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Monday, 23 May 2016

A View From The Back Of The Room: Blind Guardian

Blind Guardian & Gloryhammer, Rock City, Nottingham

Blind Guardian do seem to be somewhat of an elusive act for UK shores, their last few tours have been one off shows in London and nothing more really. All of us not lucky enough to frequent London enough have been regaled heartily by Paul about the time he was lucky enough to be in the Big Smoke for one such gig. So when the opportunity to see them in the beautiful city of Nottingham on a Saturday no less arose, myself and my long term compatriot Mr Hewitt set about on our quest to finally witness The Bards at home on stage.

Leaving reasonably early, so we could make the most of the plethora of real ale pubs Nottingham has to offer, after our journey took us up to the hallowed ground of Strensham services, I had a homesick epiphany that I'll explain at a later date, after the mandatory stop, bottle of Tizer and bag of Maoam, we set back off passing through Leicester (who I assume still have a hangover), the even more hallowed ground of Donington Race Track before arriving in the home of Robin Hood and his merry men, parked up, shipped out and booked into our hotel around the corner. After briefly schooling my colleague in my hardcore Catchphrase skills (life in the fast lane folks!) we set out in search of food and more importantly ale.

If you ever do go or have been to Nottingham, you will find it is a very easy city to navigate, everything is quite centralised but the hills make it seem larger than it is, we made our way down to the canal to The Canal Alehouse (what else would you call it) which boasts over 200 ales available, where as this tends to be just hyperbole, The Canal did indeed have this many, or near as dammit, as well as some very scoffable food, the burgers were especially yummy. With several fine beverages down us, along with myself introducing Nick to the Untappd app, we made our way to the legendary Rock City as the door time was 6pm, which meant an early start but also an early finish for the gig (Mr H would be well pleased). Into the Tap N Tumbler which is a spit an sawdust rock pub that have their own brew, we drank and tried to convince a few people in there to pop over the road to see Blind Guardian, but alas the lure of beer was too much so we headed off just in time to catch the final few songs of the one support band.

The support came from Gloryhammer the heroic power metal project of Alestorm's Christopher Bowes were not new to me as I saw them blow away the crowd at Hammerfest a few years ago with their silly, hyperactive brand of power metal that will get even the most po-faced metal head grinning from ear to ear. As we entered the venue the bassist Hootsman, Barbarian Warrior Of Unst (or James Cartwright) was regaling us with how he turned from shirtless warrior to beer swilling Bay Area legend before the band dove into The Hollywood Huntsman which had Nick cracking a smile due to the bands overtly silly nature, virtuoso playing and Angus McFife (Thomas Winkler's ear piercing vocal), after the chants of "Hoots" we were treated to the band's ballad Magic Dragon then the jaunty Angus McFife which did it's bit to be the silliest song of the night only over shadowed by the final of The Unicorn Invasion Of Dundee which fully converted Nick to Gloryhammer's cause. They are a great band with real technical musicianship under the silliness and served as the perfect aperitif to Blind Guardian getting those in the audience raising their (inflatable) swords in the air as we awaited the headline act. 8/10

With a little change over we awaited the arrival of the German masters of cinematic/power/speed metal and at 7:45 the opening riff to The Ninth Wave opened the night with band taking the stage one by one before starting the song proper, this would be one of only two songs from the latest album Beyond The Red Mirror which struck me as odd considering all of the merch pointed towards the fact that this tour was in support of that record, still the set was laced with classics as 9 minute The Ninth Wave went straight into two from their concept near-masterpiece Nightfall In Middle Earth with Time Stands Still (At The Iron Hill) and Nightfall coming in rapid succession, the latter having the first crowd choir of the night as we sang our hearts out to the songs refrain.

What myself and Nick noticed was that where we were at the back under the balcony, which was not open, we couldn't hear Hansi's amazing vocals at all so we moved forward to the second row no less and then we were able to hear his vocals soar over the frantic riffs of Marcus Siepen and Andre Olbrich, the duo on the six strings are so great to watch with Siepen working in slick conjunction with Olbrich, as well as drummer Fredrick Ehmke and bassist Barend Courbois creating a heavy back line while also underpinning the jaw dropping solos of Olbrich.

After the euphoria and passion of Nightfall things got darker with the solitary cut from A Twist In The Myth the dark and ominous Fly, which is one of the bands heaviest tracks yet still had every member of the audience singing gleefully with fists, claws and horns held aloft. The Blind Guardian fans are part of the band's appeal as they are obsessive about the bands and know every lyric of every song meaning that the whole night becomes a massive sing along from minute one. The Nottingham chorus continued on Tanelorn (Into The Void) from At The Edge Of Time and Prophecies which rounded off the duo from Beyond The Red Mirror.

Hansi encouraged everyone to sing louder with every song, so much so that it was difficult to hear Michael "Mi" Schüren's keys at times as he had to compete with the choruses and the dual guitars, still it meant that to my ears the band sounded stripped back. It was pretty much classics from here on out with the dramatic The Last Candle followed by the always excellent Lord Of The Rings (both from Tales From The Twilight World) Hansi once again encouraged the crowd to sing as loudly as possible and they got their opportunity on Bright Eyes and The Script For My Requiem with both leading to just mass choirs, that lasted a little too long but with no one taking the initiative to stop we sang and sang right through to the main set closer of Imaginations From The Other Side which once again shredded the gathered masses vocal chords with its fists in the air refrain.

Imaginations...was the eleventh song in a 17 song set so after a breather to warm our voices came the encore, now the encore has been mixed up on a few different times on this tour so I was intrigued which order we would get, my questioned was answered by War Of Wrath playing as a tape which meant we went back to Nightfall... as the band dove into Into The Storm getting things started properly again, this was followed by Journey Through The Dark (cue more singing) before they took everyone right back to their speed metal roots blasting out Valhalla like it was 1989. There a few bands that can pull off a double encore and Blind Guardian are one of them, with the crowd still baying for more they once again returned to the stage with a dynamic (if truncated) Sacred Worlds showing the band's progressive side to it's full.

Then it was down to serious business, with the end of the set approaching and only really two songs left there were only really two songs there could be, as Siepen and Olbrich took to stools with acoustic guitars, Hansi introduced the next song as "the one many of you will have been waiting for" yes it was time for The Bard's Song - In The Forest which was the final sing along of the night, yes it's a silly song when you think about it but the folky number is a real crowd pleaser with Rock City in full voice along with Hansi, as quickly as it started the finale came and Mirror Mirror was the coup-de-grace for the evening ending what was a superior night of metal music. It's a shame the band don't tour more places as they are a spectacle to behold, personally I hope Bloodstock get them back sometime soon as they have the ability to headline to what I'm sure will be a a partisan crowd. As far as the Rock City show goes Blind Guardian were on top form doing what they do better than anyone 10/10           


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