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Is this where I came from? #14 Anti-cimex and Rotting Christ

It has been a long time since the 13th installment of the “Is this where I came from?” series of posts, in which I explored the influence of Horror cinema visuality on death metal album covers. For the 14th installment of this series of posts I will draw attention to what I consider a very obscure case of intertextuality between Rotting Christ, a cult black metal band from Athens, Greece, and Anti-Cimex, a cult crust band from Sweden.

Anti-Cimex – Doing Time (1990)

“Doing time” is a song off Anti-Cimex’s first full length album, Absolut country of Sweden (1990) which came out in 1990, many years and several demos and E.P.s after the band formed in the early 1980s. It could be argued that Anti-Cimex launched the great Swedish tradition of Discharge rip-offs, and, alongside bands like Crucifix, Doom, and Ratos De Porao, they inspired and helped establish the worldwide D-beat genre. “Doing time” is a song that exemplifies Anti-Cimex’s sound. Yet, consistent with the minor stylistic changes present in this album that allude to metal aesthetics, the furious D-beat gives way to a mid-paced, heavy palm-muted chord progression starting at 3:45. This progression is further developed with the addition of a short sharp lick first heard at 4:08, which is the bit that is very reminiscent of the song by Rotting Christ I present below.

Rotting Christ – The fifth illusion (1994)

Rotting Christ is probably the first extreme metal band I ever listened to, through the compilation tape Into the catachthonium (1994) courtesy of Unisound records. The opener “The fifth illusion” comes from the band’s excellent second full length album titled Non serviam (1994). The extremely catchy lick to which I am referring in this post is first heard at 0:41-0:43 in the video below, and is repeated several times throughout the duration of the song. Whether Sakis Tolis (the band’s principal composer) consciously imitated the Anti-Cimex riff or whether it is a coincidence remains a hypothesis. However, it is worth noting that Rotting Christ started off as a grindcore band, so, I guess, listening to a band like Anti-Cimex would not be inconsistent with Sakis’s musical tastes.



Is this where I came from? #13 Horror cinema and Death metal album covers

The relationship between horror cinema and death metal is a complicated one.The orthodox and not particularly critical way to approach this relationship is to resort to the so-called birth of heavy metal in the late 1960s. If Black Sabbath is the band that captured the imaginations of musicians, music journalists, and fans who co-created the genre we know as heavy metal, then it makes sense to argue that horror cinema is a cornerstone of the genre. Black Sabbath got its name from the Mario Bava classic horror anthology from 1963. Moreover, the band supposedly made the conscious decision to write songs that would constitute the equivalent of horror cinema in the music industry.

In line with this tradition, horror cinema has been an integral part of death metal lyrically, visually, and musically. Some of the seminal musical and lyrical death metal texts reference horror cinema directly. Possessed‘s influential debut Seven churches from 1985 kicks off with the song “The Exorcist“, incorporating both the title and theme tune of the groundbreaking horror film from 1973, albeit slightly altered presumably to avoid copyright issues. Another foundational death metal album, Death‘s debut Scream bloody gore (1987) includes the song “Evil dead“, whose title refers to the cult horror by Sam Raimi, and the intro melody is a cover of the theme tune of Zombi, the cult zombie-gory-horror film by Lucio Fulci. Deicide‘s debut (1990) also references Evil Dead in the song “Dead by dawn“. The homonymous song off Entombed‘s debut, Left hand path (1990), concludes with a version of the theme tune from Phantasm (Entombed has used dialogue samples from horror cinema in many other albums, including on Clandestine (1991), Wolverine blues (1993) and Morning star (2001)). It could be argued that horror cinema references were early on established as canonical for new occupants/creators of the death metal genre.

Many death metal bands have used the imagery of horror films in their album artworks. Cancer‘s awesome debut, To the gory end (1990), a cornerstone of British death metal, references the gory and influential sequel to Night of the living dead (1968), Dawn of the dead (1978), with its cover artwork which depicts the famous zombie with a machete slicing its head, making it one of the most identifiable death metal covers of all time.

