November 11, 2015 Blind Guardian & Grave Digger Plow Into NYC 11-03-15
One of the pioneers of Power Metal are the renowned Germans known as Blind Guardian. With a storied history surrounding them, the band returned in January of 2015 with their first album in five years entitled Beyond the Red Mirror. With new material, the first thing that many thought of was, “when will they be touring?” Answering the call, a twenty-two date North American tour announced in the Spring had fans impatiently purchase their tickets with excitement. Ready to enchant North America after five years of silence, making it the fourth visit in the history of their career to the continent, Blind Guardian kicked off the run on October 27th in Baltimore, Maryland, and concludes November 28th in Orlando, Florida.
Just a few days into the trek, on Tuesday, November 3rd, in the East Village of New York City, Webster Hall’s Grand Ballroom unlocked their doors for Blind Guardian to bewitch the crowd of Metalheads in the city that never sleeps. Supporting them were their bardic countrymen Grave Digger, a rare treat since they never had an official North American tour in their thirty-five plus year history. This event was surely one of the most anticipated Metal shows of the year, and possibly best Power Metal concerts of 2015.
Arising to the platform first was the aforementioned Grave Digger. The band began their journey in 1980, during the time when Thrash and Power Metal was climbing to the top of the German scene. Starting out as a small gig, they appeared in small festivals that drove them to the next turn in their career path by recording 1984’s debut Heavy Metal Breakdown. Since 1985’s Witch Hunter, the band has gone through an extensive amount of lineup changes, but still remain strong and vital in Heavy Metal. The latest batch now includes original member Chris “Reaper” Boltendahl (vocals), Stefan Arnold (drums), Jens Becker (bass), Marcus Kniep (keyboard), and newest addition since 2010, Axel “Ironfinger” Ritt (guitar). Amped up to be performing in front of a New York City crowd, Grave Digger had plenty of to offer, especially new material in 2014’s Return of the Reaper.
Launching the excitement of the evening was “Headbanging Man” from Heavy Metal Breakdown, and the crowd moved with vigorous moshing. Awakening the house with “The Round Table (Forever)” from 1999’s Excalibur and 1985’s “Witch Hunter,” Boltendahl charged across the platform as the audience remained engaged. Having quite the catalog to choose from, the New Yorkers embraced the fluctuating set as they rolled into 2009’s “Ballad of a Hangman,” followed by newbie “Season of the Witch” from Return of the Reaper. Boltendahl turned the mic to the crowd for all to shout, “Excalibur!” As Ritt waltzed towards the center stage, he powered through a stunning guitar solo.
The audience cherished this moment as they continued to scream wildly during “Tattooed Rider” from Return of the Reaper and “Highland Farewell” from 2010’s The Clans Will Rise Again. A series of thundering hey’s erupted from the crowd. Boltendahl, smiling, was honored by the participation as they ignited into the fan favored “Rebellion” from 1996’s Tunes of War. Closing their set with “Heavy Metal Breakdown,” a full-fledged Heavy Metal instrumental frenzy ensued as Ritt continued to perform with the guitar set on his back. Leaving the fans begging for more, echoes of “Grave Digger” were heard throughout the venue. It seems almost fitting they came along on this tour. Overdue, yes. Too late, never.
Next up was the main attraction, Blind Guardian. There is no question the band has been casting a fantastical musical spell for over three decades by creating a majestic landscape with Tolkien-inspired lyrics and Neo-classical arrangements. Possessing a unique musicianship, leading them to be more than just a pioneer in the Power and Speed Metal subgenres, they have risen to be Metal Bard Kings. It could be argued that it was 1998’s concept album of Nightfall In Middle-Earth that brought them to worldwide success. North American ears embraced the album as it hit Billboard charts, launching the band into an international spotlight. Ultimately, 2002’s A Night at the Opera had the fourteen-minute opus “And Then There Was Silence” reaching the Billboard’s top 200 single charts, despite having no radio airplay, which was unheard of at the time. This pronounced rise in popularity inevitably brought them to North America for the first time. Now all these years later, the band was looking healthy, strong, and ready to show New York City what they have missed in their absence.
With a clamor in the crowd, Hansi Kürsch (vocals), André Olbrich (guitar), Marcus Siepen (guitar), Frederik Ehmke (drums) and crew approached the stage. The mystifying lighting cast a glow around the Metal Bards as the Neo-Classical introduction of “The Ninth Wave” was played. Fans cheered and thrust their bodies forward as Kürsch’s vocals called to them. As they moved into the classic “Banish From Sanctuary” from 1989’s Follow the Blind, the lighting drastically changed. Entering a darkened dimension with red lights glowing, the favorable “Nightfall” from 1998’s Nightfall in Middle-Earth began. The crowd swayed back and forth, singing to the chorus. Kürsch engaged with the crowd, asking all to scream to the top of their lungs. The Grand Ballroom shook from the howling participants as Kürsch announced the show was being recorded live.
The unremitting thrill progressed during “Fly” from 2006’s A Twist in the Myth and “Tanelorn (Into the Void)” from 2010’s At the Edge of Time. Fans embraced the old and the new, especially when the latest “Prophecies” chimed in. A double dosage of 1990’s Tales from the Twilight World glided in with historic grandeur during “The Last Candle” and “Lord of the Rings.” Kürsch continued to satisfy all as his vocalizing wit allured during “Time Stands Still (at the Iron Hill) from 1998’s Nightfall in Middle-Earth. Moving back in time, “Majesty,” from 1988’s Battalions of Fear, garnered much praise as fists were held high.
Keeping the high energy flowing, “Imaginations From the Other Side” created an illusion that this was the end of the night. With this belief, fans gave their all in a headbanging and singing frenzy. The stage lights shut off while fans begged and pleaded for more. Circling back onto the platform after the short break, the encore began with the beautiful “Sacred Worlds” from 2010’s At the Edge of Time. Kürsch asked the crowd if they wanted to hear more as they sparked in with “Twilight of the Gods,” from Beyond the Red Mirror. Keeping the crowd wrapped around his finger, “Valhalla,” from 1989’s Follow the Blind, erupted. What made this particular track magical was the near ten minute repetitive breakdown where fans shouted out “Valhalla, deliverance” non-stop. The crowd particularly loved this moment as Kürsch closed out and alluded to the night’s finale.
The roaring fans cried out “Guardian” on repeat until the second encore began with “War of Wrath” and “Into the Storm” from Nightfall in Middle-Earth. The evening formally concluded with “The Bard’s Song-In the Forest” from 1992’s Somewhere Far Beyond and “Mirror Mirror” from 1998’s Nightfall in Middle-Earth. Fans remained at their post, refusing to leave as they were taken aback in blissful fulfillment. A performance that undoubtedly proved worth the five-year wait, fans embraced this evening filled with pristine musicianship where quality did not go unnoticed. Blind Guardian will be returning to Europe after the North American tour wraps up, as well as having a few shows lined up beginning December 17th in the Netherlands. Sometimes absence makes the heart grow fonder, in Blind Guardian’s case this could never be more true, but hopes are the time lapse will be much less next time around.