An older legacy is reborn.
Nothing tests the courage of a musical movement like adversity, and following a massive collapse in popular interest in the early 1990s and the ascendancy of grunge, heavy metal had practically become a four-letter word. among the general public. But an age of catastrophe can and often does become an age of heroes, and one of the central centers of underground resistance would be the German nation, where many already established acts would make bold advances in evolution and provide massive setback against the first rumors of the disappearance of the metal. Alongside stalwarts of power metal that included the likes of Gamma ray, Helloween, Run wild and Gravedigger; Westphalian born speed metal titans blind guardian would spearhead the melodic side of this revolution during the dark days of the 1990s, unleashing a volley of stellar LPs that would breathe new life into a seemingly outdated subgenre, complete with a fourth studio album and 1992 hit. “Somewhere Far Beyond” often cited as a key turning point amid obituaries of his adopted style written by major music media outlets.
Again, success can often be a stumbling block, and the winds of change were beginning to blow with the start of the new millennium. After a crushing punch of rapid-fire melodic majesty in the forms of the epic part-time thrashing “Goliath” from 1995 “Imaginaries on the Other Side” (produced by Flemming Rasmussen of Metallic-fame no less) and the gargantuan conceptual nod to JRR Tolkienit is The Silmarillion double “Nightfall in Middle-earth”, unbridled triumph would give way to experimentation. To be fair, there has yet to be a bad album under the blind guardian name, but with 2002 “A Night at the Opera” came a very different era for the band, as noted by former drummer Thomas Stauch following the recording of the album and his subsequent departure from the band, as well as longtime co-engineer Piet Sielck (iron savior). The successive series of albums that would round out the 2000s and 2010s would largely stick to this heightened degree of orchestral pomp and circumstance, culminating in the exclusively symphonic albums of 2019. “Twilight Orchestra: Legacy of the Dark Lands”, a very impressive feat of composition, sure, but also one that left a lot of people wondering “Where did the metal go?”.
But the start of a new decade has a way of ushering in a paradigm shift, and 2022 has brought a massive throwback to the good old days for fans of this band’s classic era in “The God Machine.” Like a nostalgic writer drawing inspiration from a critique of the works of his youth, the same outfit that kept metal ending when it was out of fashion has rolled back the stylistic clock some 27 years and has delivered stripped-down, riff-centric metal. gauntlet in the gut of all the naysayers who called this quartet old and tired. the haughty, Queen-inspired choirs and percussive cries of the helmsman Hansi Kursch are more dynamic than ever, sprinkling each song with a brilliant conversation of melodic statements that go heavy, but not too much on overdubs and also sees stellar guest backing vocal work by renowned artists such as Marcela Bovio, Marjan Welman, John Cuijpers and a few other familiar names. The thunderous battery provided by the drummer Frederik Ehmke in a way strongly reminiscent of its predecessor Thomas Stauchand the guitarist’s fierce riff work Marcus Siepen prove no less essential in shaping the arrangement, while the strongly harmonized and singing solo work of Andre Olbrich on the six strings are often held at the feet of massive vocal arrangements.
To be clear, “The Divine Machine” does not come across as a total overhaul of the characteristic sound that graced “Imaginations from the Other Side” but it comes pretty close to it on all counts and rivals it in overall quality. Naturally, it is appropriate to pay tribute to the brilliant production work of Charlie Bauerfeind and the rest of the studio team, who crafted a stunning 2022 successor that sounds masterful Rasmussen accomplished in 1995, but what really seals the deal here is the solid songwriting and flawless performances the band put on. Biting, near-thrashing speeders with a soaring melodic edge like the uplifting opener “Deliver us from evil”and similarly styled and fierce but more compact crushers “Violent Shadows” and “Blood of the Elves” spare no expense in the aggression department, but also retain a fairly elaborate scheme of vocal gymnastics and guitar, as well as nuanced atmospheric keyboard elements to keep things interesting. A parallel stylistic story is told with a slightly more menacing tone on “Damnation”, which brilliantly blends some of the more dissonant parts of this outfit’s pre-1992 speed metal roots with the more epic approach that would follow as the 90s progressed.
Of course not blind guardian opus, even dating back to the band’s early days, would be complete without a healthy collection of longer, more elaborate excursions into epic storytelling against a fantasy backdrop. Inspired by Neil Gaiman’s work of the same name, “Secrets of the American Gods” brings a more symphonic and progressive twist to the equation that recalls the classic charms of the title track from their aforementioned 1995 LP, while the space vibes and chugging groves of “Life Beyond the Spheres” matches its sci-fi steeped subject matter which it portrays almost perfectly. A more menacing take on the pulled side of the storytelling coin that plays a bit more cohesively into this album’s speed metal leanings is accomplished in “Architects of Destiny”which also features one of the most impressive shredding displays in Olbrich found here. Even venturing into token ballad territory, the album’s sense of darkness is maintained on the lighter. “Let It Be No More” ditching the band’s frequent affinity for folk interludes for something a little more modern and heartbreaking. The Closing Foray “Fate” works as a very engaging epilogue; avoiding the highly kinetic fervor of some of the previous songs, but sealing things on a very complex and progressive note, with Olbrichguitar work being a highlight again.
To state the obvious, it’s the next best thing to hitting the shelves under the blind guardian nickname since “Nightfall in Middle-earth”, and for those who preferred the less keyboard-infused sound, the previous 1998 masterpiece, the sonic flavor of “The Divine Machine” is strongly inclined towards what preceded it. It embodies all the best elements of a throwback, but when fully understood it works more like a true continuation and road not taken storyline where one could imagine this album standing in place of “A Night at the Opera” or one of the albums that immediately followed it. Those who crave thrash-adjacent speed metal with lots of spine-destroying riffs and beats will have more than their thirst, as will those who love their music laden with fantastic lyrics noting the heavy influence that the works of Patrick Rothfuss, Brandon Sanderson and even “Battlestar Galactica” had on those songs. It’s a magnum opus born out of real-world conviction in the aftermath of the pandemic and some difficult life events for the musicians involved, as well as the otherworldly, and no fan of the genre will want to miss it.
Produced by: Nuclear Explosion Records
Release date: September 2, 2022
Gender: power metal
Order “The Divine Machine” here.
“The Divine Machine” List of tracks:
1. Deliver us from evil (5:22)
2. Damnation (5:21)
3. Secrets of the American Gods (7:29)
4. Violent Shadows (4:18)
5. Life beyond the spheres (6:03)
6. Architects of Fate (6:21)
7. Let It Be No More (4:49)
8. Blood of the Elves (4:38)
9. Destiny (6:47)
BLIND GUARDIAN are:
- Hansi Kursch / Main voice
- Andre Olbrich / Guitars, backing vocals
- Marcus Siepen / Guitars, backing vocals
- John van Stratum / Bass
- Frederik Ehmke / Drums, percussion, bagpipes
After a few decades of progressive experimentation and growing symphonic largesse, German speed metal icons Blind Guardian make a stylistic return to their heavier roots and deliver their most intense opus since the late 1990s.