Wednesday 19 October 2022

Blind Guardian - The God Machine (2022)

Country: Germany
Style: Power Metal
Rating: 8/10
Release Date: 2 Sep 2022
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There are certain voices in rock music that do all the expected things but somehow sit apart from the rest of the genre, occupying an iconic status. Many of those are the old gods, Rob Halford and Lemmy and Ronnie James Dio, but some came along a little later and, as I highlight Hansi Kürsch as one of them, I realise that it wasn't that much later after all. Blind Guardian have been around since 1987, three years longer if you count their early years as Lucifer's Heritage, and Kürsch was a founder member of both.

Where other pioneering power metal singers like Michael Kiske were content to take what Bruce Dickinson did in Iron Maiden and do it more and higher, Kürsch added a grandeur that seemed to have been missing from the genre until he came along. Even now, with Blind Guardian influential to a couple of generations of bands across the globe, there's still nobody else who quite sounds at all like him. It's a combination of accent and phrasing and how he holds notes, so that even if some other wannabe Kürsch tried to emulate him exactly, they'd come up short. He's often like an entire choir in one body.

Of course, while it's refreshing to hear his voice again in its typical context, as 2019's Legacy of the Dark Lands was so atypical that it was credited to Blind Guardian Twilight Orchestra and the prior album to that was Beyond the Red Mirror all the way back in 2015, he's not the band, however his importance in it can't be underestimated. André Olbrich and Marcus Siepen are founder members too and their twin guitar assault underpins everything that Kürsch does. They riff furiously on the opener, Deliver Us from Evil, and they solo viciously and they rarely let up throughout the album.

It's that combination of grandeur and speed that makes Blind Guardian so memorable to me, with every song elegant and blistering in turns but always huge, even when it's quiet and peaceful, like on the intro to Secrets of the American Gods. Everything feels visual, like the backing choir are an abiding fog and we're floating through it to discover those secrets when it finally clears. While it's an operatic and orchestral sound, even without opera singers and orchestras, I always visualise an epic Blind Guardian song—and they're all epic, even when they're only four minutes long— with a movie camera mindset. The sound is too big to be confined by a stage.

Talking of Secrets of the American Gods, it's the longest song here at seven and a half minutes and I'd call it my favourite. Everything here is solid, as if this band have been about only for a couple of years and they still need to prove themselves through energy and intent rather than resting on an impressive career of almost three and a half decades. As is often the case with Blind Guardian, it's often individual riffs or melodies that connect deeply with us and mine may not be yours.

So, for me, it's the vocal phrasing in Secrets of the American Gods and the riffing in Architects of Doom, which feels like we're being swept along by a chariot that's never out of control, however it might seem from the landscape whipping past us. Really, it could be any song here, the delicate intro to Let It Be No More—or indeed its slow but substantial build—or the barrelling speed of Deliver Us from Evil or Blood of the Elves that owes as much to the effortless pace of Frederik Ehmke on the drums as those twin guitars.

So this is a good one, a powerful one and a refreshing one. The worst thing about it is that it ends, both at all and in the way it does, because Destiny wraps up like a song rather than an album, so I was all prepared to roll into the next track after it was over and all was silence. Kürsch tells us that we're his destiny and then suddenly he's gone. Oh, well. I guess we can just play it all over again.

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