by Martin Popoff

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Fresh Metal

Blind Guardian - A Twist In The Myth
(Nuclear Blast)

A Twist In The Myth finds Germany's charmed leprechaun rockers (quite tall, actually) returning by half measures to a bit racier power metalizing, Hansi and crew taking heed of reaction to Night At The Opera as a bit too cinematic. But the experimental tracks are what lift and tuck the imagination - lead single Fly is a tour de force of caffeine overworking the brain. It's not enough that Blind Guardian sound like an army of choirs - yes, picture that - and that their guitars sound claustrophobic and ready to burst like Brian May, songs like this one bewilder and fascinate, as does The Edge - an expansive, rhythmic epic - while Another Stranger Me is a plush, reclining, almost hair banded rocker stabbed with prog, adding further charged excitement and dimension to what this band does so well. Also on board is the swinging, swaying medieval melody-making that courses through the catalogue, rendered traditional on Skalds & Shadows, and in the band's inimitable style, massaged into a sprightly heaviness everywhere else. One can't help but marvel at the arrangements and the rapid-fire ideating Hansi's charges fire at will and in all directions. It's hard to believe that he purposely ratcheted back on the layers of vocals, or even that long-standing drummer Thomen Stauch is gone, because this sounds like completely comfortable, time-honoured, dependable Blind Guardian, stout of spirit, pure of unbending will to excel. Indeed, the band have performed their own twist in the myth, capturing the flame of the classic early albums, but quietly demonstrating creativity so far above trite power metal pursuits.
Rating 9

Iron Maiden - A Matter Of Life And Death

Wanted to let this one sink in a bit - it's funny, looking back at the three Bruce albums so far. It's taken years for people to decide Dance Of Death wasn't so hot and Brave New World was pretty good. Most people are putting this one up with Brave New World, actually many above that, and I'm inclined to agree. First off, a few complaints - Death twice for titles so close together, plus this is just long, and a clichˇ. Also, I'm not one for the long songs, and incredibly, seven of the ten start basically the same way - I can picture the band ambling into the room Grateful Dead-style, each in turn plugging in and picking up. Maiden is going to do what Maiden does, but these are well above par riffs in their irascible, clacky style. Immediately, Different World rocks with passion, and These Colours Don't Run is poignant. The album's first epic, Brighter Than A Thousand Suns is a blustery, complicated doomy thing that steps outside the box and Kevin Shirley has made these guitars burn clean. People are complaining about Bruce's singing on this album, and most of that I put down to him simply being back in the mix. But then again, he seems to have an affectation at times, like he's got to hit the highs using different muscles. The Pilgrim is a perfect example of pointless passages crammed in making songs long for no reason - its intro is dull, a different speed, and wholly unrelated to the better stuff to come. Why? The Longest Day is prime moody epic Maiden, Nicko in the pocket, a bunch of shifts working and drawing the listener in. Out Of The Shadows - again, what that intro has to do with anything... this one's a standard steeply British Maiden ballad. Lead single The Reincarnation Of Benjamin Breeg is the greatest Maiden song since the Powerslave days. Its riff alternately reclines and menaces, and Bruce's "mature" voice adds depth to its storminess. For The Greater Good Of God - we've heard all of these melodies before; this one just adds to the canon, and it ain't hard on the ears, even if it's a tough slog. Lord Of Light is quick paced with Nicko again being Nicko with those surging fills and brutish but Paice-steeped accents that stamp Maiden so unique - Shirley makes him crackle. The Legacy closes the album, its acoustic guitars talked about as one of the new tricks in Maiden's idiosyncratic and hard-to-crack book. And man, this war tale is full of ambition all 'round, more acoustics massaged into the heavy bits, Floyd-like atmospherics achieved (note the Sabbath lick at 5:30). Very cool for a long one indeed, on a record that coheres forebodingly around a war theme, Maiden almost the only band that could write a soundtrack to something as old as World War I and make it an antique-y fit. For that's what this feels like (especially whilst staring at the grey and green cover art): an urgent, bleak, desperate passage through all manner of battlefield, world-weary introspection accompanying every muddy boot trudge. Bottom line is I keep playing it, and the learning of it, what's around the next corner, makes A Matter Of Life And Death all the more enjoyable, despite its bleak view of the world.
Rating 8.5

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