Deceased‘s supercharged debut album, Luck of the corpse (1991), portrays on its cover the corpse of the medium from “The drop of water”, one of the tales from Mario Bava’s Black Sabbath (1963). The terrifying dead medium is one of the most nightmarish characters in the history of horror films, and in my opinion does not fit the intense death-thrash of the album. I would expect something much darker and claustrophobic from an album with this cover, something more akin to early Asphyx or early Benediction.

Six Feet Under‘s classic now debut from 1995 is full of references to murder and classic horror themes, such as zombies (“Torn to the bone”, “Still alive”) and werewolves (“Lycanthropy”). The cover of the album has been taken from the poster of the 1990 Gothic horror The haunting of Morella, a film loosely based on a story by Edgar Alan Poe. In spite of what I thought were silly performances, awkward sound and editing, and messy direction it is a wildly entertaining movie. The cover is a brilliant painting that fits the style of the album well; I truly feel haunted when I’m listening to it. Obviously, the title of the album, Haunted, also alludes to the film.

Death Breath was a breath of fresh stinking air in the early days of the somewhat mediocre resurgence of old-school Swedish death metal. What better way to celebrate Nicke Andersson’s return to death metal than to reference some old-school horror cinema! Death Breath’s self-titled EP and debut album from 2006 reference the classic Hammer horror The plague of the zombies (1966). The iconic zombie with the empty eyes and the grotesque snarl is to this day one of the most terrifying monsters in film, and stands in sharp contrast to the rest of the film, which is not particularly frightening in my opinion. By the way, if you haven’t seen the video that the band made for the homonymous song do yourselves a favour and watch it; pure Night of the living dead worship!

Revolting is another new “old school death metal” band par excellence. Accordingly in its debut titled Dreadful pleasures (2009) it references an old school horror film titled Monster, also known as Humanoids from the deep (1980). Revolting might not be of the order of old school death metal bands like Death, Deicide, Cancer, and Entombed, but Humanoids from the deep is a great movie that truly stands out. Alongside the usual horror tropes (stalking, people murdered one after the other, gore, nudity) this movie has great cinematography and an interesting plot. The artwork is pretty cool too.



Is this where I came from? #12 Clive Barker and Dismember

The newest installment in this series of posts is about a band and an author I admire a lot. I have loved Dismember since my early teenage years in the mid 1990s, and Clive Barker is an author who I admired first as the writer/director of the first Hellraiser film, one of the absolute masterpieces of horror cinema, and then as a unique horror writer. The song “Hallucigenia” by Dismember was probably influenced by Barker’s book The great and secret show.

Clive Barker – The great and secret show (1989)

The great and secret show is the first part of an unfinished trilogy known as “the art”. In this fantasy/horror Barker weaves a complex story about the battle between two evolved beings (that once were human) over the space (i.e. Quiddity) between our world (i.e. Cosm) and the afterlife (i.e. Metacosm). One of the two beings is the Jaff (or, his human name, Jaffe), who is drunk with power and has evil intent, and the other one is Fletcher, who wants to protect Quiddity from the Jaff. The Jaff has the ability to extract from people their primal fears, materialised as monsters that he calls terata (the Greek word for monsters), and Fletcher has the ability to bring into existence people’s fantasies, what he calls hallucigenia. By raising Hallucigenia he forms his “army from the fantasy lives of the ordinary men and women he met as he pursued Jaffe across the country” (p.64). At some point in the story (after page 367) the fantasies of many of the residents of Palomo Grove, touched by Fletcher’s power, come into existence. Many of those fantasies are of sexual nature, leading many of the people isolating themselves in their homes reveling in sexual debauchery with their hallucigenia.

