Blind Guardian Twilight Orchestra – Legacy of the Dark Lands

Blind Guardian Twilight Orchestra - Legacy of the Dark LandsTwenty years in the making, Blind Guardian’s full-orchestral album has finally dropped. Let’s see if it was worth the wait.

Back when the German symphonic metal bards did their promotion for 1998’s Nightfall in Middle-Earth, it was revealed that Blind Guardian’s main composers, vocalist Hansi Kürsch and guitarist André Olbrich were working on an orchestral album that would feature a real orchestra and choir. Already known for taking their time to write and record their albums, this one would surely be a while off yet. That while turned out to be more than twenty years later, with Hansi and André quietly working on it in the background and the fans wondering if this album would ever see the light of day. Imagine my surprise when the first single Point of No Return dropped earlier this year and the album was confirmed to be released early November. The band collaborated with the Prague Filmharmonic orchestra and German fantasy writer Markus Heitz, the album being a direct sequel to his novel The Dark Lands to create something truly unique in the metal scene. Let’s dig in.

Known as “that Tolkien band,” Blind Guardian was once even mooted as a contender to create the soundtrack for Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy but that fell through quickly, which is probably just as well considering the band’s reputation for taking their time in composing and releasing their albums. Legacy of the Dark Lands might be the closest thing to getting that actual soundtrack though. Seventy-five minutes in length it’s long in the tooth and the multitude of spoken interludes certainly does not help there. At times, especially on the first two spins, Legacy of the Dark Lands reminded me of the third movie in the Lord of the Rings trilogy, The Return of the King, and its seemingly never-ending array of endings before the credits roll. This album at first seems like a collection of symphonic intros that never lead to any main song; an album that never really starts. In places it still does, but after a few listens there definitely is something worthwhile to be found.

Blind Guardian Twilight Orchestra

When Legacy of the Dark Lands works, it really works well. The songs sound just like you’d expect: Blind Guardian sans the metal, with big orchestrations and choirs. On the best songs, you can almost hear how they would sound with guitars and drums just like on any regular album. The best examples of this are probably the first singles Point of No Return and This Storm, whilst the title track from 2015’s Beyond the Red Mirror also makes a symphonic return, retitled as Harvester of Souls. These are typical Blind Guardian songs, with the orchestra providing the music instead of the band, and with Hansi sounding on top of his game and downright spectacular in some of the notes he manages to pull off here. Musically this is, as expected, an impressive record that is able to deliver some truly goosebump-inducing moments when the orchestra and choir work together to create a big sweeping soundscape. Just about every song builds from a quiet start up to a huge middle or grandiose apotheosis, and most of the songs are excellent.

What does not work on Legacy of the Dark Lands are the continued and incessant interruptions by the spoken word parts, which really kill every momentum built up by the previous song. Just as you get the feeling that something’s about to happen, along come these actors to ruin it. I get there’s a story to be told here, but without the lyric sheet in hand you’d have no idea what these guys were talking about anyway, sort of undermining the need to have them on the album in the first place. And with twelve of these interludes taking up a sizeable ten minutes of an already whopping seventy-five minutes total, you’ve got a lot of unnecessary filler on your hands. There’s an interlude-free version out there on various streaming services and I’ve found that to be a much more enjoyable listen in the end.

As a one-off, Legacy of the Dark Lands is a wonderful experience and a quite enjoyable album that’s clearly a work of passion. I struggle, however, to think of any other audience for it than the die-hard Blind Guardian fan base. It will surely be too niche and too metal for the masses and, maybe even worse, not metal enough for the metalheads. It’s a paradox of an album in that way, but an impressive one all the same that I can definitely recommend to people who are into both symphonic metal and orchestral scores. It’s a good thing that this is out there after twenty years, although I sincerely hope that with this now finally of their chest, the band will cut the symphonics back and their next effort will be a bit more metal than the last few albums again.

Label: Nuclear Blast, 2019

Track listing:

  1. 1618 Overture (2:37)
  2. The Gathering (1:22)
  3. War Feeds The War (5:05)
  4. Comets And Prophecies (1:12)
  5. Dark Clouds Rising (5:11)
  6. The Ritual (0:52)
  7. In The Underworld (5:50)
  8. A Secret Society (0:25)
  9. The Great Ordeal (4:55)
  10. Bez (0:22)
  11. In The Red Dwarf’s Tower (7:03)
  12. Into The Battle (0:26)
  13. Treason (4:21)
  14. Between The Realms (0:48)
  15. Point Of No Return (6:37)
  16. The White Horsemen (0:50)
  17. Nephilim (5:06)
  18. Trail And Coronation (0:27)
  19. Harvester Of Souls (7:17)
  20. Conquest Is Over (1:21)
  21. This Storm (4:47)
  22. The Great Assault (0:27)
  23. Beyond The Wall (7:07)
  24. New Beginnng (0:47)

Further surfing:

Review by Ralph Plug

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