Review: Blind Guardian – Legacy of the Dark Lands
In which Blind Guardian fully succumbs to their nerdery and writes a fantasy opera.
I’ve been listening to Blind Guardian for almost as long as I’ve been listening to metal. Their 2010 classic At the Edge of Time was a portal to a realm of music I hadn’t even fathomed up until then, wherein a mighty orchestra could play alongside a metal band and not only keep pace, but even outshine the metal parts at times. It changed my perception of what metal could be and has shaped my listening ever since. All this is to say that I’m a pretty big fan of the band, and I was excited to hear what they could do with a purely orchestral album.
I have good news and bad news.
The good news is that this is undeniably a Blind Guardian album. Despite the lack of a drum kit and electric guitars, Legacy of the Dark Lands has that sound that is distinctly theirs. Hansi’s signature growl plays no small part in this, of course, but it’s more than that; the melodic progressions, the timing of the accents, and the placement of the choirs will all feel very familiar to BG stalwarts. It’s as bombastic and powerful as one would expect from the band; combined with the inter-song skits and the fact that it’s essentially the soundtrack to a fantasy novel (Markus Heitz’s The Dark Lands), on paper it sounds like this would be another (albeit non-metal) Nightfall in Middle-Earth.
Which it very well might have been if it didn’t fucking suck.
Blind Guardian is very good at augmenting their songs with orchestral parts, but when you strip away the metal band, you’re left with empty accompaniment and a ton of space to be filled. When it comes to filling that space around the primary melodies and chord progressions, the band feels lost. The general strategy seems to have been to strip away layers when the vocals come in and add more as the song progresses, but there’s little regard given to the dynamic subtleties offered by an orchestra. The baffling simultaneous over- and under-use of percussion doesn’t do it any favors, either; its prevalence speaks to the influence of modern movie soundtracks, but it’s sorely lacking in spots where it would make an impact. As such, the pacing is all over the place—a deal-breaker for an album trying to tell a cohesive story. Counterpoint is so lacking that it sounds out of place whenever it shows up. In short, while the compositions are solid from a structural standpoint, all the trappings that typically make those basic structures compelling are a complete mess.
Furthermore, it sounds like garbage. I get the distinct feeling this was mixed by someone who typically works with metal bands, and that kind of mix does not work in an orchestral setting. The percussion has a tendency to drown out everything else whenever it shows up, and I swear there were a couple of sub-bass parts that clipped. The vocals, both solo and choir, do sit very well with everything else, but… I love Hansi’s voice, and he’s as powerful as ever here, but it just doesn’t fit with the music at all.
And then there are the skits. Oh, god, the skits. Legacy has some Nightfall-esque shorts that are, in a word, painful. The actors ham it up way harder than is necessary, even for a cheesy fantasy album, and a few of them last way too god damn long. I normally wouldn’t bother commenting on this, but lest you think this is just a nitpick, there are 13 of these damn things, and they account for almost 10 minutes of run time. They’re annoying on their own, but in the context of the album, they only serve to break up the already iffy pacing.
In the entire 75 minutes/24 tracks of Legacy of the Dark Lands, I only really found myself enjoying two songs (“Point of No Return” and closer “Beyond the Wall”). I’m still not sure if that’s because they’re actually good or merely palatable by comparison. In the interest of transparency, I’ll admit I only listened to the album once from end to end. Perhaps there’s some hidden genius I missed in that initial listen, but the fact that I nearly didn’t finish it and felt no need to revisit it should speak for itself. There are bound to be those who will get a lot of enjoyment out of all this, but as far as I’m concerned, this was a huge disappointment not worthy of the nearly 20 years of build-up.
1.5/5 Toilets ov Hell
Legacy of the Dark Lands is out now via Nuclear Blast.