Dismember – Hallucigenia (1995)

Dismember’s “Hallucigenia” is a song composed by Richard Cabeza, and it is one of the most fantastic songs off Massive killing capacity, and a cornucopia of references. It kicks off with a brilliant, creepy Autopsy-like melody, leading to an up-beat Venom-sounding chord progression (I’m thinking “Countess Bathory”) that is repeated during the chorus, ending in a similar way to Kiss‘s “Black Diamond”. The song title and lyrical content refer back to Clive Barker‘s The great and secret show. After reading Barker’s book and realising the connection, and after listening to this album for 23 years, the lyrics suddenly made sense! The protagonist of the song is someone who apparently fantasised about sexual debaucheries with demons. Hallucigenia refers to these fantasies coming to life.

Lyrics: “On my throne of sin, I watch the demons feed, nails cut deep into my flesh, and release my pulsing blood. Serpents dance before my eyes, and tempt the lust inside, let me taste the pain, devour me, my wicked queen! Whip me with chains of sin, let your jaws open my skin, lips and tongues licking the wounds, in ecstasy I’ll rise. Whores of hell, demons appear to feast on my flesh, bleed with me, souls forever free. Taste the pain and the desire, like a drug it’s my need, bleeding bodies, endless orgies, in carnal blasphemy.”



Is this where I came from? #11 Ozzy Osbourne and Hearse

It has been a long time since the last installment of the “Is this where I came from” series of posts. In this post I will look at a riff created by Randy Rhoads during his brief, but significant, period with Ozzy Osbourne, and how it was interpreted by the Swedish death metal band Hearse. Rhoads’s riffing, and the way it was further developed by his successors, had a big impact on metal guitar playing. Especially his distinct style of fast strumming re-appears in several incarnations of metal guitar-playing, ranging from Rage (Manni’s riffs owe a lot to Rhoads) to Entombed (listen to the recent “The winner has lost“).

1. Ozzy Osbourne – S.A.T.O. (1981)

Ozzy’s second album, Diary of a madman (1981), is my favourite album from him, alongside The ultimate sin (1986). The song that instantly stood out for me when I first listened to it was “S.A.TO.”, still one of the best songs, with some of the most phenomenal and out-of-control guitar work ever recorded. This song is a true Randy Rhoads classic, and I consider him a God simply on the basis of his playing on this song. Now, as Ozzy fans know, it is really hard to find YouTube videos of original Ozzy Osbourne songs, so for the purposes of this post you can listen to the riff that Hearse drew on by a fan-made video. The riff in question starts at 0:34.

2. Hearse – Well of youth (2003)

Hearse is a relatively underground band fronted by Johan Liiva, formerly of Arch Enemy and Furbowl. Max Thornell, Liiva’s bandmate from Furbowl, is also part of Hearse. Their style is commonly referred to as melodic death metal or death-n-roll, but I think both definitions fall short of the range of Hearse, as their music has d-beat elements, traditional death elements, grind, bluesy riffs and guitar solos, psychedelic passages, and classic heavy metal melodies. Dominion reptilian (2003) is my favourite album from them. It is an album full of unique, inspired songs, and a simply phenomenal performance by Liiva. None of the other Hearse albums come close to the awesomeness of this one, although In these veins (2007) and Single ticket to paradise (2009) are also pretty good. The melody that starts at 0:20 and is repeated two more times throughout the song is very similar to the main riff of S.A.T.O.



Is this where I came from? #10 Dean Koontz and Autopsy

This series of posts has traditionally been about obscure examples of musical intertextuality across genres. I have so far discussed several examples of riffs, melodies and song structures traveling through time and space; from 1970s English Hard rock to 1990s Swedish Death metal (#5), from 1980s Irish Shoegaze to 1990s US Progressive metal (#3), from 1990s Welsh Alternative rock to 2000s German punk (#8), and others. In this, the 10th installment, I will do something slightly different. I will focus on song lyrics (as I have done in the past in a post on H.P. Lovecraft) and I will hypothesise that Autopsy got the idea for the song “Dead” from a section of Dean Koontz’s book The eyes of darkness.

dean_koontz-1Dean Koontz – The eyes of darkness (1981)

For a long time I considered Koontz a horror/mystery writer who was good, but by no means of the order of Clive Barker or even Stephen King. That opinion changed when I read the absolutely fascinating Phantoms (1983), a book whose plot is amazing, the different avenues that the plot follows and the crossroads on which these avenues meet is mind-blowing, and it is quite gruesome as well. The eyes of darkness is a book that was definitely enjoyable, but nowhere near as good as Phantoms. It is about a mother who tries to solve the mystery around her son’s death. I will not go into more detail because the plot is irrelevant to the aim of this post. What is relevant to this post is a description of the protagonist’s dead son on page 6:

“Torn and crushed in a bus accident with fourteen other little boys, just one victim of a larger tragedy. Battered beyond recognition. Dead.

