «amelodic» chugga-chugga with a series of riffs that, you know, play actual notes and stuff. I am not quite sure that this represents compositional genius — despite increased complexity, the individual melodies are not specifically evocative — but at least it represents hard work, which, when combined with an energetic punch and sincerity of execution, should be respected.
Perhaps it is also to be sought out in increased ambitions. The title track may have been intentionally conceived to be the «ultimate» Blind Guardian visit card — lyrically, it summarizes just about every single one of the band numerous fetishes, and offers an explicit justification for their brand of escapism: "Come follow me to wonderland / And see the tale that never ends... But still I know / There is another world... / I'll break down the walls around my heart / Imaginations from the other side" — an optimistic-nostalgic ode to the «never grow up» mindset. It's like a slightly delayed explanation that they feel they owe the world — delivered to the sounds of one of their most bombastic arrangements up to date. Swirling, swooshing, wailing spirits, church bells, gothic keyboards, monstrous metal riff, operatic vocals with ghostly answers — way too heavy, one could remark, for a song whose primary points of reference are Peter Pan, Alice in Wonderland, and the Wizard of Oz, but then, nobody said childhood was supposed to be a rose garden, and all these books have their classic moments of brutality.
Another super-bombastic tune is ʽThe Script For My Requiemʼ, where grandiosity begins already with the title and never lets go — "Returning of the miracles / It's my own requiem" is even more solemn than the chorus of ʽQuest For Tanelornʼ, and there is even a quick subtle quotation from Jesus Christ Superstar ("crucify, crucify!") that further raises the stakes. In most people's hands, the song would be totally laughable, but Blind Guardian are the AC/DC of power metal — if you cannot override the clichés of this genre, you can at least ride them faster, louder, and brassier than everybody else in the market, which in itself can be considered overriding.
The rest of the songs, as usual, are too stylistically monotonous to deserve extensive comment, so, instead of that, I will just remark that, on an interesting note, the album was produced by Flemming Rasmussen, the co-producer on several of Metallica's classic records of the Eighties — not that Imaginations sounds any more like Metallica than any other Blind Guardian record, but it is curious that the increase in complexity does somewhat parallel Metallica's development from bare-bones thrash to «art-metal». I am not necessarily overjoyed by this, because at a certain level, once you start putting too much «intellect» into heavy metal music, you begin killing off its vitality (Black Sabbath is and will always be the ultimate benchmark for me), but, fortunately for Kürsch and company, they are expanding their musical horizons without sacrificing their inner child — indeed, they glorify their inner child, as is obvious from the title track — and this combination of increased compositional smartness with endearing, seemingly honest kiddie silliness works well for Imaginations. Respectfully, a thumbs up.