Blind Guardian – Mirror Mirror (1998, Virgin/Century Media)
Why It’s Perfect: “SHAAALL WEEEE DARE THE DRAG-ON? MER ! CY ! LESS HE’S POIS ! ON ! ING OUR HEAAAARRRTS! OOOOUUUURRRR HEEEEEEAAAAAARRRTTTT- ” *cough, splutter, needle ripped off vinyl*
Oh, uh, hey there. I was just, uh, listening to, umm… the Velvet Underground? Err, Pere Ubu? Fennesz? No? Nothing? Well alright, don’t believe me. But couldn’t you have at least knocked? I mean, I could’ve been masturbating. These things have been known to happen, and I am terribly alone. Still, you and I both know, dear reader, that I was simply screaming my head off in glorious geeky unison with Mirror, Mirror, almost certainly the Crown Silmaril in the treasure-stuffed hoard of Teutonic Tolkien-metallers Blind Guardian.
Given Blind Guardian’s status as perhaps the preeminent power metal band of their time (only Helloween and Iced Earth really rate comparison in terms of longevity and popularity), I’d surmise that most fans of the genre have already heard Mirror, Mirror enough times to have it properly settled in their musical DNA. But I can imagine the power metal neophyte hearing this and wondering, “Is it all like this? Is it all this good?” The answer of course, is no, and there’s a very good reason why. Blind Guardian are not the fastest, nor the most technically adept, nor the oldest, newest or last. But they are the only band with guitarist Andre Olbrich and vocalist Hansi Kursch.
Both men are masters of showmanship, gamely garbing themselves in fantastic costumes, but doing so with a sense of play. Olbrich frosts these fairly standard baroque metal riffs with a tasty pop glaze, accompanying Kursch’s showy multi-tracked chorus by simply wringing out rubbery squeals, before whipping through tricky power metal riffs and pubby Celtic jigging with equal aplomb. He also loves setting up what I call “dialogic” solos; rather than simply soloing over a set number of bars, he prefers to play short phrases interspersed with keyboard or rhythm responses. The result feels like it’s actually adding to the melodic and rhythmic complexity of the track, rather than taking away from it, as is too often the case with metal soloing. There’s a collaborative and unpredictable quality to it, the back-and-forth interplay really emphasizing this feeling of headlong motion. Combine it with his funny Brian May-ish tone and you get a sound unlike any other in the genre.
Hansi Kursch too is obviously a distinct talent, one of the few big power metal singers able to balance between furry-chested, testicular manliness and camp theatricality. He is absolutely in love with multitracking, occasionally to a fault, but Mirror, Mirror finds him at his virtuosic best. One moment Hansi will be screaming his head off at you and the next an angelic choir of Hansi’s descends to provide sweet harmonies, while a gang of boozy Hansi’s put you in a chummy headlock and declare noogie time. He throws himself into every verse like he’s playing a different role, and by the end you might wonder if everyone you know is actually just a different Hansi Kursch vocal track. But then Mirror, Mirror says, “No JM, you are the Hansi’s.”
Defining Moment: If there were a “greatest metal moment ever” contest, I would think hard about voting for Mirror, Mirror’s Celtic breakdown (around 3:55 in). You’ve just blazed through a cauldron-bubbling solo and you’re back to the expected verse riffs, and then suddenly Hansi’s gone crazy and this guitar/keyboard/fiddle/fife (?) riff comes in and you feel like you should be jigging on a feast table, swinging a giant frothy mug of beer and generally partying like it’s 1399. It’s a magical moment.
Other Great Songs by Blind Guardian: There are bushels of great Blind Guardian songs, from their early speed metal days through to the prog-power-rock-opera business they operate today. Their best albums, by acclamation are Imaginations from the Other Side and Nightfall in Middle-Earth, two recommendations I’d support. Great songs include Bright Eyes, Somewhere Far Beyond, A Past and Future Secret, Lost in the Twilight Hall, Majesty and Punishment Divine (BAAAAAAAAANISSSHHHHHHHED TOOOOO THE POOOOOOOOOOOIIIIINNNNT OF NOOOOOO REEEEETUUUUUURRRRRRN). Believe me kids, if you’re going to cut loose and get medieval, you can do better than Dragonforce.