Friday, January 18, 2013

Blind Guardian - Imaginations From The Other Side

I was swamping for a veterinarian supplies warehouse when I met Driver Nick. For those of you who don’t know “swamping” is when you tag along with a driver and help make the deliveries. After listening to his iPod and talking about music for a while Driver Nick made the recommendation of Blind Guardian - “Nightfall in Middle Earth” to me. After listening to the album a few times I gave Driver Nick this commentary;

“Remember in the end of “The Silmarillion” when the two remaining sons of Feanor finally obtain the two remaining Silmarils and they decide to take one each. Maedhros, being the elder, chooses first, and as he chooses the red Silmaril of earth, the earth opens up and swallows him, leaving poor Maglar alone with the blue Silmaril of the ocean. Maglar being the sole surviving member of his family is overcome with grief and discards the blue Silmaril into the ocean and wanders the coast in sadness and apparently his sorrowful song can still be heard. I thought the album should have probably ended with some interpretation of Maglar’s song.”
Maedhros falling into the earth.
Maglar casts the last Silmaril into the ocean.

To which Driver Nick responded, “You have a good memory.”

Thank you Driver Nick.

At my high school reunion the first thing anyone said to me was my old friend Jeremiah, who jumped out his seat yelling “Blind Guardian rules!” or something similar to that. I had recently written my Music In Review for Blind Guardian – “War of Thrones” and Jeremiah had read it and was excited to talk at length about the German power metal band. Jeremiah is a pretty cool guy.

I was in a t-shirt store in Kensington when I noticed they had shirts for Edguy and Blind Guardian. I purchased an Edguy - “Vain Glory Oprea” and a Blind Guardian – “Nightfall in Middle Earth” t-shirt. I also started a conversation with another patron who was wearing a Blind Guardian shirt for the 2010 tour. All in all it was a pretty good day.

At the Black Label Society concert, before the show, some enthusiastic drunk kept yelling at me how awesome Blind Guardian is because I was wearing my Nightfall t-shirt, which was nice. He seemed nice. After the show a security guard with a Germen accent came up to us and rambled something about not hanging around too long since they were closing the concert hall (the show had been over for a total of five minutes) he then complimented me on my good taste in regards to my shirt. It is clear to me this gentleman only spoke to us as an excuse to talk about Blind Guardian. In fact everywhere I go people have been complimenting me on my Blind Guardian shirt. When I was buying mead for new years with my friend Mr. Johnson another stranger was half introducing himself to me through the t-shirt.

I am starting to realize that Blind Guardian has become something of a cult band over here in North America. Not a lot of people know about Blind Guardian but those who do absolutely love them, so much so whenever they identify another fan they are forced to exclaim their love in one form or another. I am a little late to the party since I only discovered Blind Guardian a little over a year ago but I get it. I really do.

I think the primary reason Blind Guardian is so loved because they dared to be what they are. They dared to be nerds... sort of. I have never considered being well read a characteristic linked to “nerdiness,” but whatever. Evidently the song writers behind Blind Guardian are rather well read especially in regards to fantasy literature, I have already made that point clear talking about J.R.R. Tolkien’s work reference in “Nightfall” and George R.R. Martin’s in “War of Thrones.”

But Blind Guardian go far beyond just referencing the two greatest fantasy writers ever, they reference just about damn near everything!

People who are passionate about art, in whatever form it may be, love connecting that passion to other mediums, in this example literature to music, and Blind Guardian more than any other band ever has supplied fans with a soundtrack to their favorite books. This is seen perhaps best in the song “Imaginations from the Other Side” from the 1995 album of the same name.

Corum Ishan Yildirim
“Do you know if Merlin did exist?
Or Frodo wore the ring?
Did Corum kill the gods?
Or where's the wonderland?
Which young Alice had seen,
Or was it just a dream?
I knew the answers,
Now they're lost for me.”

In just this one verse we get mention of the magician Merlin from Arthurian lore, Frodo Baggins the hobbit from “The Lord of the Rings,” Corum from the fantasy series of the same name written by the gentleman who gave us the “A Princess of Mars” and the rest of the John Carter saga (I had to look that one up), and of course Alice from “Alice in Wonderland” and “Beyond the Looking Glass.” The rest of the song makes references many other works some of which I can identify and others I am not so sure. 

