Anyone with any knowledge of Power Metal will have heard of Blind Guardian
. Starting as a humble Speed Metal band to going on to produce some of the most grandiose music out there, they've done it all in the Power Metal world. With their most epic works, such as this album, A Night At The Opera
, Blind Guardian remind me of Opeth
- you can't just be a casual fan; if you like them you absolutely love them and are deeply sucked in, and if you don't like them, you probably never will. Production and songwriting wise A Night At The Opera
is the band's most ambitious effort, and by many considered their best.
The most striking and arguably most important aspect of this album is the overall sound. The album title certainly isn't fraudulent - there are so many layers of vocals and orchestra that if you thought you were listening to a Metal version of 'Turandot' I wouldn't blame you; the sound, in a nutshell, is operatic. In the context of the band's discography, the extra vocal layers and orchestra arrangements are simply to make it as epic as possible, following the progression of their previous releases - the sound becoming bigger and more epic as each new album was released. Somewhere...
brought the grandiose backing vocals, Imaginations...
had the guitar layers, Nightfall...
had the guitar and keyboard layers, A Night...
has all of those combined and more (namely the orchestra). The layering adds an incredible amount of depth to the music - even when listening to songs on here you think you know well, you'll regularly uncover new melodies of which you were hitherto unaware. The layering takes a lot of time to get used to, as it is very OTT, but it's not difficult to tolerate and eventually love. The orchestra is incredible; the songs aren't wrote around the orchestra akin to some other bands (sacrificing the music's substance) - instead, the orchestra is integrated into the songs to push them as high as possible on the epic scale. This is best shown in 'And Then There Was Silence'; the seemingly never-ending layers of orchestration make it epic as hell without once sounding superfluous or cheesy. Additionally, arrangements may change between choruses to subtly (remember, the orchestra merely backs the music) give a different mood, showing BG use the orchestra conscientiously. Finally, Andre Olbrich's lead guitar performance largely contributes to the album's grandeur; he's pretty much playing lead melodies all the time in every song, but his patterns work incredibly, creating a permanent onslaught of memorable melodies. Finally, the production on this album must be mentioned, as it deserves serious commendation on making music this dense enjoyable.
Just as with the sound and production, the songwriting on this album is the band's most ambitious of all time, and is executed perfectly. Most significant here is the song structures: while there are three choruses per song in the normal places (verse-chorus-verse-chorus-solo-verse-chorus), the verses go beyond any creativity I've heard from other artists structure wise - they're so detailed and complex they can barely be labelled as verses. Generally, a verse on this album consists of 3 - 5 'sub-verses' - for example, take a normal verse of a song, condense it to 10-15 seconds, take the verse of another totally different song, condense that to 10-15 seconds then add that to the other 10-15 second 'sub-verse', repeat two more times and you have a Blind Guardian verse. The parts ('sub-verses') the verses consist of are often entirely different to each other (time signatures, keys, tempi, textures and just about anything else), yet all manage to flow naturally; the songs, somehow, never drag or feel awkward. The manic verses are the root of the songwriting, boosting the depth and hooks of the music tenfold. As for the choruses...
A Night At The Opera
also features the best choruses the band have ever written, many of which being at the absolute top of the genre and just flat-out insane. The band have caught on to a formula of taking the catchy, anthemic and epic Iron Maiden
style chorus further; that being the best way to describe the choruses on here. Every track (excluding tracks 5 and 8) has a chorus which is as enormous and catchy as possible; if you're not grinning like child and singing along at the top of your voice their style is simply not for you. The bombast-beyond-belief chorus style is shown perfectly in the opener 'Precious Jerusalem'; with its monolithic yet intricate vocal harmony, scarily subtle lead guitar line pushing the vocal melody even higher and erratic drumming which slays the notion of a chorus needing to have a simple 4/4 beat. The choruses also range from simple to complicated in structure: 'The Soulforged' sounds like it could have came from the band's younger, more fundamental Speed/Power Metal days, while the 'And Then There Was Silence's chorus is nearly a minute long with 4 parts, one of which containing the best vocal melody I've ever heard (the line 'Will my weary soul find release for a while, and at the moment of death I will smile').
As for the band, they're all at the top of their game. Hansi is irrefutably the best he's ever been ability wise; his range is upwards of 4 octaves (A1 in 'Precious Jerusalem' to a multitude of Soprano notes in most songs) which greatly contributes to the success of the omnipresent vocal layering, he varies his voice countless times (there's a different main vocal style in all ten songs, and he even pulls out accents and voices I'd never think he'd do) and his power is simply unmatched (only Glenn Hughes comes close in all Rock and Metal). Credit also goes out to the choir used for backing vocals - they succeed greatly at the technical melodies with no problem at all (for example, I doubt many choirs could tackle the chorus of 'Percious Jerusalem' successfully). Thomen Stauch's drum performance is the best he's ever given; from his prog-influenced tom beats, smoothest kit sound I've ever heard, drum solos, addition of frequent 32nd notes and a wide range of external percussion, he achieves intricacy never before reached on a Metal album, ultimately adding more depth to the music. Despite how much he's doing, his playing supports the music perfectly and never becomes a distraction (he's playing for the band, not for himself). Andre's lead guitar melodies and solos are as always incredibly fitting, whether it be shredding passionately in the 'Punishment Divine' solo or propelling every vocal line in 'The Soulforged', he does a brilliant job. While the monolithic mix (orchestra, vocals) does hinder the audibility of the bass and rhythm guitar, Marcus and Oliver still contribute some necessary rhythmic sections, the rhythm guitar in the verses of 'Battlefield' and sludgy bass at the end of 'Sadly Sings Destiny' being most notable.
The lyrics on the album are among the band's most inspired, as well as darkest. Mostly, the lyrics switch between dark and light (even though the majority will be dark), which fits the multi-faceted, unpredictable nature of the music. All of the lyrics are based around a story or mythical tale, with Hansi adopting many different personas describing epic tales from select character's points of view. A special mention goes to 'The Maiden And The Minstrel Knight', as Hansi writes some very emotional lyrics about love related depression ("I'm alone and sadness reigns in my heart; for as long as we live it won't go away; we are one but torn apart"). As always, the lyrics are very well written, but what I really like is Hansi's addition of many great rhyming lines. Lines such as "It doesn't matter anymore, that someone's knocking at the door; I've known it long before, the Galileians on the floor" and "From a distant place he's on his way, he'll bring decay in shades of gray; we're doomed to face the night, light's out of sight" are among the best Hansi and co. have ever penned. Many Power Metal lyrics can be farcical and cheesy, but don't be fooled, the lyrics on A Night At The Opera
can be taken totally seriously and have ample depth.
One other thing that must be mentioned is the album's last track, the fourteen minute monster of 'And Then There Was Silence'. Sorry Opeth, Wintersun, Amorphis, Isis; THIS is the most epic Metal song ever. This piece is essentially the band showing its full potential; it's so exhaustive I'm surprised they didn't quit/leave music afterwards. I could go on more about it, but really, you just have to listen for yourself. I envy you the experience of the first listen.
A Night At The Opera
is the best Power Metal album by miles, there's no real opposition out there. BG always set out to make this album, as it's the pinnacle of ~20 years of Power Metal perfection; it's unsurprising they're running out of ideas nowadays. Of course, irrational listeners will find this album very overwhelming on first listens and consequently discard it as rubbish, but actually demonstrates the beauty of the album - being amazed as you realise all of those layers actually contain substance. If the album has one flaw it's the song 'Wait For An Answer', but surrounded by such greatness it's negligible. 5/5.