Blind Guardian - Somewhere Far Beyond (1992)
I am quite particular about my power metal. I don't profess to be a big fan of it as a sub-genre by any means but I do know what I like and have found there to be a reasonably short list of preferred releases to revisit once I had gone through large amounts of pompous and overly grandiose nonsense to be honest. Blind Guardian actually are responsible for my favourite power metal album ever with their 1995 release Imaginations From The Otherside sitting top of my pile (well, more likely a slight bump) of such records. There are other releases that I have time for in their discography such as At The Edge of Time and Nightfall In Middle Earth which both have their moments but don't quite offer complete experiences.
Strangely enough I hadn't ventured much earlier than 1995 into their discography (given my general distaste for their latter day material, going back seems such a logical direction for me in terms of expansion of my knowledge and experience of the back-catalogue) so their 1992 effort, Somewhere Far Beyond was not familiar to me until this week. The first thing to mention sounds obvious to state, but this album is so very clearly a Blind Guardian record. Their trademark fluent and skillful musicianship shines through from the very start of the record along with their mastery of writing memorable and absorbing songs that take the listener on a journey.
The arrangement too is well calculated, structured to present a narrative of time travelling bards coming together to tell their stories as depicted on the grand and rather colourful artowrk that adorns the front cover of the release. As you move through the album track by track the dashes of brilliance that were to become virtually omnipresent on the follow up album leap out like sun flares, scorching the ether around the album, burning with the promise of what we know is to come in three years time.
As a result, despite these moments described above, the album doesn't feel complete. Perhaps if I had waited and listened to this record before Imaginations... I might have been more enamoured with it as a whole. In comparison it feels hindered somewhat and I find myself willing a bit more quality to ooze out of it that in reality was yet to be learned by this point in their careers. I found the 2007 remastered version to be entertaining enough still with the couple of demos/alternat versions of songs added on to the end. As a standalone album this is a great example of how Power Metal should be done, my messy timeline aside it probably does desrve a higher rating than the number of stars I have awarded.
The Guardian Fellowship
The proud prince cracked a grin at his guest across the table among the clatter and chatter of silverware and frivolous conversation. "So, I suppose you've come to deliver me some sort of poetry of our fate to come?" the prince said between a gulp of his mug. The friend chuckled as his gaze turned from the jolly patrons cackling and howling around them to the prince. "Dost thou believe all fates are spun as part of the same web, my good friend?" The prince cracked a smile as well, the flicker of the candles and torches casting an ominous shadow over his friend's words as they left his mouth. "Well, my old bard friend, I have to say there are many spiders out in the forest, and I am a fan of none of them." The bard leaned forward, his silver beard glistening and glowing in the room's supple light. "Then we haven't much time to spin our own before the rainy season comes, my prince." "Spoken as cryptically but clear as always," exclaimed the prince before finishing his ale, with his smile remaining as he continued to eye the bard with eagerness. "So, will there be a glorious song to begin our final sojourn?" The bard threw his body back in a bellowing laugh before resting his thin gaze on the prince once more. "Nay, my friend, not a song," he said, raising from his seat and turning around to greet the rest of the company who had just arrived into the flickering room with open arms. "We shall give ye a full concerto."
Blind Guardian during the 1990's with the trilogy of Somewhere Far Beyond, Imaginations From The Other Side, and Nightfall In Middle-Earth cemented themselves as visionaries and the pinnacle of fantasy-inspired Power and Speed metal, with each album bringing its own blend of experiments and refinements that still hold up to this day. Before Somewhere Far Beyond Blind Guardian was attempting to find their footing on Tales From the Twilight World, which showcased their shift from a more aggressive and Speed Metal influence to the bombastic and fantastical brand of Power Metal they are now known for. The Speed Metal drumming and riffing is still prevalent behind Hansi Kürsch's now cleaner vocals, but it still felt like something was missing with how the guitar parts fit together with the vocals and drums. There was something about the repetitiveness and slight awkwardness in the transitions and solos that left me wanting more out of Tales From The Twilight World, and that's where Somewhere Far Beyond explodes onto the scene two years later, unveiling a refined but surprisingly experimental Blind Guardian that managed to solve all the problems that their previous release had.
