When I was a teenager, I used to be a huge metalhead - initially, I suppose it was the peer pressure that had me listening. Later, the genre genuinely grew on me, and I started digging groups like Nightwish (whom I respect to this day) and Sonata Arctica. It's 2011, and I'm a 21-year-old gentleman studying in a prestigious university. You could well say that my musical taste has consequently matured, as I'm mostly into alternative rock these days. Radiohead, Arcade Fire, the Smiths, that sort of stuff. I listen to practically no metal anymore, and for that reason I find it truly peculiar that I should continue to love a power metal group. However, I keep coming back to Blind Guardian every year around Christmas. I'll be at my parents' place, sitting in the couch with a warm blanket around me, and I'll blast the living hell out of every Blind Guardian record.
Now, especially when you compare Blind Guardian to other bands in the power metal genre, you'll realize just how respectable they are. Power metal is truly an extremely interesting genre, after all. While groups such as Stratovarious, Sonata Arctica, Helloween and Dragonforce are widely loved, there is no doubt most people will use words like "ridiculous" and "cheesy" when asked to describe their music. Heck, both Kai Hansen of Helloween and Tony Kaikko of Sonata Arctica are known to be able to wail like ladies. Hansi Kurch, lead singer of Blind Guardian, on the other hand, screeches furiously, growls masterfully and is able to pull off emotional ballads about hobbits and elves. That, I believe, is what makes them so brilliant. Power metal bands easily dwelve into the self-parody category. The members of Blind Guardian love everything fantasy-related, from Lord of the Rings to Wheel of Time, and they have been singing songs about said things since the 80's. Their albums reeks of passion, as they love fantasy, metal and their fans equally much.
Now, let me tell you right off the bat that At the Edge of Time is easily the best album Blind Guardian has released since 1996's Nightfall in Middle-Earth - the album that I consider their very best. Its predecessor, A Night At the Opera, while intentionally overproduced and epic, tends to wear out most listeners way before the finalé. Sure, it is ladden with classic tracks like Precious Jerusalem and fan favorite "And Then There Was Silence", but it requires the listener to be in a very specific mood to be able to take it all in at once. For 2006's "A Twist In the Myth" the group went back to basics, and in fact I'm still not entirely sure what exactly I dislike about the album - the production and songwriting, I suppose. What is noteworthy is that both the albums I mentioned are 3.5's at worst, that's how good a group we're talking about here.
At the Edge of Time consists of ten tracks, clocking in at a little over an hour. Above all, I feel the album works very well as a whole, and there is zero fat around the edges. 9-minute album opener Sacred Worlds sets the tone for the album. You can instantly tell that the production is stellar - the drums do not overpower the guitar and the bass is audible at all times. Epic, multi-layered choruses are back full-force, something that A Twist In the Myth severely lacked. The songs are also spiced with edgy and appropriate guitar solos. Truly, this album has everything a strong power metal record needs. Three more quality power metal songs follow before you get to hear the first ballad of the album, "Curse My Name". Now, this group has no mediocre ballads. From 1989's 'Lord of the Rings' to recent 'Skalds and Shadows', Blind Guardian have been able to craft emotional classics one after another. Curse My Name appears at first rather traditional, with Kurch's soothing voice backed by an acoustic guitar. However, the songs builds, builds, builds up, finally ending on a choir claiming "we won't take it anymore"! This powerful and addictive ballad is indeed easily among their best. Another standout track is album closer 'Wheel of Time'. An homage to fantasy writer Robert Jordan, the 9-minute journey feels more like 15 minutes due to its fast pace and multiple sections.
Now, I don't play any instruments particularly well, and neither am I native speaker of English. As a result, I'm not able to describe the songs in as much detail as I would like. However, as a long-time fan, what I am able to say is that once again, Blind Guardian deliver the goods. And I have my blanket.
Ride Into Obsession
Curse My Name
Wheel of Time
Songs may sound the same if you're new to the group