Let’s face it – it had to happen! I’m just amazed it took so long. From the moment I heard the orchestral version of ‘Theatre Of Pain’ as a bonus track on Blind Guardian’s fantastic “Somewhere Far Beyond” album way back in 1992, it looked like an obvious future endeavour. Further Blind Guardian classical arrangements recorded over the following years re-enforced this suspicion – even the success that members of Savatage had with Trans-Siberian Orchestra in the meantime made me repeatedly believe this project must be imminent, but it has taken until now for Blind Guardian to finally write and record a fully orchestral album.

Well, two members of Blind Guardian to be precise – guitarist Andre Olbrich and vocalist Hansi Kursch have basically written the soundtrack and narrative to a film yet to be made. 24 tracks with narration, telling the in-depth story of…no, I won’t spoil it for you, but it was always going to be an epic fantasy wasn’t it? The narrated parts are nicely informative, dramatic and set the mood perfectly. Others are…entertaining, lots of different voices (I’m sure I heard the character of Baldrick in there at some point!) and a few are quite amusing – but maybe this is intentional? The problem I personally have here, is that I don’t like musicals, operas, film scores or movie soundtracks – I just like a bit of Blind Guardian every now and again. So, I am both qualified and utterly unsuited to review this album. But here I am…

Orchestral albums are no new thing obviously, and they are always a huge and complex undertaking by the people involved. This particular endeavour is a vocal-over-orchestra album, no prominent guitars and certainly no drums (just percussion). The story of the album is well told and suitably eccentrically delivered – it’s certainly a grandiose, epic album, there’s no denying it. There are some great melodies on this album – as you would expect, backed by some stunning orchestration. But…and I so didn’t want to be THAT guy…you know the one, the person who writes “well it’s all great fun – but when do the real Blind Guardian songs kick in? When does the Metal happen?”…so I won’t be (unless that counts as me saying it? Damn…). To take a different angle, I could say that having thoroughly enjoyed “Nightfall In Middle Earth” way back in the day, this feels basically like that album…but with all the guitar, drums, bass and Metal removed. Which effectively it is, but with new songs obviously – that’s the idea of it really – so if this is what you hoped and dreamed Blind Guardian would one day produce then welcome to heaven! Me? Not so much.

Frank Allain completely echoed my own thoughts on Blind Guardian effectively backing themselves into a creative corner in his excellent review of their previous album (elsewhere on Ave Noctum), and I am left wondering if this release is one of a few possibilities; Maybe an elaborate, engrossing attempt to back themselves out of said corner? Or is this to be a cleansing, re-invigorating process for Blind Guardian? Is it a project to run concurrently with the main band like Savatage and TSO was intended to be (until TSO eclipsed Savatage and brought about the end of that band – A cautionary tale!)? Or purely a piece of indulgent, well executed, fun folly for the people involved to explore, just because they can – a bit like Tuomas from Nightwish’s Duck thing or Epica’s unimaginatively titled “The Score” for instance? I guess time will tell, after all, Time, What Is Time? And who knows what direction the future holds for Blind Guardian. All I know is that musicians with this much talent deserve a podium to cast their skills from, and while they are producing material that is of interest to their fans then long may it continue. Giving this review a score is difficult, as it is creatively admirable and so well delivered – but it’s just not my thing, so I’ve marked it from the point of view of just how it left me feeling.

(6/10 Andy Barker)