First Impressions: Blind Guardian – Somewhere Far Beyond
Although we at the Toilet ov Hell are dedicated to bringing you the freshest, choicest cuts of new music each and every week, we periodically wax nostalgic about the good old days. Continuing on a tangent from our wildly successful Groundbreakers series, 2018 felt like a good time for some of us to turn over a new leaf by checking out some classics we’ve neglected in the past and sharing our first impressions.
Ok, so in case you missed the first few editions of this new series, here’s the run-down again for context.
Look, we get it. You’re very cool, xxtremely tuff/badass, and 666% more metal than us here at the TovH. You’ve heard all the classic albums from every genre, most of them ages before everyone you’ve ever met, and some even before their release date. Which is quite the feat considering you were also simultaneously stealing our lunch money, beating up our Dads, and banging our Mums.
Unfortunately, not everyone is so #blessed. Some of us have gone through life completely clueless as to the importance of some albums; some have even been wilfully ignorant of entire sub-genres. Eschewing related discussions out of some kind of absurd feeling of shame or fear of having their Metal-Cred™ card revoked by Jose Mangin himself, they lurk amongst you, some within this very latrine we call home. Fucken posers, amirite?
Well, in 2018 we’re going to set this shit straight. We’re going to seek out some classic albums and give them a shot. This will serve two purposes. One is to get a bunch of people to listen to some of metal’s quintessential records for the first time. The second is to give everyone else a chance to revisit and discuss some of their favourites from years gone by. Rather than the standard metal community dick-measuring contest plagued with illusory superiority and derisive scorn, this series will give everyone a chance to compare their first impressions and stroke their nostalgia boners instead of the flaccid phallus of faux-elitism.
So, with all that out of the way, today I’m going to tackle what the majority of the dragon-duelling dorks around this neck of the woods consider to be not only the quintessential Blind Guardian album, and not only the finest power metal album of all time, but the single greatest human achievement in the history of Things℗. And how can I doubt them? I’ve never heard the fucking thing. At the risk of making those of who’re aghast at that startling revelation fall into some kind of frothing falsetto fit, I should point out that I have had tangential experience with Blind Guardian before. Although, it was perhaps through untrve means.
Back in the late 90’s, 14 year old me was branching out from Metallica and in the pre-p2p file-sharing internet dark ages, forums were one of the only ways I knew of to source new band names. One such recommendation that stood out was Iced Earth. And after being enamoured with their first handful of albums, I was eager to hear the follow-up to 1998’s Something Wicked This Way Comes. However, by the time the Demons & Wizards collaboration with Blind Guardian was released around the turn of the millennium, I had already been seduced by Slayer‘s sweet succubus of shred and satanic stupidity to bother giving pretty much anything else a second thought. Although over the last 18 years, I’ve heard a my fair share of power metal; enough to know it’s not really my thing. Hell, I even gave that ridiculous Gloryhammer album a full play-through and had fun. And while I don’t expect to become a serious power metal convert any time soon, or ever really, I can still appreciate a quality metal record, and I feel like I owe it to my friends, and ultimately myself, to give this classic a shot.
Speaking of whom, here’s what some that aforementioned TovH resident dorkcult had to say about their beloved Blind Guardian record –
While Blind Guardian certainly hinted at greatness before, Somewhere Far Beyond is where they firmly established it. All the aggression of their early speed metal days and all the harmonic embellishments of their days to come meet here in perfect balance.
Blind Guardian is the greatest metal band to ever perform music and the release of Somewhere Far Beyond cemented them exactly as such. Don’t anyone fuck with me on this. Every album I listen to is just an appetizer until I listen to this one again. Hyperbole aside, Blind Guardian captured lightning in a bottle in this perfect blend of earlier heavy metal and classic rock influences, that countless power metal acts have tried — and continue to try — to replicate without success. In a genre marred with cliches of flamboyance, cheesiness, ham-fisted fantasy and more recently self-parody; Blind Guardian have maintained a tone that’s somber, serious and still fairly aggressive to create something truly epic with this album and certainly the ones that have followed.
