BLIND GUARDIAN: LIVE (2003)
1) War Of Wrath; 2) Into The Storm; 3) Welcome To Dying; 4) Nightfall; 5) The Script For My Requiem; 6) Harvest Of Sorrow; 7) The Soulforged; 8) Valhalla; 9) Majesty; 10) Mordred's Song; 11) Born In A Mourning Hall; 12) Under The Ice; 13) Bright Eyes; 14) Punishment Divine; 15) The Bard's Song; 16) Imaginations From The Other Side; 17) Lost In The Twilight Hall; 18) A Past And Future Secret; 19) Time Stands Still; 20) Journey Through The Dark; 21) Lord Of The Rings; 22) Mirror Mirror.
Tokyo Tales were clearly not enough. Released way back when (at a time when Blind Guardian were still more of a «metal» band than the resplendent kings of musical fantasy), clocking in at a measly 72 minutes, long out of print (in fact, even its original distribution was mostly limited to Japan itself and the band's native Germany)... all in all, no way to reflect the glorious legacy of the most majestic minstrels of Middle-Earth.
So, I guess we all saw this one coming: a mega-arch-sprawling (over 130 minutes of sound!), hyper-poly-bombastic double live album that summarizes all of Blind Guardian's best and worst sides. Actually, since Blind Guardian only really have one side, this makes it their best and worst at the same time — and there is no need to tell you that all of these performances are fairly predictable, and that the album is mainly for the fans. In fact, it is very much for the fans: in its ardor to loyally represent the atmosphere at a Blind Guardian, a large chunk of the content (I'd say, not less than 15-20 minutes out of 130) consists of nothing but audience noises — applause, cheering, chanting, olé-olé-ing, and singing along. Yes, you too will be impressed by the level of adoration these guys hold for Blind Guardian when you will hear them loudly echoing every single word of the Morgoth/Sauron dialog that opens the show over loudspeakers (ʽWar Of Wrathʼ) — "I RELEASE THEE, GO! MY SERVANT YOU'LL BE FOR ALL TIME!" Quite staggering publicity for The Silmarillion, in fact.
Naturally, there is also a lot of fan interaction, conducted by Hansi in different languages, since the album was recorded all over the place (Italy, Spain, Germany, Japan again, etc.), which explains why he keeps confusingly switching from Italian to English and then to German for the last big chunk of the show. Other than that, the tracks are tacked together quite coherently — the album does not have a particularly disjointed feel, as some other hastily cobbled together live records sometimes have — but this coherence may, of course, be also explained by the simple fact that... shh... come closer... all the songs sound the same, don't they?
If you feel bad about orchestration on Blind Guardian studio records, you are in for a pleasant treat: other than Michael Schüren on keyboards, the band is on too limited a budget to drag a whole orchestra around the world, which forces them to concentrate more on performing their songs as tight, compact metal anthems. Additionally, back-to-back comparison shows that, in a live setting, Olbrich consistently chooses more shrill, sharp, aggressive lead guitar tones than the comparatively smoother, glossier equivalents in the studio. So I do admit that the sound is, indeed, more «raw» on the stage: for old-school fans who had pretty much given up on Blind Guardian for their betrayal of «metal roots», this can be a stimulating boost to check out the record.
Setlist-wise, only the band's first two albums are side-stepped (with the usual exception of setlist mainstays ʽMajestyʼ and ʽValhallaʼ, respectively) — everything else is represented quite democratically, with no special emphasis on the then-currently-promoted Night At The Opera (fortunately for us all, since I am still not convinced, even with all the extra rawness, that there is anything worth remembering about ʽPunishment Divineʼ). Of course, they could have easily crammed in two or three extra highlights at the expense of some lengthy periods of crowd noise, but it is quite likely that they included their entire setlist for the tour anyway.
Hansi, now free from his bass-playing duties (Oliver Holzwarth covers those, just as he now does in the studio), is in perfect vocal form throughout, although I would not say that being liberated from the extra weight of bass guitar has significantly improved his ability to stay on key or anything — perhaps he had simply decided that proper impersonations of Morgoth, Mordred, and More Morbid Morons come off better when the impersonator is free from the obligation to fiddle about with a musical instrument. (Then again, what kind of an instrument would the real Morgoth have played if he had to choose? Bass guitar seems like the obvious answer). Olbrich, as I said, shines throughout, free to flash his instrument high in the mix whenever he gets the chance, and the rhythm section is expectably impeccable.
All this is enough to hand out a surefire thumbs up rating, despite a few weak songs and these irritatingly long periods of having to listen to all them fans chant "Guar-dian! Guar-dian! Guar-dian!", as if they were a bunch of hungry prison inmates or something. But even that irritation, I guess, is in the line of duty when it comes to «metal royalty» like Blind Guardian.