The literary works of the legendary author J.R.R. Tolkien are often cited as inspiration for lyrical and album themes throughout the metal world. Why not, though? Tolkien wrote probably the most well-known fantasy series ever, three books which have garnered hundreds of allusions and references throughout literature, music, and film. The Lord Of The Rings
trilogy certainly has had a lasting impression on our culture, that is certain. With bands ranging from the dark, ambient black metal of Burzum to the soaring guitar soloing and masterful power metal of Blind Guardian, the works of Tolkien can be felt throughout the genre of metal.
Aside from The Lord Of The Rings
and The Hobbit
, Tolkien wrote another book which set the stage for the land of Middle-Earth. The Silmarillion
is a collection of works by Tolkien, published and edited posthumously, tell the story about the history of the world in which his later novels The Hobbit
and The Lord Of The Rings
are set. Where I am getting at is the concept of Middle-Earth. Truly a unique and mysterious setting for the time when it was thought up, it sets the stage for what is probably Blind Guardian’s most well-known and best album to date. Nightfall In Middle Earth
paints a picture within the listeners head of a war-torn land filled with tyrants, kings, armies, monsters, mystical creatures, and other factions which, of course, bear heavy fantasy influences.
The story behind this album is almost too much for someone to swallow in one sitting, with lots of text and background story to be read in the book contained in the CD case. Much of it contains short stories which help lay down the themes of the album and give the listener a portrayal of the atmosphere and fictitious backdrop which make up the concept.
“As darkness came it brought along silence. Yet silence also bears madness. Silence surrounds me- a deathly silence. Caught in the dungeon of my darkest thoughts all the gates that lead back to the world of the light are closed to me.”
The story is daunting and vast, hard to capture in the first listen of the album, but like a good book, each time you listen to it you pick up more and more subtle details on the stories flowing within the work. Sorrowful defeat, raging wars, epic quests, secret oaths, murder, chaos, desolation, love, fear, and far-off lands are the norm with this album.
“Panic clutches at me when I recall the walls of fire, brought over us by bloodthirsty troops. Soon the land was ravaged and unbound beauty forever gone. Death made good haul these days. The souls of mortals embarked on a journey with a destination unknown.”
The album is set up in a way in which the storyline is delivered through both song and intermission. Usually there is a short skit to set the stage, usually narrated by unknown characters, telling you of the stage in which the following song is to be played. The opening track “War Of Wrath”, for example, consists of a seemingly evil king conversing with his right hand man, talking of places to go into exile, seemingly fearful of what is to come. This leads you right into the blazing “Into The Storm”, sounding almost like a battle hymn playing ominously in the background as thousands of men charge to their doom. Indeed, nearly the entire album has this silk-smooth flow which plays out like a movie without the listener seeing anything, just listening intently for what is to come next. Quite the concept and quite the execution, Nightfall In Middle Earth
is a cross between a movie, a power metal album, and play.
Growing darker and darker the deeper you dwell in the album, the story becomes more foreboding and dramatic, hitting a pinnacle quite early in the album with the fantastic “Captured” and “Blood Tears”, telling a story of a captured and tortured prisoner seemingly singing an extremely emotional serenade to nobody, talking of his pain and suffering, really deep and emotional songwriting considering the circumstances being unfolded.
“Far out of our reach he was chained to a rock in the altitude of the high mountains. Desperate and exhausted he awaited his salvation which would long fail to come. The moon rose and suddenly those appeared we had left behind in the icy deserts. They had met unspeakable pain.”
Aside from the captivating and fantastic storyline, Blind Guardian laid down their finest instrumental performance to date. Everything goes hand in hand with each other, the guitars being nearly always furiously paced and extremely melodic, but not over-the-top and cheesy like many other power metal bands out there. Solos abound with this album, and more often than not the entire song is like a guitar solo. Used in conjunction are other folk instruments like flutes, cellos, violins, keyboards, and acoustic guitars. There are ballads which take advantage of these instruments, as well as the intermissions and the bridges and slower sections to each song.
The vocals, oh the vocals. In every aspect and mood, Blind Guardian delivers in the vocal department. Whether the song is amazingly fast and melodic, like “Time Stands Still (At The Iron Hill)” or whether the mood is somber and slow (“The Eldar”) you are sure to be hit in the face with a simply remarkable feat in terms of vocal achievement, one of the finest vocal performances I have ever seen on a metal album.
“Reverence and fear were in us, alone the oath was stronger. One of the gems we had long lost, we learned was not far away from where we stayed. Again arose our desire to have it back. Needless to say, again disaster came from it.”
When sorrow sang, all was lost. The story begins to turn darker and darker as the second half of the album continues, and you can tell as the mood becomes more unforgiving and gloomy. The soaring passages of “Into The Storm” are no longer present, instead we are met with more ballad-like tracks, save the strangely upbeat track “A Dark Passage”, a mood which the lyrics seem to disagree with. Defeat and bitter failure take hold of the lyrical themes, for this story shall not have a happy ending.
So as the album draws to a close, as the story wraps itself up into a bittersweet ending, the land of Middle-Earth shifts into the second age. It will endure many more trials and tribulations with The Hobbit
and The Lord Of The Rings
. What makes this album simply the best power metal record of the last ten years is how Blind Guardian take this wild, out-there concept and refine it to an album which plays out like an epic fantasy motion picture. They utilize nearly every instrument in their arsenal to it’s fullest potential, putting energy and emotion into this album which is simply unrivaled within the genre. Take each chapter of this album and combine into the overall story and, after listening to this album in its entirety, you will simply sit back and realize this album breathes innovation and makes it like there is a thin wall between a book and a piece of music. If you haven’t embarked on this quest into the depths of Middle-Earth, you owe it to yourself to take the oath, hold the quest, and spill you blood in this godforsaken land.
“Fear pierced our hearts and brought icy cold. It was night and no star broke through the cloak of terror. Unbounded shadows were all around us. Endless grief was followed by wretched laments from nearby coasts. But consolation was out of sight. The once majestic trees stood weak and dead, extinct forever…”