Cold.

Decaying.

In a coffin.

Under the ground.

Forever.”

14c-autopsy-bandAutopsy – Dead (1991)

Mental funeral is an unprecedented masterpiece, and my all-time favourite Autopsy album. The song Dead is a strange song, in that its lyrics are just 10 words, morbidly narrated (and written) by Chris Reifert, on top of a gruesome riff. The melody preceding and then following the narration proved to be an extremely influential one in the death metal genre, with countless bands imitating it (you can hear the similarity on Entombed‘s “Somewhat peculiar“). The muddy composition, the singing style and the lyrics make it one of the most memorable and creepy songs in one of the most memorable and creepy albums of all time. The lyrics/theme are almost identical to the short text by Dean Koontz:

“Dead.

Stiff and cold.

In your box.

To decay.

Dead.”



Is this where I came from? #9 Running Wild and Unleashed

For the 9th installment of the “Is this where I came from?” series of posts I decided to revisit Unleashed, one of my all-time favourite death metal bands. In the first installment of this series of posts I demonstrated how Unleashed were influenced by Black Sabbath to compose one of their absolute masterpieces, namely “Shadows in the deep”. But, lets face it, who hasn’t been influenced by Black Sabbath? In this post I argue that Fredrik Folkare, Unleashed’s main composer since Hell’s unleashed (2002), was influenced by Running Wild, one of the pioneers of German heavy/power metal.

running-wild6Running Wild – Beggar’s night (1987)

Running Wild is a band I never got into, even though I was exposed to them during my formative heavy metal years – at the same time I fell in love with other power metal bands such as Rage, Helloween, Scanner, and Gamma Ray. My favourite album from them is probably Death or glory (1989), and I never really listen to any of their other albums. However, over the years I have come to appreciate the influence their heavy tremolo-picked riffs and epic attitude might have had on the emerging death metal scene of the late 1980s. “Beggar’s night” is a song off the Under jolly roger album released in 1987. The intro riff is patterned around slow tremolo picking. It starts with open string picking on the high E string. The two other notes that are being repeated throughout the riff-pattern are C and B on the 8th and 7th frets on the same string. Each one of the two sections of the riff has a slightly different ending. After the riff is played once, the power chords come in on top of it, following an E, G, A, G, F#, E progression, giving the song an epic feel.

unleashedwackenUnleashed – Winterland (2004)

Unleashed’s Sworn allegiance album starts majestically with this song written by Fredrik Folkare. The opening riff of this song, which re-appears on the chorus, is very impressive, and it is reminiscent of the opening riff of “Beggar’s night”. There are clear differences between the two riffs, but there are also some obvious similarities. Just like in the case of “Beggar’s night”, “Winterland” involves slow tremolo picking on an open string. In this case it starts with open string picking on the G string. The other two main notes in the first section of the riff-pattern are again on the 8th and 7th frets of the same string, in this case E flat and D. The chord progression played on top of this riff is G, A, A#, F#, A, A#, G, in a similar way as in “Beggar’s night”. When the drums come in, however, the same chord progression is played differently as the power chords give way to tremolo-picked individual notes, giving the backing riff a more “death metal feel”.



