Power Metal 101: Blind Guardian
The venerable Masterlord Steeldragon and I have had many a discussion about the most grandiose of all genres: power metal. Few genres have such a rich and varied history that can be so clearly explored and discussed. We also noticed a big problem: far too many of you nerds don’t seem to know anything about power metal. We’ve decided to try to educate you losers instead of slamming you into lockers over and over again. Let’s begin with, arguably, the biggest power metal band of them all. I will now present to you the highly revered power metal masters from Germany.
No pressure right? Where do you even start with an article about Blind Guardian? They’ve been around since 1984 (as Lucifer’s Heritage) and have never released a bad album. They’ve progressed with each release and have always represented the absolute best of the genre’s current trends. They are frequently praised for their brilliantly written lyrics focusing on multiple eras and genres of literature. They’re commonly associated with Lord of the Rings, as they dedicated an entire album (often considered their magnum opus) to focus on the story and concepts contained in Tolkien’s The Silmarillion. The only major change in lineup they’ve ever had to deal with was switching a drummer in 2005.
In short, Blind Guardian have a highly esteemed reputation.
I imagine the majority of you are already familiar with this band. They’re one of the most popular metal bands out right now, especially in power metal. I’m not going to try to write an article that meticulously details every bit of Blind Guardian’s sound, history, notable events, etc. This is just a basic outline of what to expect. Blind Guardian have also changed with each album, so in order for me to give any kind of helpful article on this band, I’m going to need to step through each album in their discography.
I highly recommend checking out the Wikipedia pages for each of these albums (which I shall provide). There you’ll find tidbits and trivia about the musical and lyrical themes throughout the albums. It should enrich your experience with the music.
Class: Sit down, and prepare for excellence.
Battalions of Fear
Blind Guardian wasn’t always the hugely bombastic band that we know and love them as today. They debuted with 1988’s Battalions of Fear, a speed metal album clearly influenced by their fellow countrymen Helloween, with whom they had a close relationship. If you’re more into speed/heavy metal than the whole “power” part, this is where you start. Fast songs, guitar solos and huge choruses are the name of the game here. Notably, Hansi’s voice wasn’t as unique and identifiable as it became on later albums. Here he sounds like a pretty typical power metal singer. The album opens with the song “Majesty,” which is still a fan favorite even today.
Follow the Blind
Hansi’s voice finally begins to exhibit his iconic sound present on all following Blind Guardian releases. This album remains firmly seated in the speed metal genre, opening up to a bit more thrash and even some doom tendencies. They clearly show a massive jump in songwriting ability, pushing out an entire album of immediately memorable songs. “Valhalla” in particular is an extremely notable song. Featuring plenty of thrashier riffs and Helloween/Gamma Ray’s Kai Hansen, this song will have the chorus forever stuck in your head by the end of your first listen. It’s so infectious that, in the video provided below, the crowd refuses to let the band end the song and continues to chant the chorus long after the song actually ends.
Tales from the Twilight World
This is where Blind Guardian begins to hint at the more melodic and majestic songwriting they would employ for the rest of their career. The music is still rife with speed/thrash metal influences, but Hansi begins to display his extraordinary layered vocal harmonization and choral talent. Again, Kai Hansen returns to loan some guest vocals and soaring high screams on “Lost in the Twilight Hall.”
Somewhere Far Beyond
Blind Guardian explodes into glory. Opening up with the impossibly catchy “Time What Is Time,” Blind Guardian drags you along on an adventure across multiple literary universes and themes. Though they retain many characteristics from their earlier speed metal days, the band has undoubtedly flourished into a full-fledged power metal band at this point. Kai Hansen returns yet again for his final guest appearance, this time in the form of lead guitar on “The Quest For Tanelorn.” Singling out a single song from this album is incredibly difficult, but fortunately, Blind Guardian supplies us with the single greatest ballad in power metal history: “The Bard’s Song – In the Forest.”
Imaginations from the Other Side
Not content with sticking with a particular sound for long, Blind Guardian travel even further into the melodic realms of power metal with Imaginations from the Other Side. The iconic guitar tone of André Olbrich emerges in majestic fashion here, clearly influenced by the grandiose tone of Brian May. This album is 100% power metal. Expect bombastic choruses, choirs, and epic songwriting. This album marks the end of the “Speed Guardian” days.
Nightfall in Middle Earth
Here it is, arguably the greatest power metal album of all time. This album single-handedly solidified BG’s reputation as “that Lord of the Rings power metal band.” Nightfall in Middle Earth is a massive concept album based on Tolkien’s The Silmarillion and takes an incredibly compelling approach to storytelling. Beyond using the lyrics to relay the story to the listener, we see the implementation of voice-acted characters narrating events in spoken word, background noise, sounds of battle, etc. across a number of tracks. On average, the tempo of the songs has slowed down quite a bit. Less speedy passages and more mid-tempo romps that sound perfect for exploring the adventures and history of Eä. I highly, highly recommend that you take the time to listen to this album as one piece instead of picking at it song by song.
A Night at the Opera
Creating one of the most symphonic and beautiful metal albums ever was just not enough for Blind Guardian. Named after Queen’s album of the same name, A Night at the Opera sees BG delving even further into the bombastic, symphonic style they had carved out for themselves with their last two albums. This album contains, by far, the most over-the-top symphonic flair in the band’s entire career. Every song truly is an epic, and a majority of the tracks will be stuck in your brain within a listen or two. It also contains Blind Guardian’s longest song to date, “…And Then There Was Silence,” a massive piece that follows the story of Cassandraand her attempts to warn Troy of its impending doom. Thomen “The Omen” Stauch lays down some the most solid drums and dizzying fills of his career. Unfortunately, he would leave after this album, citing “musical differences” and dissatisfaction with the direction the band had headed. He would go on to focus on his side project, Savage Circus, to pursue a power/speed metal direction. If you’re more into symphonic/epic stuff (and somehow don’t know about Blind Guardian already), start here.
A Twist in the Myth
A Twist in the Myth was quite a surprise to many fans, moving in a direction that most were not expecting. Instead of pursuing the massive orchestral style of NatO, BG instead decided to take a few steps back, simplify things, and write a stripped down (though slightly progressive) metal album. The distinct lack of the signature symphonic element really upset a lot of fans, who often decry it as Blind Guardian’s worst. At the end of the day, it’s actually one of BG’s most unique and ambitious albums. The songwriting hasn’t gone anywhere and the songs are just as good as they’ve always been. A lot of people were turned off because Blind Guardian didn’t take the easy victory lap they had hoped for. What I really enjoy is the back-to-the-basics approach of the guitar, bass, drums, and 18 Hansi’s layered over each other. Stylistically it’s still a power metal album, with plenty of medieval/folk sounding melodies throughout. Most songs are a straight-forward 4-6 minute affair. Overall a fantastic power metal album, and not BG’s worst.
At the Edge of Time
After A Twist In The Myth, fans were either excited or concerned to hear what Blind Guardian would do next. Not one to disappoint, BG dropped At the Edge of Time on us and shattered everyone’s expectations in the best way possible. Reaching deep into different eras of their discography for influence, they created an album that managed to bring back the speedier/thrashier edge of the guitars and the bombastic, symphonic melody that catapulted them to legend status. The result is nothing short of stunning. The songwriting is easily their most mature to date, displaying an effective mix of power, speed, and progressive elements throughout. If you’re not sure where to start with BG, start here, as it deftly combines the majority of the history of Blind Guardian into one album.
What do you think of Blind Guardian? Are they the greatest power metal band of all time? Tell us what you think in the comments below!