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by Martin Popoff

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Fresh Metal

Blind Guardian - A Night At The Opera
(Century Media)

Curiously, Hansi Kursch once told me that Blind Guardian "have nothing to do with power metal yet are nothing BUT power metal." That statement becomes apparent when listening to the band's mesmerizing, stultifying, multi-layered new album A Night At The Opera, a record oft-delayed due to sight (cover art) and sound (mixing), and now descending alternately, like a chorus of angels, and like the sixteen hooves of the Apocalypse. Not as heavy or dark as the Nightfall album, A Night At The Opera is conversely more metallically joyous, spiraling and well, heavenly. Importantly, it is not a concept album, each track given pretty heavy subject matter (biblical stories, Nietzsche, some fantasy) and then each bestowed upon it, music that is highly orchestral and then beat to hell by armies of voices and pounding drums, Thomen Stauch really a big key to this record's punchy success, as is his tom tom and bass drum sound. And of course Kursch's voice is another one of the band's unique stamps, Kursch reminding me of few other singers, perhaps Styx's Larry Gowan coming closest. But then Kursch is rarely alone, the vocal presentation being a complex labyrinth of choral effects and arrangements, once more underscoring this coursing, roiling effect one experiences when listening to this utterly unique band. Easily my favourite from the catalogue, due mainly to its demarcation into non-concept island nations, each thenceforth governed like a gleaming, idealistic utopia by wise men with long beards and glimmering scepters.
Rating 10

Judas Priest - Turbo, Priest... Live!, Ram It Down, Painkiller

And so the Sony years end, Priest and pulpit delivering the final four of the 12 Sony reissues, the set designed to sit within a tidy box with booklet. Turbo kicks things off and out the door, the band delivering quite a different album to Defenders, all pop, dumbed down yet again (count the times), but hiding a few gems in Turbo Lover, Hot For Love and Reckless. Unexpected is a ripper of a bonus track, All Fired Up being a non-LP speed metaller with scads of scorching guitar. Next up was Priest... Live! which again, does well with the bonus tracks, offering a somewhat strange and rearranged Screaming For Vengeance, a spirited Rock Hard, Ride Free and Hell Bent For Leather, which can do no wrong. Ram It Down is possibly the most ignored Priest album of all time, and you might ignore it all over again, given that both bonus tracks are live, accompanied with the inane "Night Comes Down and Bloodstone were recorded live during one of our many world tours." Nice match for Priest... Live!'s "This Judas Priest concert is dedicated to you our fans.", Turbo's liner note "We survived these perils to complete an album that is now regarded by all as a heavy metal milestone.", and Painkiller's "Living Bad Dreams was recorded during the early years of our career." Or maybe around the time of our 14th album. Anyway, thanks for the effort and thanks for the honesty. Moving from millstones to milestones, this wave of four ends with Painkiller, an album zooming up the charts in terms of historical weight, the band captured razor-ready by Chris Tsangarides, ass-kicking continuing at the double bass boot-end of new skinsman Scott Travis. Bonus tracks: a live Leather Rebel and a guitar-drenched power ballad, the aforementioned Living Bad Dreams, which is OK, but hey, Priest and ballads and the '80s ('90s, whatever) go together like Scorpions and world anthems. Each of these is remastered, with lyrics, a short preamble by the band, and often, a handful of new period pics.
Rating 5,7,6,8

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