Monday, 23 May 2016

Blind Guardian - London Review

Blind Guardian are not known for doing things either quickly or often. This is why, after last April's somewhat disappointing London show, I feared it would be a few years before I got the opportunity to see the German power metal legends again. To clarify, last year's show was not disappointing because the band were poor (as they were excellent), it was because I was not feeling well during the set which hampered my enjoyment of the evening. I was very pleased then when another European leg of tour dates was announced earlier this year, which included a few UK dates. It is great to see the band opting to play a mini UK tour this time around rather than the usual sole London appearance. Despite the greater choice this time around, I opted for London again as it made the most sense at the time job-wise - although I have since changed jobs, which would have made Saturday's Nottingham show easier, but I had already booked my ticket and hotel by this point! The now O2 Forum in London's Kentish Town really is not my favourite venue, but it seems to be the favourite 'big' venue of choice for metal shows at the moment, so I endure it. I find the stage very low, and the pit hard to get out of if the crowd is large. These issues contributed to my disappointment of the previous Blind Guardian show, so every other time I have been there since I have stood near the back, just above the sound desk. I did this again, and I feel this is the best place to stand in this venue. The view of the stage is excellent and unobstructed, and the crowd is much less tightly packed here. This is where I stood throughout the evening, and I feel this was the correct decision.

Support came from Gloryhammer, a power metal band who have been making waves with their extremely over-the-top fantasy concept albums and tongue-in-cheek attitude. I had heard their debut album Tales from the Kingdom of Fife a couple of times before the gig and, while it had not made a big impression on me, I was looking forward to seeing them live as I had heard lots of good things about their shows. Despite a rather muddy sound mix, Gloryhammer impressed me during their 40 minutes or so on stage, and packed their set with plenty of anthems about fighting dark sorcerers and undead unicorns. Frontman Thomas Winkler, clad in green and gold armour, is a great showman, and constantly interacted with the crowd to good effect. He his some pretty impressive high notes throughout the set too which demonstrated his skills as a vocalist. Despite the mid-song banter mostly seemed to consist of alcohol-related humour (why do so many bands seem to rely on this? It really is not funny anymore), Gloryhammer's set was extremely enjoyable and will definitely be giving their albums another go. An upbeat rendition of the anthemic The Unicorn Invasion of Dundee, with plenty of soloing from Paul Templing (guitar/vocals) and Christopher Bowes (keyboards/vocals) brought the set to a powerful end and the crowd, that seemed to consist of many Gloryhammer fans, lapped it all up.

When you see a band more than once on the same touring cycle, there is always a chance that you will see an identical setlist. Blind Guardian have obviously realised this, and on this second leg of the Beyond the Red Mirror tour, made enough changes to the set to make seeing the band a second time so quickly worthwhile. When the house lights went down, the now-familiar industrial/orchestral intro of The Ninth Wave greeted the cheering crowd, and the strange, lengthy piece makes for a strong, atmospheric to the band's concerts. André Olbrich's (guitar/vocals) seven-string chords and Frederik Ehmke's (drums) slightly tribal rhythms drive the song, that is quite unlike anything else the band have recorded, and shows the band's progressive side. Despite some muddy sound early on, that did gradually improve throughout the evening, the rest of the set was extremely anthemic as Time Stands Still (at the Iron Hill), a song not played last year, showed. From the off, the large crowd was very loud throughout, and the strength and volume at which the song's chorus was sung seemed to impress even the veteran band. The early part of the set was identical to last year, with the riff-heavy power thrash Tanelorn (Into the Void) and the new melodic entry Prophecies being early highlights. The Last Candle saw the first real extended crowd interaction moment as frontman Hansi Kürsch encouraged the crowd to sing the closing refrain over and over, as Ehmke kept time. It was also a chance for Marcus Siepen (guitar/vocals) to solo. He usually sticks strictly to tight, heavy rhythms, but this song shows he is also an accomplished lead player, able to compete with Olbrich when he wants to! He was also the star of Lord of the Rings, a song he wrote, as his precise, clean playing formed the basis for the whole song as Kürsch sung the words of the folky ballad with plenty of passion. Some older songs followed, including a rare outing of the speed metal workout Time What is Time, and Majesty - from the band's 1988 debut album - which received a huge cheer. The main set came to end with the classic track Imaginations from the Other Side, but this was far from the end. As with last year, the band's encore was lengthy, and consisted of two groups of three songs. It still seems strange to have such a long encore section, but when the material and the performance is this good it barely matters. A rare outing for The Curse of Feanor was the highlight of the first section, although a rousing Valhalla with plenty more audience participation ran it a close second. The second part opened with the lengthy Sacred Worlds, which is one of my favourite songs the band have written so it was a treat to hear it live. The obligatory acoustic sing-a-long of The Bard's Song - In the Forest was as loud as ever, and the fast, headbanging ending of Mirror Mirror brought the show to a triumphant and crowning end. The setlist was:

The Ninth Wave
Tine Stands Still (at the Iron Hill)
Tanelorn (Into the Void)
The Last Candle
Lord of the Rings
Time What is Time
The Script for my Requiem
Imaginations from the Other Side
War of Wrath
Into the Storm
The Curse of Feanor
Sacred Worlds
The Bard's Song - In the Forest
Mirror Mirror

With the set clocking in at well over two hours, Blind Guardian really delivered and this was the show I was really hoping it would be. Some slight sound issues aside, this was a near-perfect evening of power metal with a really varied and career-spanning setlist (2002's A Night at the Opera was the only album not represented in the set). I would not be surprised if it was now some time before Blind Guardian return to the UK, but I thought that last time so I may yet be surprised! I shall take the next opportunity to see them live immediately.

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