Join us in this quest to understand the secrets of this magic codex of the mighty bards.
Each genre’s aesthetics bring listeners to a certain mindset. Black metal, for example, evokes an individualistic mindset of obscure obsession embraced by majestic withered nature; or hardcore can make someone imagine a street scene of modern decadence. Power metal, on the other side of this spectrum, is ambivalent: hated or loved, this is a genre of clean sound production and more happy-sounding melodies, at least when compared to other sub-genres of extreme music. In this case, the unexpected artistic approach of some music composers is the one that can bring the difference to the listener. In a sea of conformity, some artists stand above others with major contributions to the development of each scene. Imaginations from the Other Side certainly stands tall in the realm of power metal
Blind Guardian is a name carved in stone. The bards have been touring and releasing albums since 1988, as well as been covered in magazines and personal lists as both an entrance to all of metal by some listeners or, even, innovators on their specific power metal style. Their first albums had a distinct metallic sound, but with the release of Somewhere Far Beyond in 1992 (through Virgin Records, a huge deal for them at the time), the mighty bards stopped upon the verge of a new era.
Their composing skills were evolving, and they introduced bagpipes, pianos, acoustics and a more extensive usage of multi-layered vocals. Overall, Somewhere Far Beyond had the inclusion of a more expansive sound, and the band experimented with different elements foreign to the traditional metal trifecta of guitar, bass and drums. The speed metal compositions probably started to look stale and rigid to them, and the progressive rock listening sessions made by the band had a direct influx on that nonconformity. Hansi Kürsch and company have name dropped extensively bands like Queen, Fates Warning, Sanctuary and Pretty Maids as complements to Helloween, Metallica and Judas Priest. Somewhere Far Beyond was, indeed, a pivotal moment to the band that led to a folkloric type of narrative blended with tempo changes and the traditional fast instrumentation. Eventually, the nervous moment of publishing this elaborate piece of music was rewarded because the band sold more than 100,000 copies, a truly impressive feat for a metal band.
And that is how they ended up at a crossroad. Blind Guardian did not want to repeat the structures and the basis of their sound; on the contrary, the progressive elements were a catalyst for the future of the band and they bet all their blood that this path should be followed.
To prove themselves and their fan base that they were not a dying cry, the metal bards booked an expensive stay in the inn of the Sweet Silence Studios around 1994, under the production and mixing of the audio wizard Flemming Rasmussen, who helped bands like Rainbow, Metallica and Morbid Angel develop inspirational sonic manifestos. The result was a pristine round piece of gold titled Imaginations from the Other Side.
Groundbreaker as it is, Imaginations from the Other Side involved the hard working ethic of the band on a whole new level. It is obvious that the Rasmussen touch of a more buffed up sound played a big role, but the compositions can shine by their own light too. According to interviews, the producer wanted to employ a folkloric background to the mix, and he certainly delivered on that end, producing a dynamic and warm sound.
The gloomy lyrics of Hansi Kürsch and, of course, his piercing vocal style embraced a darker tone. In this case, the high fantasy lyrical references in each song were replaced and toned down by a little with a cohesive conceptual framework. The lines recited by Kürsch tell a story about a boy travelling to an imaginative world through mirrors and how he engaged in an Alice in Wonderland-like twisted world and his sentiments regarding the situations surrounding him. This is perhaps the most emotive chapter of the Blind Guardian book, fully colored by the cozy and melancholic overtone of the history behind the poetry. I believe the lyrical aspect is not outdated, and it brings a different perspective of the role of imagination on the always present growing-up process of humanity as a whole and as individuals, and it can be discussed from a literary or a more personal side.
This quest starts with a title track, and compared to previous Blind Guardian albums is a different kick. The mid-tempo stomping power metal punch invokes the soulful heartbeat of the narrator losing the earthly perspective and engaging in a confuse entrance to the confines of an unlimited world. Kürsch shouts like a hurt lion, soothes with whispers and wails with anger; all of the band’s efforts, aided by 5 more vocalists to deliver a choral effect, are crowned by the majestic performance of the vocalist, uniting the album into a cinematic experience.
In this moment, this whole world with its own rulings, colors and deceptions opens with golden gates to the listener. “I’m Alive” and “The Script for My Requiem” are soaring paths to the different planes of existence with superb songwriting and catchy hooks; the speedy sonic rollercoasters of “Mordred’s Song”, “Born in a Mourning Hall” and “Another Holy War” invoke senses of danger and imminent darkness. Meanwhile the stellar cuts “A Past and Future Secret”, “Bright Eyes” and “The Story Ends” tie up the listening experience with the palpable melancholia of a character suffering because he wanders alone in a different place, with the touching final, hopeful moment related as the climax. I can only recommend you sit a while with lyrics in hand and a warm atmosphere to engage with the nameless person narrating this journey.
Of course, the musical aspect of the record is not overshadowed by Mr. Kürsch. André Olbrich and Marcus Siepen understood their playing and composed some wonderful and imaginative landscapes of harmonized dual melodies. Imaginations from the Other Side is completed by these soulful moments and is enhanced by the rhythmic tandem of Hansi Kürsch-Thomas Stauch. The progressive elements are subtle and effective, and they shine through the heart-beating moments on the slower and darker cuts, like in “Bright Eyes”, which is an excellent display of harmonization.
I understand that Nightfall in Middle-Earth was their commercial and critical groundbreaker, cited by modern power metal bands like Disforia, Persuader or Dragonland; but I nominate this piece for what they accomplished by themselves: they turned the screw on the power metal aesthetic and showed to everyone that the genre division’s boundaries could be defied and broken, delivering a dark slash of melancholy.
Imaginations from the Other Side held aloft the importance of precise musicianship, concise song structures engaged to the storytelling and the never-ending presence of the soulful progressive mind set to unveil to the world the different shades of imagination itself. It is a record that invites listeners to dream and fly away in thoughts but warns of the dangers of daydreaming.
Time to fly; let the bards guide you.
Groundbreakers is the Toilet ov Hell’s Hall ov Fame where we induct some of the most important and influential metal albums of all time. Catch up on previous entries into this hallowed bowl.
Neurosis – Souls at Zero
Death – Symbolic
Fear Factory – Demanufacture
Voivod – Killing Technology
Today is the Day – Temple of the Morning Star
Avenged Sevenfold – City of Evil
The Moody Blues – Days of Future Passed
Acid Bath – When the Kite String Pops
Ministry – The Mind Is a Terrible Thing to Taste
Vulcano – Bloody Vengeance
Sleep – Holy Mountain
Kreator – Pleasure to Kill
Kayo Dot – Choirs of the eye
Thin Lizzy – Thunder and Lightning
Type O Negative – Bloody Kisses
Bathory – Hammerheart
Cover by Andreas Marschall.