So, alas, its time again. Time for another Blind Guardian album. Its been awhile (since 2006 in fact) and the greatest Heavy Metal band since Iron Maiden has a new album on the horizon. To precede the late summer release of the upcoming album At the Edge of Time, they have released a three song single, A Voice in the Dark.
As a longtime fan, I will admit to being dissapointed in their last two full length albums. 2002's A Night at the Opera, while excellent in many areas, had something that wasn't common on Blind Guardian albums up to that point- filler. Also, it seemed that a lot of the riff-based style of writing that had propelled their career to heights in the Nineties was gone; replaced instead by a lead/melody oriented style of writing. Its not that this was unwelcomed as Night at the Opera had some excellent tracks like the magnum opus, And Then There Was Silence, but something was apparently amiss in some of the lesser tracks.
This was then compounded by the loss of their longtime drummer, Thomen "the Omen" Stauch. His band Savage Circus (formed with members of Iron Savior and very Blind Guardian influenced band Persuader), made up for what was missing to many people in the newer Blind Guardian material. It had the same orchestral influences (well not as many) and choir vocals as prime Guardian, but the thrashy riffs still had a lot of the spotlight.
The best Blind Guardian material in many fan's eyes was the mid Nineties material which balanced the orchestral influences with thrashy power metal riffs. When the riffs were diminishing (and diminished even further on the follow up, A Twist in the Myth) it seemed that a lot of the songs were sounded watered down and unmemorable.
2006's A Twist in the Myth was their worst release to date- a muddily produced refined version of ideas found on Night at the Opera- made worse by lackluster songwriting and an even flatter rhythm guitar sound than before.
So, here we are in 2010- and the rumors that Blind Guardian were returning to some of their roots have made their way through the metal community. I for one as a longtime fan was excited about this rumor- even though Night at the Opera wasn't bad, they haven't really released anything 100 percent awesome (and this is a band that the fans have high standards for considering their output) since 1998's Nightfall in Middle Earth.
Also, early news releases about the recording of the new album have Blind Guardian members speaking in a subtle tone about the dissapointment of the last album, its almost an acknowledged fact that the album was a weak release.
So here were are onto the new single, and my first impressions- its good. Certainly not a Nightfall in Middle Earth. But the first thing that's noticeable about the single is that Hansi Kursch's vocals have not sounded this good SINCE Nightfall in Middle Earth. They were noticeably lacking power, especially on Twist in the Myth, and the production and mixing of the vocals sounded stunted in a way. They were lacking the depth and passion that were one of the hallmarks of classic Blind Guardian.
Another thing that is noticeable right away is - you guessed it- Blind Guardian have returned to a riff based "thrashy" songwriting style, that mixed with their choir vocals and orchestral flourishes, created that classic sound we all fell in love with years back!
The song recalls the beginning of their classic "Valhalla" in many ways, and that's taking fans WAY back to the sounds of the early Nineties- a very welcome change in my eyes.
The drums sound a bit too processed for my liking compared to Thomen's classic sound ( newer drummer Frederick Ehmke is no slouch, but its only a complaint I have with a lot of modern production), but nevertheless it has the power we all missed on the last couple of albums.
I would almost compare the song's style to something made in between 1993's Somewhere Far Beyond and 1995's Imaginations From the Other Side- the lead sound is very similar to that period, but the thrashiness of the riffs recalls Somewhere in a lot of ways.
And the chorus? Well its as catchy as a fungus, and with each continued listen I like it a lot more.
The song is rounded out by two other tracks- "You're the Voice" (a John Farnham cover) - which is decent and has an almost industrial edge (kind of recalling their last album a bit with the beginning electronics). Its ok, and thankfully the production is similar to the title track.
Then its time for one of those classic "medieval" ballads that BG are known for - an acoustic version of "War of the Thrones" (a non acoustic version also being on the upcoming release). This is an uplifting track, not as dark as some of their previous work of a similar type, but is a good track in itself.
So overall what's the verdict? Overall this makes me extremely excited about the RETURN of Blind Guardian. The production hasn't been this clear in years, the vocals (probably the biggest selling point of the band overall in the first place) sound terrific, and the return of the RIFF is an excellent surprise as well.
I welcome my second favorite band in the world back into the realm of killer music again, and look forward to their new album with anticipation!