The name Blind Guardian in recent years has nearly become with synonymous with power metal. Almost anyone who is a fan of the genre will tell you he has at least heard of this band, and most likely, he'll spend days listening to the fantasy worlds these Germans create. Like no other this band is inspired by the medieval fantasy worlds that literature has given to us, most notably J.R.R. Tolkien (who is absolutely one of my favourite authors too; did you guess?), and combines it with the high energy speed and power metal styles they have endorsed since their beginning as Lucifer's Heritage.
Now, A Twist in the Myth, as a Blind Guardian release, has a lot to live up to. Past releases have been described as nothing less than earth-shattering, and for good reason: Imaginations from the Other Side, and Nightfall in Middle Earth as well as Somewhere Far Beyond are absolute classics of the power metal genre, establishing a really high level of quality as far as this band is concerned. Although A Night At The Opera split the band's fanbase through the middle, the common consensus was that although complex and overblown, it was another milestone in the BG history and a classic of power metal, albeit not really suitable for a live setting.
Now, luckily, A Twist In The Myth avoids all this complex vocal layering wish-wash nonsense, well, at least, to a sensible degree. Of course Hansi will never stop layering his vocals, but it's not as over-the-top, and more down to earth. Of course it sounds stellar with the production, but it's way better to play live. They've toned down the grandeur, which in my opinion is a very good move; Blind Guardian are at their best in their straightforward, Tolkien-inspired blasting power metal songs, with the occasional acoustic medieval tune thrown in.
By and large, this album therefore follows the old BG formula, with some twists and touches thrown in (the band credits this as the reason for the album title.) It's straight up power/speed metal like BG have always done it. But, it features no Tolkien songs! What is this? Blind Guardian still endeavor on literature and mythology, with Lionheart representing Ulysses' travels to Hades, Fly being very reminiscent and probably also inspired by Peter Pan, and I think Carry The Blessed Home was written about a Stephen King novel (that could be another song, though.)
However, there are some really noticeable differences in songwriting. For a first, there's the folk tune on Turn The Page, which is about the Wiccan religion. Incredibly catchy, it makes me want to dance the night away. It sounds like it could have come straight out of some Celtic druid cairn in Ireland or the Scottish Highlands.
On this track, Hansi Kursch delivers some stellar vocals again, for a power metal vocalist, Hansi really takes the cake for most consistent and least annoying to listen to. Where most of his compatriots indulge in self-masturbating falsetto vocal lines (I'm talking to you, Michael Kiske), or have a simply terrible voice (ZP Theart, Timo Kotipelto), Hansi can actually sing five notes, and proclaim that he still has some balls to speak of. Of course, his German accent is quite clear in his singing and his so-so English lyrics (actually, I expected them to be much worse; when was the last time you saw a German speak proper English?), but he's an awesome vocalist, and one of the main reasons that BG are so succesful.
The other reason is of course, Andre Olbrich, who provides us with the much-needed guitar solos. Again, Olbrich never goes into wankery territory, but his solos always fit the songs and the rhythm tracks that Marcus Siepen lays down. Especially the ones in Turn The Page, and Another Stranger Me stand out as really good, and I love the near punk-rhythm in the latter song, the power chords sound almost un-metal to me, I love the various things BG try to include. It is also odd in the sense that it deals with inner paranoia, something BG almost never sing about; personal issues and mental illnesses is very untypical of the band, but I see it as a succeeded experiment.
The medieval folk tale is represented by Skalds and Shadows, which is your typical singalong at the hearth with the fires blazing number, of course done BG style, making it sound extremely medieval; but with the production stamp of 2006 on it. It sounds so modern and yet so ancient. The bagpipes (again! if it wasn't for the lyrics, I'd bet my boots these guys were native Celts) make this song another standout of the BG catalogue of impressive songs.
Of course, there's always a downside to a record like this. Sure, it's good old power metal. It conforms to all the cliches of the genre, but BG take those cliches, and mold them into their own form, adding a touch of themselves to the mix. But, there's always the risk of repetition. Doing the same thing twice. Although I feel that BG are very innovative and don't stand still on any record, nor here, there are two or three tracks I could absolutely do without. This Will Never End is a really boring track for an opener, I wasn't really blown away by it: sure, the intro riff is kickass, but the rest of the song is very meh by BG standards. Otherland continues in the same vein, although I love the chorus, I don't know, it has a "been there, done that" feeling to it. It's a good track nonetheless, and would fit very well on any other power metal album that didn't have a big BLIND GUARDIAN LOGO stamped on the album cover. The New World is similarly colourless as an ending, sure, it does its job, but it doesn't have anything standoutish.
So, where does this album rank in the BG discography? It's a very good record, superb release from an excellent band, very consistent throughout. It has some nice twists to it, especially with the folk influences, and the lyrical content at times deviating from the BG fantasy-based lyrics. It conforms to all the cliches the other albums this band has released conform to. It's not quite Imaginations From The Other Side, it doesn't have that classic feeling to it, but at the end of the day, this is still an excellent record, bound to get many spins in my player for sure. Maybe not BG's best, but still one hell of a disc, probably my favourite one of 2006. If you've liked BG all these years, you'll approve of this one for its consistency and innovations at the same time. It's a step back, but a step forward at the same time. I don't think good power metal gets any better than this. In short, it's a good buy for anyone who knows the band, and also anyone trying to get into the band, and if you don't like power metal, you shouldn't be reading this review. I'm going back to my Tolkien books now.