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Blind Guardian Imaginations Through the Looking Glass DVD

By Peter Atkinson, Contributor
Tuesday, November 16, 2004 @ 0:09 AM

(Century Media)

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For most American Blind Guardian fans, this lavish, ornately packaged two-disc DVD set is the closest thing they will have had to experiencing the German metal minstrels live. Despite a career spanning more than a decade, the band has done but one tour of the States, and that was a quick run through a dozen or so clubs in 2002, meaning fewer people have seen Blind Guardian here than are in the audience on the DVD. And for those who did get a chance to see any of the band’s U.S. shows, the club atmosphere definitely put a crimp on Blind Guardian’s majesty and grandeur, even if the music and performance were top notch — which it was at the show I saw at a dump outside D.C. that holds maybe 500 people.

But for the Imaginations DVD, the prevailing wisdom is “bigger is better.” The band was filmed during a two-day “Blind Guardian Festival” in Germany in 2003 before a crowd of 20,000-plus and put on a show that pulled out all the stops – generous pyro, spectacular light show, expansive set and a performance that is nothing short of spectacular. If you want to see what Blind Guardian is like at the very top of its game, here’s your chance.

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It takes a lot of moxie for a band to host its own festival — not to mention a two-day affair. But if Blind Guardian was feeling any pressure living up to its own ambitions and the audience’s expectations, you can hardly see it here. The band quite simply kills, delivering a nearly flawless performance of its rather challenging material with a raw energy and genuine enthusiasm that, led by paunchy but engaging frontman Hansi Kursch, has the crowd eating out of its hand from note one of “Time Stands Still.” Indeed, the throng breaks into spontaneous sing-a-longs of “Valhalla’s” chorus like a half-dozen times during the show as if to prove just how into it they were.

The show itself is a 20-song, two-hour-plus epic that, despite the relative length and complexity of many of the songs, is surprisingly free of fat – no masturbatory guitar or drum solos, no rote “audience participation” segments. Indeed, what participation there is, is dictated by the crowd itself, as noted above. Half the time Kursch seems like he’s trying to calm people down so the band can move onto the next song. With a guest keyboardist and bassist on board, the six-piece Blind Guardian is brisk, powerful and tight as a friggin’ drum, from the crafty interplay between Andre Olbrich finger-picky leads and Marcus Siepen’s slashing rhythm guitar to the spot-on harmonies that at times comprise five voices.

The DVD does a fine job capturing it all, with its dozen or so cameras dive-bombing around from every angle and a rather frenetic editing job. But it also manages to capture the grand scale and sheer spectacle of the performance, from a jaw-dropping rendition of the 14-minute epic “And Then There Was Silence” to the explosive finale of “Mirror Mirror.” And though Blind Guardian is savvy enough not to lay things on too thick, there’s still a Fourth of July feel about the show that is sure to satisfy any pyromaniac fans.

The second disc features nearly two hours of bonus material, including four additional live tracks — most notably the blistering “Welcome To Dying” — that were filmed earlier in the 'Night At The Opera' tour. The interview, backstage and the festival “making of” documentary segments are fairly interesting, but are all conducted in the band’s native German, which means subtitles aplenty, something that is sure to test the patience of some. The obviously dumbed-down subtitles also lend an air of inanity to the questions and answers that might not necessarily be there by stripping away the nuance inherent in any dialogue — or they just make it that much more painfully apparent! Can’t really say.

Coming on the heels of last year’s live CD, which featured much of the same material, Imaginations is perhaps a bit redundant. But for rabid fans, and it seems most of Blind Guardian’s fans are, this is an essential, and certainly worthwhile, purchase.

* * * ½

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