with Holy Grail
Best Buy Theater – New York, NY
November 20th, 2010
Words and pictures by Kyle Moore, the Metal Magnus
Blind Guardian has an extremely important place in my personal metal pantheon. Their seminal album NIGHTFALL IN MIDDLE-EARTH blew my teenage mind into little tiny pieces that still have to re-collect themselves whenever I give that CD a spin. I went out of my way to see their live show in Venice, Italy almost eight years ago as they were touring in support of A NIGHT AT THE OPERA and like many other fans, observed that frontman Hansi Kursch doesn’t quite have the vocal gusto in concert that he does in a recording studio. They nonetheless gave a fine performance, and I looked forward to seeing them at some later date. As it happened, that later date came one night after covering Epica’s concert – fresh after spending 90 minutes of my previous evening fawning over Epica’s flawless siren Simone Simons, tonight I got to stare up the nostrils of some of power metal’s gnarliest-looking veterans.
These guys reeked intensely of 80’s L.A. club metal – we’re talking toxic levels of hair spray & crotch-pinching leather pants-level reeking. Holy Grail does in fact hail from Los Angeles, and they arrived with some awesome 80’s clichés in tow, most notably the shrieking stage banter from their otherwise-talented frontman James-Paul Luna. My favorite moment was when Mr. Luna pandered to the listless crowd “do we have any Viking warriors in the house?” with a yelp not unlike that of Dr. Rockso of Metalocalypse fame. My bug about their cheesy 80’s style aside, Holy Grail played a pretty solid set of NWOBHM-influenced power metal that the crowd seemed to enjoy, even if they weren’t quite the Viking warriors Mr. Luna yearned for.
Ah, the real reason why I’m here tonight. It’s been eight years since I’d seen BG last, so I was eager to see if they’d improved their live show. The band’s musical style has gone through substantial evolution (and some devolution) in such a long timespan, so I was very curious to see how they’d reconcile the differences between their purely-thrash material from the olde days with the sprawling epics from their most recent albums.
A manically excited crowd awaited Germany’s favorite bards as the stage finally went dark and the lush orchestral intro for “Sacred Worlds” started playing. This is one of my favorite tracks from BG’s newest record AT THE EDGE OF TIME, an album they only played three songs from. A great deal BG’s set was devoted to their older material, lightly grazing their excessively-bombastic dud A TWIST IN THE MYTH and wholly bypassing A NIGHT AT THE OPERA.
To their credit, Blind Guardian puts on one hell of a show. As musicians, they’re precise, energetic, and filled to the brim of love for what they do. Guitarist Andre Olbrich is the perfect definition of a titanic lead guitarist, generating an endless swirl of blissful melodies and shrieking solos. I was surprised that most of the lush orchestral/choral arrangements weren’t given much prominence on a playback track, leaving most of the harmonization to the band’s excellent backing vocals and session keyboardist. Add an impassioned, ravenous crowd of long-time devotees and you’ve got the recipe for a truly great concert.
And then there’s Hansi Kursch. I truly love his Freddie Mercury-style layered choral arrangements, his softly bardlike midrange, and his gravity-defying screams. But those are things we mostly hear on their CD’s; in live performance, Mr. Kursch can’t quite cut the mustard. He sticks to his tenor range almost exclusively, often singing melodies down an octave or sometimes changing them altogether. His ‘screaming’ vocal isn’t used often, but it sounds pretty good when employed. Most of the higher notes aren’t there at all, and they sound pretty thin when we do hear them. It’s not that Hansi is a poor live singer (he’s actually great within limits) – it’s that the disparity between what we hear live and what we hear on a recording is pretty vast. My vocal criticisms aside, Hansi is still a fantastic frontman who knows how to get in sync with a crowd and have a blast on stage.
Welcome to Dying
Born in a Mourning Hall
Time Stands Still (at the Iron Hill)
This Will Never End
Lord of the Rings
Tanelorn (Into the Void)
Imaginations from the Other Side
Wheel of Time