BLIND GUARDIAN: THE FORGOTTEN TALES (1996)
1) Mr. Sandman; 2) Surfin' USA; 3) Bright Eyes; 4) Lord Of The Rings; 5) The Wizard; 6) Spread Your Wings; 7) Mordred's Song; 8) Black Chamber; 9) The Bard's Song (live); 10) Barbara Ann/Long Tall Sally; 11) A Past And Future Secret; 12) To France; 13) Theatre Of Pain; 14*) Hallelujah; 15*) Beyond The Realms Of Death; 16*) Don't Talk To Strangers.
This is a «stop-gap» album that, by all accounts, only deserves a brief mention in passing. As the band were too busy touring, or resting, or preparing for a properly epic follow-up to Imaginations (check all pertinent options), they put out this odds-and-sods compilation, about half of which is devoted to acoustic / orchestral rearrangements of their old material, and the other half consists of cover versions of songs by other artists (as far as I understand, collected from different recording sessions and not necessarily recorded specially for this album). Additionally, there is a live performance of ʽThe Bardʼ, the band's signature-campfire-song, on which Hansi very quickly transfers matters into the hands (throats) of the audience. A campfire is a campfire, after all.
There is hardly anything to say about these rearrangements — as a rule, they uncover no hidden depth to the songs, and the bombastic instrumental re-write of ʽTheatre Of Painʼ simply goes to show that Blind Guardian music without the quintessential Blind Guardian elements (heavy guitars and powerhouse vocals) is just boring, like a forgettable soundtrack to one of the Heroes Of Might And Magic installations. Besides, wasn't ʽLord Of The Ringsʼ acoustic (and not very good) in the first place? I think I'd rather prefer a re-arrangement of ʽMajestyʼ with didgeridoo and bagpipes as the sole instruments. Preferably preserving the original tempo.
As for the covers, they display a staggering level of variety — ranging from blatantly «joke» material to some really, really good tributes to some bizarre, but not utterly nonsensical, choices. ʽSurfin' USAʼ and a medley of ʽBarbara Annʼ with ʽLong Tall Sallyʼ clearly fall in the «joke» category (see what happens when you replace surf guitar with power metal guitar), although ʽMr. Sandmanʼ takes first prize in this department — starting out in full-fledged music hall mode, then gradually picking up steam and finally grinding it out, vocal-wise and guitar-wise, as it rushes towards the madhouse conclusion. Mike Oldfield's ʽTo Franceʼ is overproduced, and the vocals peek out from under the dense mix in a manner that pretty much kills the song (whose major hook had been provided by the clear ring of Maggie Reilly's vocal cords). ʽThe Wizardʼ, unfortunately, is the Uriah Heep song, not the Black Sabbath one, but you probably already guessed that (Sabbath are way too «earthy» and «grounded» for Blind Guardian to latch on to them properly, unless we are talking the Dio years).
The single best choice is unquestionably the cover of Queen's ʽSpread Your Wingsʼ, but I have already talked about it (as a bonus track) in one of the previous reviews, so no need repeating that. Actually, Forgotten Tales has some bonus tracks, too, of which ʽHallelujahʼ pales next to the Deep Purple version: much as I like Kürsch, he is not capable of giving it the soulful, heartbreaking vibe that Ian Gillan was so capable of in his «Jesus Christ years». Much better is the cover of Dio's ʽDon't Talk To Strangersʼ, but, again, here you will have to decide according to your own preferences: Kürsch belongs to the same class of singers as Ronnie, yet to my ears, Ronnie still appears as the more versatile and «emotionally dynamic» of the two, even if he does not eat nearly as much iron as Hansi for breakfast.
All said, unless you are a major adept, do not pay attention to the pretty album cover, so similar to all the other pretty album covers by Blind Guardian, and do pay attention to the title: there is an actual reason to why these particular «tales» are «forgotten». And given that some of these songs are now available as bonus tracks to other releases, this decreases the incentive for owning the record separately to an even further degree. Harmless fun, though, on the whole.