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Wednesday, July 19, 2017

1010. Blind Guardian / Live Beyond the Spheres. 2017. 4.5/5

Sometimes you can forget how long Blind Guardian have been around. And it stretches into decades now, which is quite remarkable. Not only is it almost 30 years since the release of Battalions of Fear, they have also previously released two live compilations in Tokyo Tales and Live. So when you come in to deciding on a new live album, you know you have to bring your A game to the table.
Anyone who has listened to Blind Guardian knows how much works goes into their studio albums, and the way the songs are layered over each other with amazing and complex vocal harmonies supported by brilliant musicianship.

Like most of Blind Guardian’s stuff does, this album blew me away. It all sounds amazing. You can appreciate how good the older material still stands up today and how well the band plays it and how much the crowds appreciate it. But it’s the material off the last two studio albums that stands out here. Those albums have gone even further in complexity when it comes to instrumentation and the mixture of layers throughout, which sounds magnificent on the studio versions, but how on earth could you transfer that to the live setting? In this band’s case, with magnificent ease. The live versions are not just note perfect copies of the studio versions, they are fantastically produced versions where the band just hammers away at you, while Hansi melds and morphs the vocals into a form which he and his fellow vocalists can pull off live without affecting the magnificence of each track. It’s quite a feat, and one that I think they pull off spectacularly. The brilliance of songs such as “The Ninth Wave”, “Sacred Worlds”, “Wheel of Time” and “Tanelorn” loses nothing here in the live setting. Hansi’s vocal line in the chorus of “Sacred Worlds” is still as powerful, as different as it is without the choir of voices behind him that drives the studio version. Just brilliant.
This is a real package, with three discs stretching to almost 160 minutes, so very little is missed (though that is open to opinion). You have the faster, energetic favourites such as “Banish From Sanctuary”, “Lost in the Twilight Hall”, “Into the Storm”, “Majesty” and the ever ready encore of “Mirror Mirror” mixed in with “The Last Candle”, “A Past and Future Secret” and “The Bard’s Song (In the Forest)” all without compromising the flow of the album. Mostly of course this is because Blind guardian has always been able to do this. And yes, if I had been insisting on a song list it would have included favourites of mine such as “Welcome to Dying” and “Time Stands Still (At the Iron Hill)”, but those have appeared on the previous live albums so I guess you can’t have everything.
The band as ever is just bloody brilliant. Mi Schüren’s keyboards are vital in the mix and they are terrific here. As always, Frederik Ehmke’s drumming is superb, and is locked in wonderfully with Barend Courbois’ bass guitar. That rhythm is rock solid and driving throughout. The twin guitars of Marcus Siepen and André Olbrich are wonderful, creating an atmosphere that is the basis of a great live album, flowing freely and with energy, while the magic vocals of Hansi Kürsch continue to amaze, such is their strength and power.

Into their fourth decade, and Blind Guardian continue to show not only that they are still relevant in the metal world, but are still one of the leaders of the power metal genre. This live album is perhaps not the place I would start if I was looking to find my way into the musicology of this band, but it would definitely be on the path.

Rating:  “Let’s get crazy for the last time…”.  4.5/5

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