Released: 2006, Nuclear Blast Records
Reviewer: Lord of the Wasteland
When I first heard “Fly” earlier this year, I was immediately put off by the gross over-production, sampled drums and blatantly-commercial leaning of the song. As much as I disliked Savage Circus’ debut, I couldn’t blame original Blind Guardian drummer, Thomen Stauch, for jumping ship due to “musical differences” because if “Fly” was going to be the direction A TWIST IN THE MYTH was headed in, I was ready to cancel my Bard’s membership, as well.
Fortunately, “Fly” is NOT an accurate representation of A TWIST IN THE MYTH, although the experimentation is rampant and for the most part, the fantasy-inspired lyrics and Hobbit-themed songs of albums like A NIGHTFALL IN MIDDLE EARTH are gone. 2002’s A NIGHT AT THE OPERA saw Blind Guardian lose themselves in studio effects and over-production and while A TWIST IN THE MYTH is more stripped-down production-wise, it is still a slick-sounding album that has been layered heavily. Hansi Kursch’s vocals are multi-tracked, of course, and the guitars of Marcus Siepen and Andre Olbrich are crystal-clear and full of dynamic riffs and solos—pretty typical Blind Guardian stuff, in other words. However, A TWIST IN THE MYTH is the next logical progression for the band and on this, their eighth studio album, the compendium of their early power/thrash is mixed with the lavish soundscapes of IMAGINATIONS FROM THE OTHER SIDE and the complex instrumentation of A NIGHT AT THE OPERA to bring fans a very diverse and faithful album to the Blind Guardian sound.
Led in by Marcus Siepen’s blazing riffs, the drum ballast that opens “This Will Never End” will leave many fans asking “Thomen who?” as new skinsman Frederik Ehmke unleashes a tornado of double bass. Hansi Kursch’s wailing vocals and the incredibly melodic chorus make this track an instant classic. “Otherland,” based on the science fiction writings of Tad Williams, is perhaps the most intriguingly majestic song the band has penned since “The Script For My Requiem” and “Bright Eyes.” The slow, anthemic chorus is ripe for mass crowd sing-alongs but the band speeds through the verses in classic BG fashion. “Turn The Page” hearkens back to the band’s mid-tempo material and chimes in with yet another instantly memorable gem. Kursch’s sweetly infectious vocals are harmonized through multi-tracking and the rich layering adds a choir-like feel to the chorus. The same goes for “Another Stranger Me.” The Queen-like, hard rock groove suits the band surprisingly well with sizzling guitars and a bombastic chorus, but a strange intro vocal from Kursch seems a bit out of place. “Straight Through The Mirror” is classic Blind Guardian, through and through, as the choppy, soaring guitars resonate with all the mirth of SOMEWHERE FAR BEYOND and IMAGINATIONS FROM THE OTHER SIDE. Long, with many twists and turns, an epic feeling quickly takes hold of the listener as Kursch & Co. venture down a familiar (but welcome) path. The epic nature of Blind Guardian is further instilled with Ehmke’s tribal drum intro to “Lionheart,” a song based on the tale of Ulysses and his ill-fated trip through Hades. “Skalds and Shadows,” the 2006 answer to “A Past and Future Secret” and “The Bard’s Song,” has already been available in a different version on the “Fly” single. The medieval tone of the song, complete with choir, flute (provided by Ehmke), strings and plucked acoustic guitar is a throwback to the Blind Guardian sound of the mid-nineties. Bridging the varied worlds of Blind Guardian, “The New Order” combines speed metal with gentle harmonized vocals and thunderous drumming to create the perfect middle ground for the band’s sound.
While some experimentation works, some fails terribly on A TWIST IN THE MYTH. “Fly,” the pre-release single that Nuclear Blast put out back in February is simply too much of a stretch for the band. The song has grown on me somewhat over the past six months however the keyboards, samples and overall studio trickery used to enhance the music still seem terribly out of place for a Blind Guardian song. It is frightfully catchy, though, I will admit. It’s just not a Blind Guardian song. “Carry The Blessed Home” is a modern-sounding ballad with…are those bagpipes (again provided by Ehmke)?!?! Kursch revisits Stephen King’s “The Dark Tower” for lyrical inspiration but the keyboards overshadow the guitars and the song is simply left flat. “The Edge” suffers a similar fate. Its reliance on samples and overly-modern production is exactly what plagued most of A NIGHT AT THE OPERA. Maybe the band is trying to stretch its musical legs but this style of over-wrought, synthetic metal is not where they should be going. Indeed, the medieval power metal thing has been done to death but Blind Guardian needs to find a middle ground behind that and tracks like “Fly” and “The Edge” which sound forced and unnatural for them.
A TWIST IN THE MYTH is the best album Blind Guardian has released since 1995’s IMAGINATIONS FROM THE OTHER SIDE. For all its great moments (“Mirror Mirror,” “Time Stands Still”), the epic storytelling of 1998’s NIGHTFALL IN MIDDLE EARTH got bogged down by an abundance of spoken word interludes and the just-too-much grandiosity of A NIGHT AT THE OPERA left a bad taste in the mouths of many long-time fans. Losing Thomen Stauch, a founding member, could have spelled disaster and with the teaser supplied with “Fly,” it’s a wonder people didn’t run screaming. One thing Blind Guardian cannot be accused of is stagnancy or a failure to take risks and this album is testament to that. Consider A TWIST IN THE MYTH a peace offering—an open letter—from the band to all fans espousing Blind Guardian’s versatility, superiority and flawless dedication to metal in its many facets as the Bards have once again left an indelible stamp on the metal world.
KILLER KUTS: “This Will Never End,” “Otherland,” “Another Stranger Me,” “Lionheart,” “Skalds and Shadows,” “The New Order”