BLIND GUARDIAN: TALES FROM THE TWILIGHT WORLD (1990)
1) Traveler In Time; 2) Welcome To Dying; 3) Weird Dreams; 4) Lord Of The Rings; 5) Goodbye My Friend; 6) Lost In The Twilight Hall; 7) Tommyknockers; 8) Altair 4; 9) The Last Candle.
This is where «the legend of Blind Guardian» properly begins — although, frankly speaking, the difference between this album and Battalions Of Fear isn't nearly as huge as you'd think upon reading up on the band's evolution course. Nuance-wise, Tales features a bit more diversity, a tad more choral vocals, a trifle more epic vocals — but the «speed metal» core of the band is still intact, since the majority of these songs are taken at the usual breakneck tempos, and the melodic components are again limited to the songs' vocal melodies and Olbrich's classically influenced guitar leads. Perhaps the conventional wisdom that Tales moves away from «speed» and into «power» has to do with Kürsch's singing, as he tones down the growling elements and emphasizes the «tough romantic warrior» approach. Or maybe it is just the contrast with the far more «thrashing» Follow The Blind that preceded it.
Whatever. Genrist discussions aside, Tales is simply a very solid metal album, as solid as starry-eyed fantasy-centered metal albums ever get. This time, the band is all over the place: in addition to Tolkien and Stephen King, literary influences here include Frank Herbert and Peter Straub, not to mention that ʽGoodbye My Friendʼ is said to have been inspired by E.T. (although, frankly, the music would be more fit for Alien), and the last track has something to do with the universe of Dragonlance, something that should probably appeal to D&D fans. In short, these guys take their fantasy roots like real pros, not some chubby amateur who thinks himself a fantasy geek just because he had the nerve to include the word «goblin» in some line or other.
Not that it really matters, because in a world where Paul Atreides, Gandalf, and E.T. speak the exact same language, they could have just as well derived any of their stories from The Catcher In The Rye or The Penal Code Of Pakistan, whichever would be closer at hand. What does matter is that the choruses are their catchiest to date — occasionally in a dumb way, as the chorus to ʽTommyknockersʼ which recreates the nursery rhyme in King's novel ("late last night, and the night before..."), but more often, in an inspiring one.
ʽLost In The Twilight Hallʼ (yes, about Gandalf's wandering in between the worlds of the dead and the living) is a good example — the interaction between the band's choral vocals and Hansi's solo retorts is perfectly staged, with an unforgettable contrast in betwixt the pathos-filled "I'm lost in the twilight hall" and the final doom call of "...that's when the mirror's falling down". Just as memorable are the choruses to ʽWelcome To Dyingʼ and ʽThe Last Candleʼ — indeed, tremendously illustrative of what «power» can really mean within a «power metal» setting. Forget subtlety, forget nuance, forget emotional fluctuation, forget what all those words that they sing mean, literally or figuratively: it's all about churning out rocket-fueled anthemic slabs, with a full-on cavalry charge, blasting away with complete disregard of possible consequences. «Cheesy» or «campy» are words that have no meaning in the Blind Guardian army.
And, while I lack the proper qualification to write anything properly meaningful about the guitar work on this album, it is still necessary to put in at least a meaningless good word for Olbrich's melodic developments — perhaps best illustrated on tracks like ʽWeird Dreamsʼ, a short instrumental that goes through an aggressive opening/middle/closing theme, a couple of quasi-symphonic interludes, and just a tiny bit of shredding in exactly 1:20 — but similar compositional ideas are found on almost all the other tracks. You can sort of see that this guy's primary rock inspiration is Brian May, but he's also kept doing his primary classical homework as well (more Paganini!) — my favorite bit might be the final solo in ʽTwilight Hallʼ, where both guitars «fall together» for the rapid-fire shredding parts and then Olbrich's guitar falls out to follow its individually twisted baroque course, but really, it's all quite consistent throughout.
The only disappointing track on the album is ʽLord Of The Ringsʼ — not because it is rather a vain idea to compress all of the novel into three minutes (eat that, Peter Jackson!), but because the song abandons the standard formula in favor of a medieval-esque acoustic ballad setting, and (a) they do not have the compositional genius to make it particularly memorable, (b) they do not have the arranging genius to make it particularly haunting, (c) keeping it quiet puts you at risk of actually paying attention to the lyrics, which is always a bad idea with Blind Guardian. Then again, you cannot seriously blame the band for deciding to include an acoustic «breather» in between all the assault and battery going on. And besides, it's The Lord Of The Rings in three minutes, how cool is that?
Anyway, it is all a rather straightforward fantasy game, no particular «depth» to it, no serious possibility of allegorical readings or anything, but, as a representative of the «not-at-all-addicted-to-fantasy» camp, I will admit to still being impressed. Most importantly, Tales From The Twilight World really only uses all those literary influences as a front to deliver music that has its own, independent value. It is fantasy music, yes, but it is Blind Guardian fantasy music, not Tolkien or Stephen King fantasy music. Can you imagine ʽLost In The Twilight Hallʼ used in the soundtrack to The Fellowship Of The Ring? Obviously not. All the more reason for an honorable thumbs up.