Somewhere Far Beyond still holds onto Blind Guardian's Speed Metal roots in the chorus of "Time What Is Time" and the solos in "Journey Through The Dark", but adds so much more through Kürsch's improved vocals and better use of Power Metal elements in "Theatre of Pain" and "The Quest For Tanelorn". The drums and guitar riffs are so much more varied than the normal Speed Metal gallops, making great use of the rhythm and lead guitar to make even the most mundane of guitar riffs interesting and exciting. The drums do a better job at accenting Kürsch's vocal lines and work alongside the guitar in a much tighter and even more furious manner than usual, which keeps the album remarkably aggressive through most of the songs. It's very easy to go overboard in Power Metal, since bombastic and over the top melodies and effects are part of the genre itself, but Blind Guardian are able to keep a tight grip on reality and make sure that all of the excitement comes from the riffs and melodies themselves instead of adding extra elements to try to artificially inflate the heaviness of the songs. Imaginations From The Other Side would see Blind Guardian move towards a more full and bombastic sound, but for Somewhere Far Beyond they still have a very classic sounding mix with the heaviness coming from each instrument complimenting each other extremely well to have each fast chug riff feel like it's constantly moving forward with purpose. The guitar solos and runs are some of the best they've written as well, with most of the albums' instrumental sections having the best guitar work I've heard from them.
As for the Power Metal aspects of Somewhere Far Beyond, they're right in the middle of Imaginations From The Other Side and Nightfall In Middle-Earth, with enough fantastical elements to keep the listener on their toes, but not have it be so overbearing that it takes over as the main attraction on the album. The obvious offenders are "Black Chamber", "The Bard's Song - In The Forest", and "The Piper's Calling", with one possible argument claiming them to be a waste of time or too overblown for their own good to fit into an album like this. For me, I think it's a matter of perspective and looking at the album as a whole instead of calling out certain songs as worthless, as each interlude is followed up by a track that gives purpose to these seemingly out of place songs. "Black Chamber" not only showcases Kürsch's voice but transitions into "Theatre of Pain's" more pompous and slow groove of keyboards and a distinct shift in tone and attack from Kürsch, as he takes his time more with his lines and sounds more controlled overall. "The Bard's Song - In The Forest" is obviously a classic since every single fan in Blind Guardian's crowds knows how to belt out every last word during live performances, but the real magic comes in the second part, with "The Bard's Song - The Hobbit". The slightly boring and possibly uninspired acoustic tune gets an immediate makeover as similar melodies are used for a roaring Power Metal rendition. The same thing occurs with "The Piper's Calling", with the minute of bagpipes and choir seemingly coming out of nowhere and exiting just as fast. "Somewhere Far Beyond" picks up where this leaves off though, with flutes and bagpipes returning four minutes into the song, tying up the last of the loose ends.
It can't be overstated how much Kürsch's performance improved between Tales From The Twilight World and Somewhere Far Beyond, with him now sounding extremely comfortable with his range and delivery of aggressive sections. In earlier Blind Guardian works like Follow The Blind he constantly strained his voice to get that cracking and harsh tinge, which worked somewhat for the more Speed Metal focused material they started out with, but there was always something off about it. This is the start of Kürsch maturing into the vocalist everyone knows now, and his 1990's material is even more exciting since he still has a bit of that aggression in him. Lyrically the album can come across as a bit weak, but the way that Kürsch delivers the lines never fails to disappoint. Coupled with the choir that perfectly complements him, this is an amazing vocal performance from the legend through and through, especially since it's so varied compared to any of their other releases.
As an album experience, I have to say that this is my favorite piece of work that Blind Guardian has released. While Imaginations From The Other Side may be more consistent in its approach and Nightfall In Middle-Earth is more ambitious, Somewhere Far Beyond never bores me and always captivates me every time I come back to it. It has the right balance of blistering guitar riffs, fantasy themes that sit on the fine line between awesome and silly, and experimentation that gives the album a very unique flavor. It's the beginning of Blind Guardian's amazing legacy of releasing some of the best Power Metal ever written, and that's definitely something to sing about.
I can’t tell if this is a transitional album yet cause I haven’t heard anything they released after, but on Somewhere Far Beyond, Blind Guardian really start to lean into more modern sounding cheesy melodic Power Metal. They’ve still got their thrashy Speed Metal edge, but a much larger focus is put on keyboards/synths and the general epic atmosphere. There’s also quite a variety of styles present, even in individual songs.
Most of the tracks here are magnificent; catchy yet fierce, energetic yet anthemic. I really like the vocals too, having a rough edge of aggression most of the time, but easily hitting smooth melodic notes when he needs to. Guitars, bass, drums, keys; all splendid, adding great flavor to the mix.
My huge complaint with this album is the amount of useless filler. Out of the ten tracks, two are pointless interludes that add nothing to the album, and the first Bard Song is an acoustic song that just isn’t up to par. Acoustic ballads can be beautiful, but this one is missing that special something and just ends up breaking the flow of the album. The bonus tracks, which are actually usually included in main releases, are great tracks that definitely add to the album in my opinion.
Unfortunately not as consistent as previous releases, but many of the tracks here are absolute top-notch Power Metal.