Artist: Blind Guardian
Album Title: The God Machine
Label: Nuclear Blast
Date of Release: 2 September 2022
Never one to shy away from the truth, I begin this review by revealing that I have never been a huge fan of Blind Guardian. In the eyes of many, such an admission may be seen as heresy, made even worse by the declaration that I much more enjoyed the early output of Demons & Wizards, the collaboration between Hansi Kursch and the now much maligned Jon Schaffer of Iced Earth. That being said, I’d have to be deaf or dense not to appreciate much of the output found on the likes of 1995’s ‘Imaginations From The Other Side’, whilst it is hard not to be impressed by the four-decade longevity of the German outfit.
Nevertheless, their brand of thrash-meets-power metal, full of bombastic fantasy tales has not always resonated strongly with me. A combination of overlong records, melodic sensibilities that failed to fully ignite my enthusiasm, and a sense of the overly bombastic and contrived ensured that I followed other paths when music more of this ilk was what I craved. Nobody’s perfect.
But, as I have said a million times over the past eight or nine months, it’s 2022, the year when I do my utmost to try out new music as well as seeking out more familiar artists with which I have never quite clicked before. Today is the turn of Blind Guardian, with their twelfth album, ‘The God Machine’. And blow me down with a feather if I have actually really enjoyed this experience.
I may not be the oracle as others are given my patchy history with Blind Guardian, but it feels very much as if ‘The God Machine’ is an album that is less bombastic than other releases, with a real focus on the songs themselves instead of all the additional bells and whistles. Perhaps what I’m trying to say is that it feels a bit more straightforward and streamlined. As a result, the music sounds to me like it is one of the heaviest and most ‘metal’ of their lengthy career, with powerhouse drumming from Frederik Ehmke, whilst the riffs courtesy of André Olbrich and Marcus Siepen are sharp, incisive, and bite hard.
As is the Blind Guardian way, however, vocalist Hansi Kürsch sits front and centre, the narrator supreme, regaling us with his tales in his familiar consummate and professional tones. Additionally, the Germans have not entirely dispensed with their orchestral embellishments, with many of the songs still benefitting from such trappings, ensuring the output remains sufficiently grandiose despite the streamlined approach.
As I said though, ‘The God Machine’ is all about the songs and it is here where I have been largely thoroughly impressed. It’s another late review, a victim of my personally enforced hiatus, but again, it means that I come to it with the benefit of time and plenty of spins. Unlike other records, this has only served to increase my enjoyment of it, to the point where I’m a little bit in love with ‘The God Machine’.
Comprised of nine individual songs over a run time of 51 minutes, Blind Guardian waste very little of this time in making an impression on me. From ‘Deliver Us From Evil’, the first cut, to the closing moments of ‘Destiny’, I am hard-pressed to pick a favourite track, or stand-out moments because I find the whole album to be so incredibly consistent; every song has something about it that I like, ensuring that I’m never tempted to skip any of the tracks.
With a gun pointed to my head, I would hesitantly point towards ‘Secrets Of The American Gods’ as my favourite, but it is only by the smallest of margins, and could change at any given moment. What I do like about this song however, and I’m aware of the irony here, is the way that it is a really opulent and grandiose affair, at least when compared to others on the album. The intro is a thing of dark, atmospheric beauty with orchestration cleverly used, building up the drama wonderfully. The use of orchestration throughout is at its most pronounced but in addition, the sublime melodies, the chorus, choral vocals, and the subtle changes of pace all combine to make it a thoroughly engrossing affair.
The follow-up, ‘Violent Shadows’ pushes its predecessor close though thanks to a frantic opening riff that’s full-on thrash territory. The aggression is nicely honed, whilst the dancing, almost skipping chorus is delightful, creating an earworm that burrows deep, almost insidiously, until it’s too late and you’ve fallen for its charms. The same could be said of the opening track, ‘Deliver Us From Evil’, which starts off at an express pace with fast-picked riffing and thunderous drumming, overlaid with a cheeky little lead guitar line that brings a smile to my face. If, like me, you enjoy a melodic chorus that’s anthemic and memorable, whilst being driven on by a double pedal drum attack, you’ll lap this one up without doubt.
The closest Blind Guardian ever get to a ballad on the album arrives in the form of ‘Let It Be No More’, and it’s another superb song. The quiet and atmospheric intro allows Hansi to croon gently as only he can, whilst the waltz-like cadence of the track adds that touch of whimsy, but in a really positive manner. The slower pace, the orchestration, and the pronounced light and shade, not to mention the soulful and melodic lead guitar solo, all help to create a rousing listening experience to temper the heavier material that sits to either side.
Elsewhere, ‘Life Beyond The Spheres’ is a real grower. Laced in quiet and foreboding darkness for large portions, it does flex its muscles with some satisfyingly chunky guitar riffing too. It may not have the most immediate of choruses, but the melody is there and it shyly emerges after a few spins, whilst the orchestration adds depth and texture nicely. Similarly, ‘Architects Of Doom’ took a little while to click, but now I really enjoy the juxtaposition between hefty and aggressive thrash metal attack, and moody almost doom-laden moments in the chorus.
‘The God Machine’ may not be universally loved by long-term fans of the band, but for my tastes and with my personal context with Blind Guardian, this is a little gem of a record. It keeps me entertained from beginning to end with nary a misstep along the way. It also makes me seriously question my opinion of the German heavyweights, meaning that I may have a long journey into their back catalogue ahead of me. But that’s a problem I’m delighted to have. In the meantime, I’m just enjoying my experience with ‘The God Machine’, an enjoyment that’s getting stronger day by day.
The Score of Much Metal: 93%