Blind Guardian: Twilight Orchestra – Legacy Of The Dark Lands / Turned Up Louder
It’s a very rare thing that you finally get to hear an album that is 23 years in the making, but that is indeed what we have with Legacy Of The Dark Lands. Having originally floated the idea of releasing a fully orchestral record back in the 90’s during the recording sessions of their classic album Nightfall In Middle-Earth, German power metallers Blind Guardian have now finally completely this extensive project. Though the prospect of a metal band recording an orchestral album might seem utterly bizarre to anyone with no prior knowledge of them, Blind Guardian’s sound is already so heavily symphonic that it really is not that much of a far cry at all. Nevertheless, bringing together all the components necessary to make this project a reality has been a mammoth task for lead singer Hansi Kürsch and guitarist André Olbrich. The result of over two decades of endeavour is Legacy of the Dark Lands, which clocks in at an hour and quarter spread over 24 tracks; 11 songs, 12 spoken word and an overture. The story told was written by fantasy author Marks Heitz as a direct sequel to his novel ‘Die Dunken Lande’ and is set in 1629 during the tumult of the Thirty Years War; all of which is set to the music provided by the Prague Philharmonic Orchestra. Having led the way in European power metal for such a long time now, it was always going to be intriguing to see how the band fared stepping outside their comfort zone in the this way.
The first thing that becomes apparent as the ‘1618 Overture’ and spoken word ‘The Gathering’ introduce listeners to the record, is that the quintessential Blind Guardian character is still very much present. From the slow builds culminating in epic waves of layered music to the heavy fantasy-laden concept underpinning the album, there is only so much Blind Guardian are willing to deviate. ‘War Feeds War’ is the first actual song in the album, and provides a snapshot of the album as a whole. Dark, brooding yet still with an inherent grandeur, the song provides intrigue and enthralment in equal measure. Indeed, this very much sets the tone for the rest of the album, which is exactly as big and bombastic as a Blind Guardian orchestral album is expected to be. Each layer of music adds new weight and depth to the piece, often making it feel a lot more like a cinematic soundtrack than an album. Lead singer Hansi Kürsch is as impressive as always on vocals with his excellent range and expression, supported ably by a group of backing vocalists; though due to the aforementioned soundtrack quality of the music, often the vocals can feel a little unnatural and punctuating.
This type of effect is generally where the album falls down, because as epic a soundtrack as it is, it never gets away from feeling like it is in fact a soundtrack for a film we don’t get to see. On the one hand, the orchestral score and choir effects which have supplemented Blind Guardian’s music so well in the past takes centre stage to such an extent that it feels forced when other Blind Guardian elements are introduced; on the other, the songs are still structured in such a similar way to their previous records that the focus on the orchestra begins to feel unnatural. This is not helped by the fact that the length of the album is such that the songs often blend together on reflection. Having said that, there are definite standouts that work very well as individual pieces separated from the overall concept, such as ‘Point of no Return’ and ‘This Storm’, which mark definite high points of the album.
Legacy of the Dark Lands is a wonderfully ambitious work that sees a long-established band step completely outside their comfort zone to create a majestic fantasy soundscape which will only extend Blind Guardian’s deserved reputation as excellent musical storytellers. It may be that those who are better versed in classical music and film soundtracks will get more out of the record than the band’s regular fans, but whichever side you fall on, there are plenty of gems throughout the record to latch onto and enjoy. There are also things to criticise, as despite the magnitude of this record, it does not always succeed in its aspirations. Once the final song ‘Beyond the Wall’ drew a conclusion and the spoken word ‘A New Beginning’ brought the album to an end, I was left feeling as though I’d listened to the bonus CD of a Blind Guardian album rather than the actual thing. Despite it being an undoubtedly enjoyable listen, I was still left feeling as though it was missing something. If you’re in the mood for a grand cinematic album with a compelling storyline however, you can look no further.