Tuesday, April 2, 2002 @ 5:15 PM
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Germany’s Blind Guardian jumped on the epic speed metal bandwagon just before it was driven off a cliff by the early ‘90s grunge invasion. But God bless ‘em for climbing out of the wreckage and continuing the journey. Blind Guardian got bigger, better and more accomplished, helping to keep the genre alive -- even if barely. Their growing success in Europe and Japan paved the way for Iced Earth, In Flames and Arch Enemy, bands that are leading power metal’s recent resurgence.
Now the wily old veterans of the genre, Blind Guardian still got plenty of game. They reached their epic peak with 1998’s sprawling Nightfall In Middle-Earth, essentially a full musical production of J.R.R. Tolkien’s painstaking “The Silmarillion.” It put a fitting punctuation mark on a decade’s worth of amazing work.
Four years later, the band return with A Night At The Opera, and prove they have not lost a step. Though it sheds some of the conceptual weightiness of Nightfall -- the voiceovers, interludes and other connective tissue - Opera is a BIG album in every sense: musically, thematically, structurally and especially performance and production-wise. It sounds like a metal band, orchestra and the friggin’ Mormon Tabernacle Choir all rolled into one here. And all this from four guys. Unbelievable.
Blind Guardian don’t so much record an album as construct one. The band take a foundation of what already is fairly complex, technically challenging speed metal full of time changes and twists and turns, and add layer upon layer of more guitars, percussion and, especially, vocals. Some songs on Opera feature upwards of 100 separate tracks, and when you hear the soaring choruses or the dizzying leadwork of “Wait For An Answer” or “Sadly Sings Destiny,” for example, the effect is almost overwhelming.
And if the opera ain’t over ‘til the fat lady sings, Blind Guardian wheel out an Oprah-sized closer in “And Then There Was Silence.” The labrynthian, 14-minute opus -- which, incredibly, was released as the album’s first single -- took four months to record and sounds like every second of studio time was used.
But bigger often isn’t better, and at times Blind Guardian do lay things on too thick. It would be nice to hear more of frontman Hansi Kursch’s voice on its own, and not double-, triple- or quadruple-tracked to make it seem like he’s harmonizing with himself. He’s got a powerful set of pipes as it is; all the embellishment just adds clutter. Ditto with the everpresent choir-of-angels background vocals, which on tracks like “Age Of False Innocence” threaten to bury the music entirely.
That said, Opera is still a triumphant work. At its core is some magnificent, beautifully scripted and performed, genuine METAL! Epic as they are, album opener “Precious Jerusalem” and the hard-charging “Battlefield” or “Punishment Divine” are terrific songs that kick as much ass as anything out there, with Thomen Stauch determined drum battery leading the way. And Andre Olbrich and Marcus Siepen’s guitar interplay is as heavy as it is spectacular, never seeming showy or ostentatious. This is one opera you don’t wanna miss.