Nightfall In Middle-Earth
is seminal Power Metal band Blind Guardian
's sixth album, and considered their best (and subsequently the pinnacle of the genre) by many. This is untrue, as the album is largely crippled by its own ambition, but it is still a very good piece of work nonetheless. Being a concept album about a very deep novel (The Silmarillion by Tolkein), the album aims to have a large amount of depth - this succeeds lots of the time but also fails as the band's songwriting and production is simply not good enough, thus coming across as awkward and hindering the album's achievements in being one of the most epic Power Metal albums in existence. The sound of the album, like most BG albums is simply the sound of their previous album expanded; in this case this album introduces heavy keyboard layers and of course additional vocal layers to Imaginations From The Other Side
's basic formula, while also expanding the song structures - namely making the verses and choruses more complex and detailed. Being so greatly inspired by the novel, the album's overall sound is significantly dark (a degree which is almost surprising for a Power Metal album), as the band write songs dedicated to epic tales of possession, war, jealousy loss and sorrow. The album's title is very fitting, as the album certainly is what one would expect Nightfall In Middle-Earth
There's a reason Nightfall...
gains the vast acclaim it does from anyone with any knowledge of the genre; it contains some of the strongest and most inspired material the band have ever penned. 'Nightfall' has some of the best, multi-faceted and memorable verses the band has ever written (the first verse is consistently amazing), 'Time Stands Still' is an intelligent war anthem if there ever was one (literally) and 'Mirror Mirror' contains a chorus that somehow contains ample depth (on top of its profound catchiness) despite how simple it is. The band create a fantastic, genuine atmosphere on tracks such as 'Thorn' and 'Blood Tears', really adding depth to the music and making the album perfect to listen to at night, while maintain strong hooks in tracks such as 'When Sorrow Sang' and 'A Dark Passage'. Another thing of note is the amazing amount of variation between each track; every track contains a unique atmosphere and feel, while no track feels out of place or too different from the others - the album is very consistent.
However, there are flaws in the songwriting on this album. Considering the album's main goal is to be very dense and epic, opener 'Into The Storm' is poor - it's one of the simplest songs the band has ever written (touching Battalions Of Fear
levels of fundamentality), with it's only hook in the chorus lacking depth and thus eventually becoming boring. The biggest issues however are the songs 'The Curse Of Feanor' and 'Noldor (Dead Winter Reigns)'. Both of which are totally crippled by their own ambition as the songwriting feels jumbled and clustered, like the band tried to include too many extra passages and details and forgot about the raw base of the songs. 'The Curse Of Feanor' has a very unmemorable chorus which isn't epic at all and an extended solo section which feels like it has no direction (an aberration for Andre Olbrich). 'Noldor' has awkward verses which don't flow at all and once again a boring solo which extends a minute in length. These songs both have their good moments but simply don't work as whole songs. Even the best song on the album, 'Mirror Mirror', is hindered by its poor guitar solo: usually Andre's solos follow a basic order of intro, main body, conclusion (logically leading into a dramatic third verse opening), but in 'Mirror Mirror' and many other songs on this album Andre simply goes straight in to the main body of the solo, making them turn out unmemorable and hollow.
The album's production sucks. The mix is for lack of a better word, terrible. Only one guitar track is audible - there is no rhythm guitar to be heard in the whole album, making it not feel heavy enough and making the more guitar based parts (about half of the album) feel lacking in weight. Another thing that contributes to the album's thin sound is the low mixing of the drums - the songs have almost no bottom end - this is made very apparent live as the songs sound much stronger and solid overall. On the other hand, the melody section of the band is mixed way too high; the vocals, keyboards and lead guitar are all incredibly loud, making them unnecessarily grating and making the band sound awkward and uneven. These production problems are most likely due to the band having a hand in producing the album (note: this is the only album they've officially had a hand in producing; obviously they recognised the bad job they did); I presume Andre and Hansi, being the main songwriters, decided to turn their instruments up and lower everything else - a credulous decision which blatantly damages the album. If the production was better this album would be excellent, but as it stands it sounds weak and thin, curtailing full enjoyment.
As with every Blind Guardian
album the vocals play a huge role on Nightfall...
. Hansi Kursch is my favourite singer, but I must say that his performance here just isn't up to snuff. The primary problem with his voice falls under the album's choruses; instead of the powerful melodic vocals (working amazingly with the choir) like on previous albums, Hansi decides to use his harsh voice (not brutal yet still powerful screams) in most of the choruses, diminishing their epic feel and sounding borderline irritating. This album marks the considerable growth of his vocal range; however, this is not always good as he doesn't have significant control over his voice in the higher ranges - the high notes often come out as high pitched screams as opposed to clear, melodic notes. His low notes, harsh and melodic, are a different story completely; they sound perfect. His low cleans in 'Thorn' and 'Noldor' sound incredibly smooth, while his low roars throughout the album (best shown in 'A Dark Passage' - "but don't mess with the master of fate!") sound appropriately sinister and beastly. I cannot complain about the vocal parts themselves, as they are all exceptionally written and fitting (besides in 'The Curse Of Feanor', 'Into The Storm' and 'Noldor', as already touched upon) - the execution just could be better. The lyrics are a very large part of this album; BG were obviously very into The Silmarillion as many of the lyrics are indecipherable even to those who have read the book. This is good as the lyrics contain an incredible amount of depth, but sadly they (and the concept overall) are a bit overblown. Kudos for Hansi to writing in so much detail though.
Instrumentally the band is good but not great. Thomen's drums are the only consistently amazing thing, but sadly take many, many listens to digest due to their low volume. Nonetheless, he gives the best performance possible, adding depth to the music with complex fills, unique double bass use and sound handling of time signature changes. The keyboards frequently harmonise with the lead guitar, pushing the epic melodies higher, although they're very loud in the mix which makes them feel grating considering their role. Besides his solos, Andre's lead guitar performance is excellent, whether it be playing unique melodies on unusual acoustic guitars (opening of 'Blood Tears') or churning out epic leads (main riff of 'Time Stands Still'), he delivers. I cannot judge Marcus' performance as it is obviously non-existent, but Oliver's bass playing adds an occasional welcome lower end to the sound, not just sticking to root notes either.
is a great album, yet not the classic it is made out to be. It is hurt by occasional unmemorable songwriting, shoddy vocals and an awful production, yet is still full of interesting passages, epic choruses and variation the band is known and revelled for. A very good piece, but if you're looking for a more consistent output from the band try Imaginations...
or A Night At The Opera