Concert Reviews

Blind Guardian / Gloryhammer Hot

Added by Central Electronic Brain     June 08, 2016    
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Blind Guardian / Gloryhammer - O2 Ritz, Manchester (UK) - 18 May 2016

A favourite Manchester venue of mine, the Ritz, opened at precisely the time advertised (6.00pm) for the first visit of seminal German power metallers, The Bards, Blind Guardian "just" 28 years after they released their debut album 'Battalions Of Fear' ably supported by Scottish epic power/fantasy metallers Gloryhammer making (I think) their second foray into the city.

For those unfamiliar with Gloryhammer, they have released conceptually linked albums - 'Tales From The Kingdom Of Fife' and 'Space 1992: Rise Of The Chaos Wizards', the set list played tonight abstracting from both releases. The five band members appeared (as they always do) attired in costumes representing their five characters: vocalist Thomas Winkler as Angus McFife, Crown Prince Of Dundee and Heir to the Kingdom Of Fife, keyboardist Christopher Bowes (also of the band Alestorm) as Zargothrax, dark sorcerer of Auchtermuchty, guitarist Paul Templing as Ser Proletius, Grand Master of the Templar Knights of Crail, bassist James Cartwright, Hootsman - Barbarian Warrior of Unst and drummer Ben Turk as Ralathor, the Mysterious Hermit of Cowdenbeath. Got the picture?

Across their allotted 40 minutes, they came, they conquered and they captured the hearts and minds of a close to sold out audience clearly as partisan for the support band as they were for the headliners. This so clearly demonstrated the nous of having such well-matched support, and I've lost count of all the gigs I have attended where this has not been the case. (A "good" example was a local death metal band supporting Royal Hunt in Sheffield earlier this year on the single UK date of their current world tour!!)

They always seem to get a great sound balance at the Ritz and tonight was no excerption, and neither was the volume for both bands set at ear shattering proportions. Loud? Of course it was...but not overwhelmingly so, unlike so many gigs! One also reads about (or actually witnesses) sound gremlins for support bands that mysteriously disappear for the headliners. Well, Gloryhammer were afforded perfect sound and their über catchy fantasy anthems received ecstatic approbation plus increasing interaction between band and audience as the set progressed which grew into a clamour of hoots for 'The Hollywood Hootsman' as James Cartwright was repeatedly encouraged to down "one more beer"!!

Gloryhammer provided a really fantastic start to the evening's entertainment and having their two albums in my music library I was hugely engaged by their brand of hokum. They have the songs, they have the attitude and they have the balls to convey their ludicrous concept. Do try and catch them if they have a gig near you! Tonight, their set comprised: Infernus As Astra / Rise Of The Chaos Wizards / Legend Of The Astral Hammer / Hail To Crail / The Hollywood Hootsman / Angus McFife / Universe On Fire / The Unicorn Invasion Of Dundee / The National Anthem Of Unst.

I had waited a long, long time to see one of my all-time favourite bands, Blind Guardian and it was with some disbelief that a tour was announced that would include several UK (and an Irish) dates in addition to London! Has the world suddenly gone mad? (Well, yes it has...but that's a different story!) For those of us who live some distance from London, it continues to be galling to see bands "only" hitting the Capital on a European tour. Why? Well my Fireworks & Rocktopia colleague Ian Johnson has often asked bands that very question. The reply is usually along the lines of "Well, our promoter / record label / management / (insert appropriate alternative) tell us that there isn't an audience for our music there". Well, I hope they might consider asking Blind Guardian whether they agree, because I saw a band utterly amazed by the reaction they got in Manchester and I reckon they'll be back. I just wonder why they suddenly decided to do a "proper" British (and Irish) tour...I'd really love to know the answer!

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So, was it worth the wait? You betcha...and then some and a packed Ritz would certainly attest to that, a vast cheer erupting as the band took their places while a choral introduction played out. Live, Hansi Kürsch, André Olbrich, Marcus Siepen and Frederik Ehmke are accompanied by keyboardist Michael Schüren and bassist Barend Courbois and thus it was tonight as usual as they jumped straight into the progressively atmospheric song 'The Ninth Wave' - also the opening track from the band's most recent album, 'Beyond The Red Mirror'. Only one other song - 'Prophecies' - was included from this, as they treated us to highlights from right across their lengthy if not overly plentiful recording career...

I must admit to being taken aback by the level of crowd participation in singing along with most of the songs (less so with the speedier, more thrashy numbers) but when the second song came from the much lauded 'Nightfall In Middle Earth' album this was the signal for an eruption of participation, and yet for me the most memorable part of the performance came with 'The Last Candle' (from their 'Tales From The Twilight World' opus), when the crowd carried on singing "somebody's out there" for what must have been fully five minutes while the band just stood and watched! I have never experienced anything quite like this and was utterly staggered to see that Blind Guardian was clearly a favourite band of over a thousand others besides me!

But I have a criticism. The faux endings. The first of these came after a storming rendition of 'Imaginations From The Other Side' that made the hairs on my back stand on end! It was clearly not the real end to the show, and anybody who had checked out as I had done would have realised this! It was a sham, and the band returned for a further three songs, including am amazing 'Valhalla' and then departed again. Faux ending number two, following which we got a further slice of wonderful music - including an utterly magnificent rendition of The Bard's Song - that took the complete set to over the two hour mark. Am I just a curmudgeonly old git in thinking all of this is so utterly pretentious - and unnecessary? Far better to play all of the songs in one go, leaving say, just the final two for one encore.

Anyway, and of course, this failed to take the lustre away from the evening and tonight's show touched all the bases and highlighted the all of the band's various stylistic approaches and included songs from all of their studio albums with the exception of 'Battalions Of Fear' and 'A Night At The Opera'. It was a very similar selection to those performed on their other UK and Irish dates and encompassed The Ninth Wave / Time Stands Still (At The Iron Hill) / Nightfall / Fly / Tanelorn (Into The Void) / Prophecies / The Last Candle / The Lord Of The Rings / Bright Eyes / Journey Through The Dark / Imaginations From The Other Side [encore 1] Sacred Worlds / The Script For My Requiem / Valhalla [encore 2] War Of Wrath / Into The Storm / The Bard's Song - In The Forest / Mirror Mirror.

Altogether, Gloryhammer and Blind Guardian provided a momentous show, and I will very happily attend another show by either band in a heartbeat!

Paul Jerome Smith

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Reviewed by TobacTer February 16, 2018
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