BLIND GUARDIAN: AT THE EDGE OF TIME (2010)
1) Sacred Worlds; 2) Tanelorn; 3) Road Of No Release; 4) Ride Into Obsession; 5) Curse My Name; 6) Valkyries; 7) Control The Divine; 8) War Of The Thrones; 9) A Voice In The Dark; 10) Wheel Of Time.
I have little personal interest in playing Sacred 2: Fallen Angel (RPGs have never been a favorite genre of mine — adventure games were always more like it), but I guess we have to thank its designers all the same for giving a much needed shot in the arm to Blind Guardian. The one track they recorded for it, ʽSacred Worldsʼ, is arguably their best composition in years, if not in a whole decade or so: not just an «epic» track (all of their tracks are epic), but a full-blown power monster, replete with complex and highly dynamic orchestration — provided, for once, by a real orchestra. And it frickin' works!
First, the strings and horns prepare the setting in a mock-mixture of quasi-Strauss and quasi-Shostakovich, then the band gradually begins to take over with the rhythm section and the metal chugga-chugga, and then they kind of sort it out with the orchestra over the next seven minutes, in perfect balance with each other. It does not have a perfect particular hook or an arch-memorable theme, but that is not necessary — all you have to do is admire how the orchestra meshes with the band. Without the orchestra, the song could have been as boring as anything on Twist In The Myth, and without the band, the orchestral parts would have been just passable imitations of the greats, but together, they truly raise the bar on epicness, and ʽSacred Worldsʼ should rank up there along with Therion as far as «symphonic metal» is concerned (and is certainly better than anything Nightwish ever did).
Alas, the incentive was not strong enough (or, perhaps more likely, the budget was not large enough) to retain the orchestra for the entire album — it only comes back one more time to close off the album with ʽWheel Of Timeʼ, this time with a decisively Eastern twist to it (there is a lengthy instrumental passage in the middle to which you could belly-dance if you got the sudden urge), and again, quite interesting composition-wise. In between these two lengthy mini-suites, though, what you get is standard Blind Guardian fare — eight more power stompers, very little about which can be described as «innovative» in any sense of the word.
I do have to admit that some of them feel a bit «stronger» — for instance, even though ʽTanelornʼ is already their second song about Tanelorn, its chugging riff produces a more efficient brainshaking wave than anything on the previous album, and the song's coda, with a mad over-the-cliff rush to the final chord, kicks ass quite explicitly. But on the other hand, I also have a nagging suspicion that it is simply the electrification caused by ʽSacred Worldsʼ that gets inductively extended onto several following tracks that gets me so excited. Who knows?
On a different note, one curious moment of confusion arrives when you realize that the main riff of ʽControl The Divineʼ is taken, almost note-for-note, from the Animals' classic version of ʽDon't Let Me Be Misunderstoodʼ — coincidence? subconscious adaptation? intentional rip-off? it's not as if they were running out of their own riffs, because they had been masters of unmemorable riffs for quite a while already, it would have been no problem to supply a bunch more. Then again, they had always been big fans of «classic rock», from the Beach Boys to Queen, so adapting a bit of the old gold is in the line of duty, and it's probably better than covering the song anyway (for a pretty cheesy metal cover, check out Gary Moore's version).
In any case, the opening and closing tracks alone make this whole experience such an undeniable improvement on Twist that the album has to be supported with a thumbs up, also because in all other respects it does not let you down, either — power, volume, monster riffage, and classic Hansi vocals that show no signs of age-based deterioration whatsoever. One might, of course, find the idea of «orchestrated Blind Guardian» too insulting for their brawny metallic power, but that power had long since been dissipated anyway, and if you ask me, the orchestra here helps them consolidate the power once again, rather than wipe away the last traces of it. Besides, it does not happen too often when an orchestra and a rock band manage to understand each other so perfectly (remember Deep Purple?), so count me really happy on this one.