The song “Imaginations from the Other Side” as far as I am concerned is about growing up and losing the beautiful illusion that such stories are more than just mere tales. As we grow up there is an uncomfortable growing disconnect from the powerful emotions these stories give us, because the truth is, as strange as it may sound, there is something very real in fantasy. There is a reflection of reality in every well written fantasy, no matter how farfetched the concept. The ideas of what could be, would be, or should be, resonates in all of us. Though many may never realize it, often because of we want to appear all grown up, we identify with wizards, hobbits, sword fighters, scarecrows, tin men, and cowardly lions. A part of us is in our imaginations.  A part of the self is captured in fantasy. 

Blind Guardian has drawn upon this seemingly without effort. They dared to be what they are, and what they write about is the very human element in the multiple worlds of mythology. This is way Blind Guardia is so loved by their fans they have drawn a parallel from their art directly to their inspiration, it is something we all do all the time only Blind Guardian had the courage to run with it. Anyone who loves what Blind Guardian loves ends up loving what they are doing, for nearly every song is a double dose of mythology, the inspiration and the expression co-existing in perfect harmony.

“Out of the dark,
Back to the light,
Then I'll break down,
The walls around my heart.
Imaginations from the other side.”

Until next month keep on rocking in the free world.

- Colin Kelly

Remix from "Memories of a Time to Come"

Monday, January 7, 2013

Blind Guardian - Nightfall

“The Hobbit” is a fantastic movie.

Well if course it is! “The Hobbit” is a fantastic story and Peter Jackson is a fantastic director so no surprise there. “The Hobbit” is often thought of as the beginning of the story, since it comes before “The Lord of the Rings,” however Tolkien lore is much larger than just the stories from the third age. If you want go back to the beginning you need to read “The Silmarillion.”

“The Silmarillion,” is not a very beloved book, and a lot of that has to do with the fact it reads like a history text book; which is befitting because “The Silmarillion” for all intents and purposes is a history text book about Middle Earth. I loved “The Silmarillion” and I am not alone in this, German metal band Blind Guardian loved the book so much they did an entire concept album about it, “Nightfall in Middle Earth.” But before we talk about “Nightfall” it is necessary to explain the true beginning of the mythology of Middle Earth.

Tolkien lore begins with Eru Iluvatar, the great creator being, whose thoughts created the Ainur (including the Valar, the fifteen gods) and later, and much more deliberately, he created the world of Middle Earth, the Elves and mortal men. When the world was made it was shaped by the song of Valar, but the most powerful among them, Melkor, sang a song against the harmony of Eru Iluvatar. Where mountains were raised Melkor flattened them, and where valleys were dug Melkor filled them. Despite his wrong doings in the immortal years that passed the Valar forgave Melkor and let him dwell with them once more.

Then the elves were awakened. When their eyes opened they first beheld the stars, because back then the sun had yet to have been made. To help the elves Yavanna of the Valar created the two trees, one that glowed gold and the other silver, and this became the light source of the world and all things prospered in their presence. Since the light of day came from these two trees there was never nightfall on Middle Earth....

The High King of elves Finwe’s wife, Miriel, bore him a son, Feanor. Feanor, in the elfish tongue means spirit of fire. Feanor’s fiery spirit burned so powerful in fact that the very life of his mother was sapped from her when she birthed him. Miriel was so weakened she lost the will to live. Feanor grew up to be the most powerful, cunning, and talented of all the Noldor.

With his grand talent Feanor created the Silmarils, three gems that captured the power of the three aspects of this world, the earth (red), the ocean (blue), and the sky (white). Feanor wore the three gems upon a crown when he visited the other Noldor and the Valar, but Melkor was always there and always asking about them, telling lies that both the Nolder and the Valar believed, and Feanor wisely mistrusted him.

Melkor’s desire for the Silmarils and his hatred for Feanor only grew and he preyed upon Feanor’s temperament and deceived him into thinking that his younger half brother, Fingolfin, was plotting against him. Feanor made threats against Fingolfin’s life and was exiled by the Valar. Finwe, in a showing of support for his eldest son went with him.

Melkor could not create, he could only corrupt, and in his desire for power he corrupted himself and become Morgoth. In order to steal away the Silmarils he recruited the help of Ungoliant, the queen of all spiders, an eldritch being whose origin is unknown.

