Friday, March 18, 2011

Blind Guardian - Somewhere Far Beyond

Released by Virgin, at some point in time or another.

They say Hansi Kürsch, André Olbrich, Marcus Siepen
and one Thomas Stauch partook in its devising.

I am going to hurt you. I will try you with cruelty. On the precipice where you stand, you sicken me. A foolish step forward will plunge you into darkness and the faltering, cowardly step backwards will see you blinded forever. Platonic light at your back, endless dark cave forward. Your long shadow, like an arrow, leads you only to your death.

Yet you'll have to move, otherwise it's slow decay for you, withered entropy as the world turns. You are useless. Why where you ever born? We will see what you have to say with a tender heart only after your flesh is rent and flayed. I will not push you. It is pain that will push you.

You are sixteen, fifteen, thirteen now. Do you recognize your body? It doesn't recognize you, it doesn't submit to you, it doesn't agree with you. The face you look to every second morning is slightly different. Features move tectonically, volcanically, you burst and bleed and change and beauty is only a word. The world knows. They know you do not belong inside yourself, you are simply an impostor. A child's heart in a body half-way towards adulthood, responsibility, continuity.

Yet, at night. Interminable dreams of death and pathos, they drive you secretly to absurd rituals of dirtying and cleansing. Does your mother know what you do alone under the sheets? What does she tear down only for you to studiously build up again, day by day, in the killing light? The Iron Maiden poster you hang above your bed, how many times have you re-placed it? You do not plan to quit, do you, you sickening child? It is the picture of death, you know, that is what you put above you. There is no Christ, no savior there to crown you. There is instead a reanimated corpse, forehead struck with occult lightning. See death walking, death alive.

What is it that pulls your fantasy to death? Is it that you cannot bear the interim between childlike naivety and the responsible life of adults? Hanging in the middle, waiting for life to begin.

Let no one know with what violence you beat yourself, all bones and tendons, sickly thin. You have no friends, you only have conspirators within the Guild of the guilty. They will forget you with robust bodies and cars and jobs and normalcy, eventually, you'll see. Yet you'll remain in the middle, you know it. Your sin is aberrant, a lust for the impossible, the knowledge of something far beyond. The vital drug you take with your black sword, you rob it when you slay chaos gods trapped in plastic, vinyl, tape. You wrestle them until you forget the middle where you stand, you test wax wings in free fall. You fool, do you not know this is not how birds fly? You are crushed in black volcanic stone, sad wings destroyed, in magma you ingress. Inside your molten waters a black stone you find. It radiates wisdom, it speaks in ancient tongue

You are not a child. You are not an adult. You are forever, you never existed. Time does not exist. You are a god, With this power over time, you become a god. You will never explain it to anyone else, they will never understand. Yet, should you ever forget this way you feel, you will age and wither, you will become but another linear traveler, trajecting time in the foolishness that is two dimensions. Light at your back, long stretching shadow at the front. Kill yourself now if you are brave!

This much any mystic, any bard can tell you through ritual and song that they intuit. This is the endless quest, they who undertake it can never achieve it. Odysseus sails to Ithaka forever. His wife plundered by the mores of modernity. His son, Telemachus the idiot, he bides his time.

"Fantasy metal" adults scoff. Polyhedral, pretend pathos and distance, so much distance. Analysis, anthropology, musicology, philosophy and sport, so much sport. And humor. Let us laugh, ha ha. This is the way they take a sideways glance inside your dark pool. They pacify the wisdom that has been passed on you, they interpret it until there's nothing left but an interpretation. Power is a word. Death is a word. Art is a toy.

But I eradicate the distance. You have learned nothing. You are not an adult, your years are MEANINGLESS. Time doesn't exist. In your thoughts and in your dreams, what is always in your mind? That is all that exists. I manipulate you to that final step where everything begins. I do not believe any lie. Are you a child or are you a human, or are you what is in between? Souls travel endlessly inside the black chamber, they want to know what is outside this palace called life. I want you, faithful fool and human, to explain to me what you believe there is to this life. I will wait forever while you burn inside, for the words to come.

Now let's talk about cheese. Cheese smells funny. Synthetic orchestra strings and multi-tracked falsetto vocals and fake violins weeping thirds over parallel fifths, they smell so funny. People smell funny too. When you smell funny, people make fun of you! Mom, I don't want to go to school today, they say I smell funny. Twenty years later the adult in his perfect attire and groomed countenance, he's so worried he's going to smell funny. More wine than cheese, the idiot fabricates an Ideology of Cheese. He says he's an adult, he holds consequence in high regard (after all, it is in trying to make his new words cohere with his old words that he has arrived in this perfect mess - from childlike fear of cheese to an Ideology of Cheese), yet all I see is a nose. A nose so honed to smell cheese, I often wonder if his other senses have subdued completely to make space for his olfactory prowess. From the numberless senses the adult counts and assigns to the pity extremities on his ape-like paw, they forget the sense of wonder. They forget the sense of ambiguity, of uncertainty, the sense of a world that isn't finite because it has never started and never plans to end, it is forever.

