Blind Guardian

support Steelwing
author GR date 26/09/10 venue Shepherds Bush Empire, London, UK

It has been some time since I last headed out to a gig with my reviewing cap on, so let's get back into the swing of things, shall we? This, the only UK date of German power metal deities Blind Guardian, was an event marked up in anticipation by many since being announced last year, especially after their excellent performance at Bloodstock 2009. The fact the band were returning to these shores so soon - their previous (and first ever) appearance in London being all the way back in 2006 - was most welcome and happily meant plenty of friends in attendance. Such is the appeal of Blind Guardian that a couple of them had travelled over from Norway for the show, with another making the trip down from Scotland. The gig also coincided with my move to a new flat, so as I approached the Empire it was with a certain amount of weariness as well as expectation for a great night.


Unfortunately it turned out my reviewer pass was only valid for access to the upstairs balcony area of the venue, somewhere I normally avoid at all costs in favour of the much more enjoyable and atmospheric downstairs/floor, so I settled down with a pint in one of the theatre seats feeling a tad annoyed and peered over the edge at my friends below. Swedish upstarts Enforcer had originally been booked on the tour but their cancellation meant the support duties were left entirely to fellow Swedes Steelwing, a band I missed at Bloodstock this year. Striding onto the stage, it was clear the kind for metal we were in for (if the band's moniker hadn't dropped enough hints), as much like the aforementioned Enforcer the fivesome were kitted out as though the last 25 years never happened.

As someone with a penchant for the old-school, the denim 'n' leather look isn't one that puts me off - quite the opposite - so Steelwing had the potential to make a positive impact on me. That, however, didn't really happen over the half hour or so of their set. Sure, they played the kind of ulta-traditional metal that usually gets me going, all blazing solos and soaring vocals, but they came across as far too derivative and ultimately a bit 'meh', if you excuse the internet vernacular. Frontman Riley does, however, posses an excellent set of heavy metal pipes and it was his voice that could most clearly be heard from my lofty vantage point, with the instruments bereft of all power in the sound mix. Riley was also the most energetic of the band members and managed to get a fair chunk of the audience chanting along, but his efforts couldn't overcome a total lack of atmosphere. Closing (I think) track "Roadkill (...or be killed)" showed Steelwing aren't completely lacking in song-writing chops but ultimately this was a perforamnce that failed to impress and had me wishing Enforcer were still on the bill.


Blind Guardian

Having stayed seated for the duration of Steelwing's set, a position that just doesn't feel right when experiencing live music, I took a wander on the way back from the bar to see where the best place to stand might be, deciding to place myself in the walkway behind the seating. This may have been as far back as possible but afforded a decent view of the stage and also provided plenty of space for potential rocking-out - an almost guaranteed occurrence. Luckily having discovered a few friends also upstairs, we chatted in anticipation, noting just how rammed it looked downstairs (which was sold out), before BG finally took to the stage and broke into "Sacred Worlds" from well-received latest album "At the Edge of Time". What was immediately clear was the improvement in sound quality - something you'd expect from the headlining band - with the potential for a dodgy sonic experience where I was thankfully not proving an issue

Most performances can take a while to really get going and this has been especially true of my past encounters with Blind Guardian. With a fairly stark stage setup, all the more noticeable for being able to see it from above, this was true once again - but to a much lesser extent. When the roar of the ecstatic audience had died down and second song - Guardian classic "Welcome to Dying" - was in full-swing, that was it; the gig was officially fantastic. Now, some bands are great live because they're a constant blur of energy and motion, but this is not the case with Guardian: at their own admission their on-stage movement is somewhat limited and is of the sort that can make bands seem boring. What they do provide, however, is an intensity and integrity of performance that cannot be questioned. This relatively low-key nature works for them because the quality of their songs is so high, and tonight's setlist in particular featured wall-to-wall brilliance.

From the likes of "Nightfall" to "Mirror Mirror", everything the Germans played was flawless and greeted by the kind of adulation that rare appearances such as this create. Whether the songs were fast ("Traveller in Time") or slow ("The Lord of the Rings") didn't matter, each was a chance to bellow along to the massive choruses, pump fists in the air and headbang with sheer Sunday-night abandon. Frontman Hansi Kursch displayed his usual reserved charm, expressing sincere thanks for such a huge crowd reaction and cracking a few jokes. The man has one of the most distinctive voices in the genre and thankfully the passage of time has yet to diminish his abilities. The introduction of massive crowd sing-along classic "The Bard's Song" signalled the beginning of the end of the gig and had me wondering what the encore would bring. It turned out to be new epic "Wheel of Time" and, just as I was trying to work out what obvious song they hadn't played, the truly awesome "Imaginations from the Other Side". Whilst it might not have been the most high-octane of gigs, the bombast, power and majesty of the music proved just why Blind Guardian are so revered.


Sacred Worlds

Welcome to Dying

Born in a Mourning Hall



Time Stands Still (At the Iron Hill)

Traveller in Time


The Lord of the Rings

This Will Never End

A Voice in the Dark

Mirror Mirror

Punishment Divine

The Bard's song

Wheel of Time

Imaginations from the Other Side

Photos by Nikki Ryan

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