Is this where I came from? #8 Manic Street Preachers and Cross Stitched Eyes

In this the 8th installment in the “Is this where I came from?” series of posts I claim that a song by Manic Street Preachers, from an album that is considered to be a landmark in the history of alternative rock, influenced the contemporary crust/punk band Cross Stitched Eyes to write one of the stand-out tracks off their debut album.

manic street preachers - quartetManic Street Preachers – Ifwhiteamerica toldthetruth foroneday it’sworldwouldfallapart (1994)

This is the only album I have listened to from the Manics, as their devoted fans refer to them, and I can say that I do understand why someone can become obsessed with this band. First of all, judging by this album, this is a band that in spite of having enjoyed some widespread popularity (I distinctly remember being exposed to their music on popular music TV shows during the 1990s), it was not afraid to stray away from popular music conventions. Indeed, this album is chock full of musical ideas that can catch someone off guard. Each song requires from the listeners to be particularly attentive and active if they want to be part of the process of popular culture in which the band invites them. While listening to Nirvana or Smashing Pumpkins is undoubtedly a form of productive consumption, I would imagine that it is not as demanding as listening to the Manics. Based on my own musical background, I can relate to the Manics in different ways. This song starts with a jazzy riff that reminds of late 1980s Nomeansno. Shortly after that it moves on to a minimalist, dark, dissonant riff which repeats itself for several times and a beat that complements the dark vibe of the riff. The singer’s pitch, theatricality and use of vibrato are reminiscent of Jello Biafra. The song then goes through several other changes, including a happy bridge and chorus that anchor the song to more mainstream alternative rock music, before the band returns to the main dark and dissonant riff. This main riff is the one that influenced Cross Stitched Eyes. This album has definitely been influenced by Faith No More, and, in turn, has definitely influenced System Of A Down.

cseCross Stitched Eyes – End (2008)

I first listened to Cross Stitched Eyes back in 2008 when their debut album (Coranach) was released and I thought they were great. I didn’t think that they were particularly innovative, but it was obvious to me that they were music fans who had embodied their influences and craftily blended them in their own sound. These influences, I would imagine, include Amebix, The Cure, Motorhead, New Model Army,1980s crust music in general, and, as I suggest in this post, Manic Street Preachers. The song “End” which closes the album is one of the best songs in it and is driven by an awesome opening riff and drum beat, which are very similar to the arrangement around the main riff of “Ifwhiteamerica toldthetruth foroneday it’sworldwouldfallapart” (on the video that follows the song starts at 2:30).



Is this where I came from? #7 Motorhead and The Hellacopters

This series of posts is concerned with the intertextuality of popular music, or, in other words, the ways in which popular music composers borrow ideas from each other. While all music is recycled, especially in terms of the various compositional and stylistic conventions that impose their structure on creativity, there are instances where more distinctive ideas, such as a melody line or a riff, are being shared among creators that sometimes are ostensibly worlds apart. So far I have focused on slightly obscure cases of borrowing that takes place across genres, or subgenres, diachronicaly. In the present post, however, and with the sad occasion of Lemmy’s demise, I will present a more obvious case of intertextuality, namely how the Hellacopters, a heavy-rock band, was influenced by the riffs, groove and attitude of Motorhead, another heavy-rock band.

motorheadMotorhead – Die you bastard (1983)

Motorhead’s Another perfect day is an album that I loved from the very first time I listened to it. It is also an album that marked the first major line-up change in Motorhead’s career and apparently, from what I read on the internet, divided their audience. Indeed, some of the songs on it could be characterised as slightly melodic and “clean” compared to their previous albums. I personally never understood why anyone would be disappointed by this album, and I still consider it a masterpiece of high-octane heavy rock ‘n roll. The song “Die you bastard” closes the album and it is driven by an awesome bass riff, which is also the opening riff. The initial bass riff is played twice, then Philthy comes in with single strokes on the snare drum, indicating the tempo, while the lead guitar hits one note for every beat. As I demonstrate next, the resulting awesome arrangement put together beautifully by these English pioneers inspired the Hellacopters to compose one of their best songs.

hellacoptersHellacopters – A cross for Cain (2000)

