Album Review: Blind Guardian - The God Machine
Reviewed by Sam Jones
Blind Guardian, as a band, are a living institution. Whenever one thinks of power metal, Blind Guardian are sometimes amongst the first big names one could think of. Its no surprise therefore why many, including myself, jumped with joy to the news of their upcoming twelfth studio release: The God Machine. Formed originally under the name of Lucifer’s Heritage in 1984, from North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany, they were a predominantly speed metal act, the band altered things around and restarted again as Blind Guardian in 1987 where that speed metal element soon took on a more fantastical angle by the time records like Tales From The Twilight World and Somewhere Far Beyond were getting released. For myself, it was Imaginations From The Other Side, a pivotal album in my heavy metal education and one that made me fall utterly in love with Blind Guardian as a band. It’s been some time since I actively listened to a newer Blind Guardian album around its initial release date and so I was extremely excited to see what The God Machine held in store for me; the band’s first studio release this decade. Coming up to four decades of these guys writing and playing music, I was wondering to see where else the band could take me. Here was a golden opportunity to find out.
Blind Guardian’s songwriting has also had that extra punch to its performance, I think that’s why I’ve always been a fan of their work, having never really been a massive power metal fan. I appreciated how, instead of unleashing a long introduction to us, the band just get right into the thick of it with a track that demonstrates the classic Blind Guardian approach: heavy, resounding guitar riffs offset by well controlled vocals within a soundscape that’s not only bearing down on us but possesses a constantly melodic undertone to it. Every time Blind Guardian play, there’s always the sense that every song has its own distinct identity. Blind Guardian always know how to instil a grander sense of identity into everything they touch, the riffs aren’t ever just striking us; the guitar work feels alive with passion and joy as you’d naturally expect from power metal however Blind Guardian’s songwriting rarely feels lofty, nor does it try to leave the real world behind. There’s forever a quality to their sound that’s still very tangible, more than likely why I’ve always stuck with Blind Guardian and have fallen out of favour with many other, big names power metal acts.
Considering that it’s been 35 years since Hansi first took up the vocal helm for Blind Guardian back in 1987, it’s amazing to acknowledge how his vocals still hold up after such a long time. With that said, it’s not simply in how his vocals can project outwards or how his pitch is still in remarkable control; Hansi is still able to craft quite the varied vocal performance even throughout the same track. His voice may become pinched so you get something visceral or his syllables become elongated for that longer exertion. Decades later, Hansi’s performance is as theatrical as it was back in his prime and that’s no small feat. It’s rare to come across a vocalist who not only puts the power into his performance but possesses a voice that is as malleable as any guitar riff or work of songwriting. Some of his choruses, whether through his own efforts or via full band vocal implementation, are the best I’ve heard from the band in years.
What I think this album does best to exemplify the Blind Guardian magic, is to showcase the songwriting less as a framework for writing music but rather as a tool to writing stories. I believe this is what drew people to the band way back in the day and why those same people continued to stick with Blind Guardian as the decades passed. Their sound is never merely distilled to a band playing music; it’s bombastic, theatrical, moving all around and over and beneath us. The odd inclusion of symphonic elements also aids this notion, couple this with Hansi’s aforementioned vocal prowess and you’ve got a band that don’t play music but actually perform it in a truly operatic sensibility. “The American Gods” is a shining example, explaining why I fell in love with records like A Twist In The Myth or Imaginations From The Other Side. The band are clearly musically talented and know how to entertain through their conception of metal, but there’s always been a grander sense of scale to their sound and The God Machine is the first record from them in some time where i feel like they’ve captured this magic once more.
It’s telling how the band understand their songwriting. Fans have an idea what to expect from the band after so many years, yet that doesn’t mean the band are prepared to fall into complacency or simply assume people will enjoy their music because it has their name slapped across it. We’ve touched upon how their guitar work is tangible and feels down to earth, a factor that’s resulted in the band being one of the few power metal acts I actively follow however it’s more than that, their riffs and songwriting features a remarkable level of variety or, better yet, moving around. In this regard, listen closely to the band’s dynamic and you’ll pick up on how it’s never the same static formulae the band are approaching each track with. The instrumentation and vocal work is forever dancing around the other, so you’ve got this chess-like movement going on as if you were to peer down on how this album is coordinated. There are occasions where the vocals pull back after a strong segment and the riffs will kick in again, while you’ll have the opposite occur and the riffs quieten themselves which enable the vocals to become much more boisterous and operatic. Like a legitimate theatrical production, the band are always taking their places across the stage and know each other’s movements and, by extension, understand where each other piece needs to be to achieve maximum effect.
In conclusion, Blind Guardian’s The God Machine is a roaring return to form of what fans have come to expect from the German legends. Their brand of power metal has never fallen short when it comes to striking us straight on and that’s nothing different herein. I feel like this is the first time since 2006’s A Twist In The Myth where the band have successfully captured the magic that makes their sound the theatrically engaging, bombastic force that is Blind Guardian. There’s a lot of identity going on with most tracks which only amplifies the extent to which we’ll recall songs and this album down the line. You’ll find yourself head banging, swaying to and fro, bouncing along etc to whatever this album throws at you. It’s a genuinely enjoyable album, one where tracks can be as long as 7 minutes long and still be deemed as not long enough for the amount of satisfaction they bring. For a 50 minute album, I was thoroughly happy with everything I got and frankly wouldn’t have minded had Blind Guardian pushed this record to the hourly mark. On the whole, this is a successful record for the band and is easily one of their strongest studio releases in quite a long time.