Blind Guardian: HMV Forum, London
A sold out Forum witnessed a quite stunning night of magical story telling from one of the metal world’s most engaging bands. Although the audience appeared in the main to be a reconstruction of the international World of Warcraft play-offs, the passion and energy which was demonstrated by the crowd and mirrored on stage was world class. Rarely has such enthusiasm greeted the arrival of Germans in the UK capital.
Warming up the rapidly filling venue, Israel’s premier metal outfit Orphaned Land (9) are now much more familiar to many of our readers and indeed metal fans in general on these shores. Fired by a triumphant show at BOA, a 10th anniversary show to celebrate the fine Mabool album in London and a shared award (with Palestinian group Khalas) at the Metal Hammer awards last year, the Orphaned Land star continues to rise and shine brightly. Led by charismatic and impressive frontman Kobi Farhi, Orphaned Land arrived on stage bang on 7pm with the intro tapes to opener All Is One filling the Forum with Eastern promise. The Simple Man followed quickly with bassist and continuous headbanger Uri Zelha and impressive drummer Matan Shmuely dominating the sound with their rhythm section. Unfortunately the muddy sound tended to mask the twin guitars of Chen Balbus and Idan Amsallem. Happily the band delivered some of their heavier material which allowed the bass lines to enhance rather than dominate the sound; Barakah from The Never Ending Way Of Orwarrior and The Kiss Of Babylon from Mabool receiving a warm reception from the audience who by now were fully engaged. A change of tempo allowed Kobi to make reference to the conflict in the middle-East and his by now customary but no less heart-warming reference to music and metal bringing together both Israeli and Palestinian before the beautiful Brother was introduced. If only guys like this were politicians, we might again have faith in the system. Birth Of The Three ratcheted the volume back up the scale before a mass sing and clap-a-long ensued during Sapari. The band closed with Norra El Norra from Mabool, and with the crowd demanding more, Orphaned Land, who I had seen performing less than two years earlier at The Garage in front of little more than 150 people, ended a triumphant and quite excellent performance in style.
Having had the warm up, anticipation quickly increased as the clock crept towards the advertised start time for the main event. It has been over four years since Blind Guardian (10) played in the UK and the crowd were clearly determined to enjoy every second. As the clock hit 8:10pm, the intro tape to the opening track from this year’s most excellent Beyond The Red Mirror, The Ninth Wave crashed in and the crowd went bat shit crazy. Modest lighting picked out little but the band as they stormed into their opening number, the impressive backdrop hidden from view for the time being. Pounding drumming from Frederick Ehmke, driving guitars from Marcus Siepen and Andre Olbrich and of course the magnificent vocals of Hansi Kursch, looking incredibly fit and healthy ensured that the masses were lapping every last note up within minutes. Banished From Sanctuary followed, the audience joining in with every chorus and at times every word. Kursch is a natural frontman, encouraging and challenging the crowd throughout and entertaining with his banter in between songs. Announcing that the audience could now only listen to Blind Guardian, forsaking all other bands and that if they didn't he’d come round and smash up your computer was delivered with charisma and humour, whilst the welcome to the “first night of the UK tour”, and “the last night of the UK tour” was a stroke of genius. Nightfall produced the first real sing-a-long of the night before Fly from my favourite A Twist In The Myth increased the temperature and the excitement. Reference to Elric, one of Michael Moorcock’s heroes segued nicely to Tanelorn before the band hit song number two from the latest release with Prophecies. The tempo was reduced nicely for Miracle Machine and A Past And Future Secret with the band providing an acoustic set.
After Bright Eyes, Blind Guardian ramped the tempo back up to boiling point with Lost In The Twilight Hall, with touring bassist Barend Courbis and keyboardist Michael Schuren fitting in perfectly with the rest of the band, both musically and with their backing harmonies. The band closed their main set with the splendid Imaginations From The Other Side before leaving to rapturous applause. Blind Guardian are a heavy package live, let me tell you, and the respite allowed me to regain my focus following a quite brutal metal assault. As the band returned and launched into first encore Into The Storm, I found myself with a huge smile on my face. Twilight Of The Gods, as classy a piece of power metal as you can get followed, with the fretwork continuing to draw gasps of admiration and excitement. Inevitably the set ended with Valhalla; cue mass sing-a-long before the band, beaming from ear to ear left the stage again.
It wasn't over though, and a second encore was demanded and delivered. A blistering Wheel Of Time pummelled the crowd into a stupor; luckily The Bard's Song allowed The Forum to demonstrate some quite magical singing. Prompting Hansi to comment that it was one of the best vocal deliveries of this song he had ever heard. Final set closer could only be Mirror Mirror from Nightall In Middle Earth, and once again the crowd sang along to every word, whilst the small mosh pit that had been wheeling for most of the evening had one last dance. Blind Guardian delivered over two hours of quite astonishing quality power metal; their set was well paced and balanced to perfection. For a Blind Guardian first timer, I have to admit it was quite an experience. A great band who have promised not to take four years to return. This time it was worth the wait. Absolutely magnificent.