“Cross for Cain” is an impressive song written by Nicke and Anders and originally published in the Toys and flavours EP. It can also be found in the Cream of the crap volume 2 (2004) collection. One might wonder why such a masterpiece did not make it in any of the proper studio albums and was instead released as a b-side on a single. I think that the reason behind this decision is that Nicke did not consider it original enough to be on a proper album, as it basically is a tribute to Motorhead. The opening riff does not resemble “Die you bastard” in any way, but the way the lead guitar and the snare drum come in is almost identical. Half-way through, right after the second chorus (at 1:17), the normal flow of the song is interrupted by an awesome riff which is almost identical to the main riff of “Die you bastard”. Still one of the best songs the Hellacopters ever wrote, and a big nod to Motorhead’s influence on them.



Is this where I came from? #6 Judas Priest, Black Sabbath, and Slayer

Slayer‘s Kerry King and Jeff Hanneman have always been vocal about the immense influence of British heavy metal on their musical identity. In this, the sixth installment of “Is this where I came from?”, I put forward the hypothesis that Black Sabbath and Judas Priest inspired Jeff Hanneman of Slayer to compose one of metal’s most beautiful and recognisable riffs of all times.

judasJudas Priest – Killing machine (1978)

Killing machine is the first Judas Priest albums I ever heard, and although I prefer Sad wings of destiny (1976), Sin after sin (1977), Defenders of the faith (1984), and Painkiller (1990), I still like it a lot and contains some of the best songs ever written. The eponymous song, “Killing machine”, is written by Glen Tipton. In the beginning of the song the two guitarists alternate the same riff between them; the riff ends on the G-flat note and goes on feedback, during which the same riff begins again. This routine is repeated twice before Halford starts singing. While it is not one of my favourite tunes, I still think it is a really cool effect.

bev_bevan_blach_sabbath_1987Black Sabbath – Eternal idol (1987)

The eternal idol might not be one of my favourite Black Sabbath albums, but I do think it has some of the best Black Sabbath songs ever; “Glory ride”, “Nightmare”, “Lost forever”, and “Eternal idol”, are simply awesome songs! I consider the song “Eternal idol” to be the highlight of the album. It starts with a slow, dark and heavy riff that showcases Tony Iommi’s trademark compositional style and inimitable feel for the sinister. (I personally believe that the atmosphere and the vocal lines on that song – the latter originally written by Ray Gillen – were the blueprint for Psychotic Waltz‘s “Into the everflow”.) As I demonstrate next, this riff bears a strong resemblance to “Dead skin mask”.

slayer-1990Slayer – Dead Skin Mask (1990)

Many years ago I made the connection that the intro riff of “Dead skin mask” was probably influenced by “Killing machine”, but I did not think it was worth writing about. What convinced me and made it worthwhile is a video of Kerry King I just saw, in which he acknowledges, in passing, the influence of Judas Priest on “Dead skin mask”. “Dead skin mask” utilises the same logic of “Killing machine”. The two guitarists take turns playing the same riff, although in the case of Slayer the riff ends on a different note each time, one riff ends on E-flat and the other on G-sharp.

The resemblance that Slayer’s intro riff bears to Black Sabbath’s “Eternal idol” is uncanny. First of all, both bands use E-flat tuning (all strings tuned down half a step). Both riffs are played on the same chord and with the same rhythm. In both songs the first four notes of the first section of the riff are exactly the same. However, the second section of both riffs is slightly different, plus, the Slayer riff is faster and develops further. The result of the combination of Judas Priest’s alternating effect and Black Sabbath’s nightmarish note progression is chilling.