There is much more to know but knowing all this, the scene is set for the beginning. Let us look upon the lyrics of “Nightfall.”

Morgoth and Ungoliant ready
the destruction of the two trees.

“No sign of life did flicker.
In floods of tears she cried.
‘All hope's lost it can't be undone,
They're wasted and gone.’”

Ungoliant devours the two trees stealing with them the light. Yavanna cries at the destruction of the trees.

"Save me your speeches,
I know. (They blinded us all)
What you want,
You will take it away from me.
Take it and I know for sure,
The light she once brought in,
Is gone forevermore."

From Feanor’s point of view; the Valar and the Noldor ask Feanor to bring them the Silmarils to help restore the trees since their power is part of the same, but Feanor’s distrusts the Valar and will not part with the gems, also he does not believe it will work.

“Like sorrowful seaguls they sang,
‘(We're) lost in the deep shades,
The misty cloud brought.
(A wailing when beauty was gone
Come take a look at the sky)
Monstrous it covered the shore,
Fearful into the unknown.’”

The elves cry out as darkness envelopes the land. Night has for the time fallen upon Middle Earth.

“Quietly it crept in new horror.
Insanity reigned,
And spilled the first blood,
When the old king was slain.”

The destruction of the two trees serves as a great distraction for Morgoth who sneaks into Feanor’s home, kills his father (the old king) and steals the Silmarils.

The Chorus:
Quietly crept in and changed us all.
Quietly crept in and changed us all.
Immortal land lies down in agony.”

The Noldor did change. The land of bliss and beauty had been taken away from them forever. They ceased being a people of peace and under the leadership of Feanor become a vengeful force of total war.

"How long shall we,
Mourn in the dark?
The bliss and the beauty,
Will not return.
Say farewell to sadness and grief,
Though long and hard the road may be."

From Feanor’s point of view; I feel these words are very self explanatory once you know the context. Nightfall has fallen upon Middle Earth, the home of the elves is lost. The long road of suffering lays ahead but Feanor is resolute to lead his people to peace and happiness once more.

“But even in silence I heard the words,
‘An oath we shall swear,
By the name of the one,
Until the world's end,
It can't be broken.’”

This refers to the Oath of Feanor. Feanor and his seven sons swore a terrible oath in the name of Eru Iluvatar that they would not rest until the three Silmarils were in their hands once more and that they would declare war on any who withheld them from them or prevented them from continuing their quest.

“Just wondering how,
I can still hear these voices inside,
The doom of the Noldor drew near.”

The Oath of Feanor would prove to be the doom of the Noldor. These lyrics foreshadow the ruthless tactics the Sons of Feanor would undertake to fulfill their oath. The lyrics foreshadow the Curse of Feanor.

“The words of a banished king,
‘I swear revenge.’
Filled with anger aflamed our hearts,
Full of hate full of pride,
We screamed for revenge.”

Fairly straight, forward, the Noldor rally behind Feanor.

"Vala he is that's what you said,
Then your oath's been sworn in vain.
(But) freely you came and,
You freely shall depart,
(So) never trust the northern winds,
Never turn your back on friends."

Vala Morgoth is; that is what is being said. Many of the Noldor remain unsure of Feanor’s quest, they fear turning their backs on the Valar.

“’Oh I'm heir of the high lord!’
‘You better don't trust him’
‘The enemy of mine,
Isn't he of your kind and,
Finally you may follow me.
He said.”

Feanor is the heir of the high lord and expects his people to follow his righteous quest for revenge. While the Valar try convincing the Noldor not to follow Feanor they are undone by the fact that this great betrayal was done by one of them. Morgoth is one of their kind, one of the Valar.

The fact an album like “Nightfall in Middle Earth” even exists is amazing enough, but the lyrics are so well chosen. I had to look up the lyrics and confirm that they are not in fact direct quotes from the book, but they feel like they could be.

“Back to where it all began.”

Indeed. Gods playing creation in the darkness of eternal space is a fancy story of creation but the true narrative of the history of Middle Earth begins with the conflict born between Feanor and Morgoth. This is where all begins, and with this, Tolkien creates fantasy literature, so when you think about it the first Nightfall on Middle earth is not just the beginning of Tolkien lore it is the beginning of all fantasy literature. I believe it worthy of at least one full metal album. .

- Colin Kelly