Welcome to Throwback Thursday! This is the place where we get to indulge in nostalgia and wax poetic about excellent metal of years past. So sit back, relax, and a grab flagon of mead, because we're going on a journey in search of modern albums that have primed the canvas of today's metal music scene.
The contemporary albums in this series serve as tributaries that have, for better or worse, altered the course of the flowing blackness that is the metal steam of life. For this, the tenth edition of this series, let's get Lord of the Rings-y.
BLIND GUARDIAN'S SOMEWHERE FAR BEYOND
Release Date: February 1992
Record Label: Virgin Records
Somewhere Far Beyond is a melodic staple album for power metal pioneers Blind Guardian. These German 'Bards' (as their fans know them) have been around since the late 1980's. They've found global success in a polarizing genre singing about images pulled from great fantasy writers such as Tolkien. If you never heard a song by Blind Guardian, but knew that they sang sweeping high-pitched vocals about Middle-Earth, you might just assume that some 4-eyed basement dwellers liked King Diamond and D&D too much and decided to make metal music about it. On paper, it sounds contrived and cringe-inducing.
It's not. Somewhere Far Beyond is a synergistic blend of musicianship and fantasy brought to life in the best way possible. Metal is the perfect musical conduit for high fantasy – it can be driving or subtle, technical or reserved, or in the case of fellow power metal practitioners DragonForce, as in your face as a cave of thousands of evacuating bats at dusk.
Let's take a moment to examine power metal, the weird Uncle of the metal family. Power metal is a fantastic genre with very few melodic boundaries. Despite it's positive overtones and wall-rattling choruses, there isn't a rigid formula which these bands must follow to fall under the umbrella of 'power'. There's no holds barred when it comes to the drama, theatrics, vocal range, and stylizations found within the genre. For some, the more pomp, the more speed, the more layers, the more angelic singing choirs the better. The music can be thrashy, borderline folky, emotional, or sometimes all 3 in one song.
The early 90's was exploding with groundbreaking metal. Look at what Somewhere Far Beyond was up against in 1992: Pantera's Vulgar Display of Power, Ministry's Pslam 69, Megadeth's Countdown to Extinction, and Fear of the Dark by Iron Maiden. Blind Guardian stands among these icons and holds their ground firmly. They reflect in their biography on the band's website that in 1989, they used to lean towards Testament's music direction. However, by the time Somewhere Far Beyond came out, no one came close to doing what they were doing. They were some of the first to shape the scope of power metal.
That is what makes Somewhere Far Beyond such an important album for them and for power metal is the exploration of a variety of musical nuances. The band had left the safety blanket of speed exemplified by previous efforts Battalions of Fear (1988) and Follow the Blind (1989). Don't get me wrong, these albums are great! They totally rip, and are a delightful combo of thrash with melodic vocals. The evolution in Somewhere Far Beyond focuses on instrumentation and expressive musicianship.
Opening track "Time What Is Time" is a phenomenal song (though perhaps not the best album opener). The song starts slower with dual acoustic guitars, then builds into a solid polyphonic metal verse. From here it builds again, visiting Blind Guardian's signatures of speed and grand vocals from Hansi Kürsch. Before the chorus hits, the song builds again, evolving at this very moment into power metal. A choir of galloping men of yelling/singing chimes in with a multi-harmonized "Time, what is time?"
I have a soft spot in my heart for the full voiced, high-pitched vocals of lead singer. Founding member, vocalist, and early bassist Hansi Kürsch is still with the band today. After playing for close to 3 decades, this guy can still siiiing. I adore the quality of his vocals, full of immediately recognizable character.
Track "Theater of Pain" is one of the best songs on the album. The trumpty-sounding intro is quintessentially power metal, and Kürsch's vocals are strong and bright. The heightened level of emotion is expressed in the subtle dichotomy of tempos and measure emphasis. Tracks like these set the prescient for modern power metal.
Stand out track "The Bard's Song" is another huge departure from their earlier career. Unabashedly folk in nature, "The Bard's Song" is a fan favorite. Layered in hope and sorrow, this track weaves grand story telling into metal. There's even an official video for it!
Blind Guardian mixes seriousness and wonder in a really remarkable way. The band takes themselves absolutely seriously, but the music behind the pageantry is absolutely integral. They would have not found success in creating a genre without serious talent. As the band's own website puts it, "Blind Guardian possess the ability to transport their legions of fans to new landscapes with their majestic songwriting, fantastically themed lyrics, and their meticulous, emotion-packed music." In Somewhere Far Beyond, you'll hear bag pipes and synth, speed metal and folk guitar, simplicity of tune and technicality in finger work. This combination results in what we now know as power metal. It *is* powerful! It's theatrical and compelling. In title track "Somewhere Far Beyond" we hear drum work which is the basis for many modern power metal bands.
Listen, if you're looking to add a dynamic metal album to your rotation, look no further. Somewhere Far Beyond is a great introduction into power metal because it successfully mixes so many familiar and popular genres. You can enjoy the familiarity of thrash and be surprised with a cheeky major-scaled solo or an energetic chorus. This album displays a confidence that shaped a genre. I wouldn't call Blind Guardian solely power metal by today's standards because I don't think it describes the depth of the talent you'll find on works like Somewhere Far Beyond.
If you like this album, check out their newer stuff like 2015's Beyond the Red Mirror which is even more popular and critically acclaimed. Still going strong, Blind Guardian released a 3-disc live album this July you can check out here.
As always, thanks for stopping by and I'll see you all next week! Love Blind Guardian? Tell me about it! xo