An ode to Blind Guardian

The term “ode” is of course used catachrestically here, as I do not aim to compose an actual ode. The intention of this post is to simply praise what might be the greatest metal band of all times: Blind Guardian. Of course this is a personal opinion and would be naive to assume it is anything more than that. However, I would like the readers of this post who have not heard of, or have not paid attention to, Blind Guardian, to give them a chance and, by doing so, potentially enrich their lives in the most beautiful of ways.

bg1

As it sometimes happens in similar occasions, I will mobilise my personal career as a metal fan in an effort to invest my opinion with authority. I have been passionately listening to metal for 20 years. I first became obsessed with traditional heavy metal. Iron Maiden, Accept, Savatage and Dio were the first bands that I listened to and, with the exception of Accept, I quickly fell in love with them. Around the same time, by the end of 1995, I was exposed to power metal, starting with Helloween‘s Keeper of the seven keys parts 1 and 2,  and then to the newly released Blind Guardian and Gamma Ray albums Imaginations from the other side, and Land of the free, respectively. Soon after that I got addicted to Slayer and I would spend my days and nights listening to Reign in blood and Divine Intervention, over and over again, as well as to Kreator and Sodom. Not before long, a cassette started circulating in our metal circle with the relatively recently released Slaughter of the soul and The dreams you dread albums, by At The Gates and Benediction, respectively. These two albums opened up the floodgates to the genre that I love the most to this day: death metal. Soon I would be all over bands like Dismember, Unleashed, Entombed, Grave, Napalm Death, Sarcofago, Massacra, Death, etc. Although this is a very sketchy account of my personal metal history, it is meant to suggest that I was carefully nurtured to the different metal sub-genres and I have always had a broad appreciation of the metal spectrum.

blindgband

From left to right: Thomas, Marcus, Andre, Hansi circa 1988.

As it also happens with metal fans sometimes, my move from a less to a more “extreme” metal sub-genre usually meant a relative depreciation of the former. This was particularly pronounced when I started listening to death metal and I suddenly lost all interest in traditional heavy metal and power metal. Indeed, even today if someone asks me which the albums that I have consistently considered to be the most godly over the years are, I would reply with albums like Symbolic (Death), Clandestine (Entombed), Indecent and Obscene (Dismember), With fear I kiss the burning darkness (At the Gates), Heartwork (Carcass), Legion (Deicide), without a second thought. These are, without kidding, what I just thought! Yet, now on second thought, I would also include a number of albums by Maiden, Dio, Slayer, Rage, and others. However, there is also one album, that I excluded in the above list on purpose, that I would also include without second thought. That would be Blind Guardian’s Imaginations…. In my mind both traditional metal albums and death metal albums can be monumental, yet the former clearly belong to a different class to the latter. I have always considered death metal much more interesting, inventive, even critical, compared to traditional metal sub-genres. Blind Guardian is probably the only band that reconciles the creativity, aggression, criticality of death metal, and the fantasy, musicality and entertaining component of traditional metal.

bg2One of the most noteworthy things about Blind Guardian is their stamina. Over the years, I have witnessed – these are all personal opinions of course – countless once brilliant bands of the same scene, like Helloween (post 2000), Gamma Ray (post 1995) and Rage (post 2002), deteriorating on a downward spiral to becoming embarrassing shadows of their former selves. Yet, Blind Guardian managed to reinvent themselves over the years and constantly develop their unique style, leading to the release of an unprecedented masterpiece (what could easily be their best album ever) three months ago. No band that has been active for so long can claim to have achieved this.

BG circa early 90sBlind Guardian quickly released three albums between 1988 and 1990 that had pretty much the same style; fast power metal that combined elements of the quintessential German power metal band at the time, Helloween, and traditional English heavy metal. These influences are quite obvious. “Run for the night“, one of the standout tracks off their debut, sounds quite similar to “Starlight” off Helloween’s debut EP. Kai Hansen, the co-leader of Helloween made guest appearances in all first four Blind Guardian albums. With regard to their British metal influence, on their second album they covered the song “Don’t break the circle” off Demon‘s great second album The unexpected guest. Moreover, the even not so trained listener will be able to distinguish the NWOBHM influence in Blind Guardian’s early work, especially in the twin guitar harmonies. The twin guitar harmonies on “Majesty” (around 2:30), another classic from their debut, remind a lot the melody and overall approach of White Spirit on songs like “Fool for the gods” (at 4:25). Common element in those three releases is the epic atmosphere and speed. Although the style in their first three releases is somewhat constant, their third album shows signs of refinement and broadening of scope, exemplified on the track “Lord of the rings”.