One of the best things the Toilet ov Hell gifted me was the proper introduction to the legendary Blind Guardian and this record is definitely a true gem from start to finish. Unlike some bands that create awkward transitions between eras, Somewhere Far Beyond is straight up greatly executed, ranging from the thrash brutality of the early records to the later progressive era. This album is another must-listen to fans of the fantastic and melodic edge of the metal realms, besides being an obligatory stop to those adventurers willing to get immersed into the flawless discography of the Bards.
So whether this is your first time, or your hundredth time, let’s hit play and discuss our first impressions of Blind Guardian’s Somewhere Far Beyond.
Commence stream of consciousness. 43 minutes? This video better be the full album, I kind of expected it to be an 80 minute slog saga. Straight-up love that clean guitar sound though, pretty much anytime I hear it. Ooooohh, this kicked off a little heavier than I expected. Ok, that didn’t last long. Didn’t even have time to time-stamp it. The combo of the gallop-y thrash-ish riff and the exaggerated vocal style that Barlow would (later?) adopt already makes the Demon’s And Wizards collab seem more obvious. This is somehow simultaneously folkier and less folky than I anticipated?
‘Journey Through The Dark’ kicks off with another riff as tight as spandex-clad dick-skin, with a little of that 80’s cheese melting through the lead licks. Definitely down with the key-changes in the solos. Hearing that makes me realise it’s one of the things that I feel is sorely lacking in a lot of contemporary thrash. Can totally see this song being a crowd favourite to set the stage afire starting a gig or as a ripping encore track.
Not big on the operatic interlude track (‘Black Chamber’ 10:33). Probably a huge dork fave I’m guessing? Not a deal-breaker though, only allowed a minute of mock theatrical gesturing on my part, and thank fuck, I only have a minute of that in me. ‘Theatre Of Pain’? Could be used to sum up my general attitude to those past few minutes quite succinctly. The guitars up the front of ‘The Quest For Tanelorn’ remind me of something I can’t put my finger on. Kind of hard to isolate it once Hansi starts emoting so… enthusiastically. Speaking of which, I’m torn on him. Dude has fucking pipes, but I’m not on board with everything he does with them. Buuuut I shouldn’t expect to be, as I’ve already stated, this isn’t really my wheelhouse. But when he’s letting roar it’s definitely above and beyond basically every other power metal vocalist I’ve heard. Far less testicle-constricting than most, which is a huge plus in my books. I think that ended up on the positive side? Probably should have kept count.
‘Ashes To Ashes’ starts off and I had to minimise the trusty MS Notepad© window to see if it was still the right YouTube video playing and not an ad for some weird black metal/dungeon synth project coming up in my related vids. This track is pretty rad, probably my fave so far, if only for that shifting palm-muted triplet riff that could easily slot in on some late 90’s Iced Earth. Totally sounds like something that Schaffer would have penned around The Dark Saga/Something Wicked This Way Comes-era. Album highlight for sure.
‘The Bard’s Song’ has some lyrics which would lead me to believe the album is closing, however according to the video player there are still some 15 minutes remaining. A few more tracks like the last one will have this passing relatively quickly, whereas 15 minutes of this mincing minstrel malarkey will slow time irrecoverably. *several minutes pass* Ok, kind of zoned-out for the rest of that one. Sorry folks.
I’m awoken by the bagpipes atop ‘The Piper’s Calling’. Strategic placement perhaps? Worked out well though, as we’re back to more overtly ‘metallic’ territory. Help me out here nerds, the bagpipe melody that comes in mid-way through sounds like a traditional song I feel I’ve heard before. Don’t fucking scold me for not recognising it. The march of time, it has begun? Wait, what?
Well, aside from the few passages which enter that trope-y and frankly comical realm that people stereotype all power metal as being plagued with, I did find the record surprisingly enjoyable. Will try and give Imaginations and Nightfall a crack now, as I know the Masterlord ranks them above this one, and while he does have some idiosyncratic traits, he’s not the only one who reps Nightfall In Middle Earth as the supreme collection of Tolkien-touting tunes.
Let’s hear your thoughts/recollections from the first time you heard Somewhere Far Beyond in the comments below.