Blind Guardian – Somewhere Far Beyond (1992)
With this album, you catch Blind Guardian with their ’80s speed metal costume in the laundry hamper, struggling to put their ’90s symphonic power metal outfit on. Or does that describe the next album? Somewhere Far Beyond, on second thought belongs more to that earlier era of European power metal that, while clearly streamlined and marketed towards a growing audience, had yet to reach the peaks of orchestration and pomp that it’s usually associated with these days. There’s some restraint here. It’s helpful. Trust me on that, even if this album is all bombast and glory compared to, for instance, contemporary death metal. Still, it was part of an evolving genre, and the experiments with symphonic material helped lead many a band (including this one) further down that path.
In the process of writing for Death Metal Underground, I found myself frequently referring to the concept of the “Big Dumb Chorus™” when writing about mainstream power metal. The Big Dumb Chorus™ is an especially hammy and enormous refrain to the point that an entire song is built around it; the idea is lifted from earlier forms of popular rock and metal music. European power metal in particular is infested with Big Dumb Choruses™ to varying degrees. Blind Guardian’s songwriters are skilled enough to keep this album from being overwhelmed by these, but the songs are still driven by choruses despite the same people also trying to write lengthy complicated songs. This partial elaboration of style helps keep the album fresh, but Somewhere Far Beyond is still very pop oriented.
This lengthy aside about the Big Dumb Chorus™ and its role in Blind Guardian’s music should make it apparent that this band’s music is very much defined by what it lies in between. The good part of that is that Blind Guardian’s strengths lie in their intermediaries – how they effectively expand on pop song writing, how they maintain a good measure of speed metal aggression and roughness in spite of growing polish, in general how they mix together various musical concepts. The corollary is that when they falter, they fall off really badly – for instance, the title track needed some serious editing, since its sections are divided up by near-random instrumental changes. I’m not entirely sure what this says about Blind Guardian, except perhaps that they’re performing in a precarious style that rewards some caution and is very easy to overdo with unpleasant results. They’re still better at it than most who have tried it.
Anyways, it hasn’t escaped my notice that this album is quite popular with metalheads, at least of the Blind Guardian and power metal enjoying sort. I highly doubt I’m alone in specifically liking its liminalities.
Highlights: “Time What Is Time”, “The Quest for Tanelorn”, “Somewhere Far Beyond”