The big change happened in 1992, with the release of their fourth masterpiece Somewhere far beyond. While the most obvious changes include the more ambitious orchestration and the complication of songwriting in general, I think the biggest change is Hansi’s singing, which evolved from an accompanying to a leading instrument. At that point Hansi’s melodies became the factor that took Andre’s music to new unreachable heights. The riffing as well explored new territories and embraced all the different techniques in the metal world, opening up new expressive avenues to the band. Triplet riffs that go back to the opening notes of Deep Purple‘s “Highway star“, and taken to new heights by thrash bands like Exodus (“Piranha“, “Deranged“), Metallica (“Damage inc”), Kreator (“No reason to exist” among many others), Sodom (“Shellfire defence“), and of course, Iced Earth (“Iced earth“), assumed new life in the competent hands of Marcus and Andre. I personally think that the influence of Manowar should not be underplayed either at this stage of Blind Guardian’s evolution. Songs like “Holy war” I consider to be blueprints for Blind Guardian’s sound.

The ultimate musical masterpiece. Whoever disagrees can go fuck themselves.

The ultimate musical masterpiece. Whoever disagrees can go fuck themselves.

Since then Blind Guardian committed to providing excellent musical narratives that enchant and cultivate the listener. I honestly discover new things whenever I listen to Imaginations… even though I have been listening to it non-stop for 20 years (and the same goes for all Blind Guardian albums). Another big change occurred with the release of Nightfall in middle earth (1998), in which the band slowed down its rampant pace considerably. Just like with the case of Somewhere far beyond that took the band to a new direction, Nightfall… was the album that would pave the way for the new Blind Guardian that, probably, looked for inspiration more to Savatage and progressive rock than thrash and speed metal. I would also postulate that the experimentation of their peers, Rage with an orchestra on Lingua Mortis (1996) must have had an effect on what Blind Guardian envisioned for the future. A night at the opera (2002) is an unprecedented progressive metal masterpiece, to this day probably my second favorite Blind Guardian album. This is an extremely thickly textured album, suffering from a not-particularly-good production. Despite that its brilliance is unquestionable. This album was the second major break with the band’s speed metal past, having just one song that is reminiscent of the speed metal days (i.e. “Punishment divine“). When this album was released I was going through a period of cynicism with regard to the metal genre and I remember being totally disappointed with the absence of fast songs. I remember that the biggest metal record store in Athens (Rock City) opened on a Sunday (all stores are closed on Sundays) just to sell the then-newly-released Blind Guardian album. Blind Guardian fans were a bit restless so they pushed their way through the entrance and, although I still don’t know exactly what happened, the glass doors shattered to the ground.

In A twist in the myth (2006) the band continued down the progressive path it had taken in the previous two albums, albeit with a much less ambitious orchestration and song structures in general. I consider it one of their most accessible albums. I also consider it to be in many ways the pinnacle of their songwriting, and if it ended with “Lionheart” it could easily be my second favorite BG album. “Otherland“, “Another stranger me“, “Carry the blessed home” are absolute masterpieces. The album that followed (At the edge of time, 2010), on the one hand, looked nostalgically in the past, with songs like “A voice in the dark” and “Tanelorn“. On the other hand, it also explored new territory for the band with the symphonic “Sacred worlds” and the long epic “Wheel of time“.

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From left to right: Andre, Hansi, Marcus, Frederik circa 2014

Which brings us to 2015, when after almost 30 years of astounding musical offerings Blind Guardian manage to release what could be their most beautiful, inventive and ambitious masterpiece yet. It’s been more than three months since I bought Beyond the red mirror and I still can’t believe my ears. My only problem with the album, which irritated me a lot at first, is that the rhythm guitars – an important ingredient in BG’s sound – are way too low in the mix. Other than that, the album’s brilliance is indescribable. I will save the more elaborate review for the Best off list at the end of the year. Until then do yourselves a favour and listen to Blind Guardian, probably the best band of all time.