Instead, the psycho-sexual castration of distance: I know things because I can judge them to be lacking in this or that regard. You can trust me because my judgments pile and stack, my whole identity is a series of betrayals to rationalize and the debris of disappointment. This fantasy metal is so cheesy, don't you agree? Let us instead choose this perfectly inoffensive post-metal-about-nothing-in-particular-exactly to mock rape us with its flaccid penis for a few minutes. Here', I'll turn it up to three, we don't want to upset the neighbors while we die a little, do we?

On the precipice where you stand, do you want to travel sideways into this? Perhaps you prefer the pain of further indecision instead. I knew you would.

You are ugly, you know that. But at least your face suits you. Blood shot wide eyes, and strong, wired legs, they suit you t0o. Because you'll have to take that step eventually. If we earn our face with years and our features reflect what we have lived, let's say that you didn't strive for a hound-like nose signifying decades of such scented judgment and disappointment, nor for a mouth full of rude tongue suggesting your impeccable sense of taste. So you have not yet taken the role of the perfect bourgeois consumer. Let us instead hone that hidden sense, the vision which looks in the far distance and sees the second horizon behind the globe's tall curve. Let us grow the strength of stride for the vision quest, that sacred circular trek. If there is wisdom in fantasy, if there is strength in oblivion... you know where the arrow points.

Step followed by step, inside the darkness of the self. You will lose everything on the circle back to the start, but what will you miss? I will wait here, on the stone. Forever for your answer.


  1. Not particularly a fan of Blind Guardian beyond a few songs (although I suppose I could always listen to them more) but I like this piece. Perfectly captures the kind of uncertainty associated with metal: a will to live, boundless and free, tempered by societal expectations, by scorn, by our own self-hatred. Very few if any of us are truly free, very few of us actually don't give a fuck. Gather the wind, though the wind won't help you fly at all. Hide your tastes, they're shameful. I can relate to this perfectly.

  2. Thank you for reading the piece and for commenting.

  3. I can definitely relate to a lot of this and it got me thinking more about insecurity. It's telling that many metalheads I've talked to has at least in some point of their life avoided saying they like Heavy Metal with straight face and confidence when someone asks about their taste in music. I know I have circled around it few times with "I listen to many kinds of music, mostly Heavy Metal though" etc. It's stupid. Heavy Metal HAS shaped me and I should not be ashamed to say it. Why is it that men who listen to the thundering voices of eldergods are so afraid to admit it. It is perhaps that we are all cowards who need this music in order to carry on, become better men and find contentment in life. Never again I belittle these silly things that get me out of the bed every morning.

  4. We have avoided saying we love Heavy Metal because we fear the harsh but fair judgment to come: "these things are for teenagers". Talk to a horror movie fan or a pro wrestling fan some time, it's the same thing.

    Yes, they are for teenagers. The curious thing is that I don't think anyone has ever stopped being a teenager completely. It's an endless hide-and-seek, did you see my heart? Oh no, I have to hide it more efficiently.

    "Never again I belittle these silly things that get me out of the bed every morning."

    Belittle them or not, I want to understand. I don't care about respect or credit, perhaps this is the completely wrong way to live in the end. I just want to know.

  5. "Belittle them or not, I want to understand. I don't care about respect or credit"

    What I mean is that being honest and confident about the imporant stuff is a good thing to one's self-esteem and something helpful when you're getting into any kind discussion about persona and life. Respect and credit on the other hand are something I find most tasty when received from yourself. When you belittle the most imporant things to you, you're actually belittling yourself and I don't need anymore of that. I'm tired of hiding behind masks and distancing what is me from the world. I rather fight no more forever. I know it's not an answer to anything but it might be just what I need to survive long enough to understand.

  6. You know, after reading this I was inspired to go out and buy some Blind Guardian albums that I got rid of years ago. I went down to a local record store and they didn't have this album but they had Imaginations from the Other Side. Close enough. Boy am I glad I did that. I forgot how awesome this band was in their classic period. These guys had the total package: rousing heavy metal with great imagery that takes you to a completely different world (just look at that album cover!) Listening to this band again reminds me of when I discovered stuff like Maiden and Helloween when I was a teenager. Man, those old records excited my imagination in a way that normal rock music never did. There's definitely something magic about good heavy metal. That's one of the reasons why I tend to draw a sharp distinction between heavy metal and rock music. I even sometimes feel a little annoyed when people identify heavy metal as a rock subgenre. To me heavy metal has always been rock instrumentation with a completely different set of priorities.

    I went through a period where I felt a little embarrassed to say "heavy metal" when somebody asked me what kind of music I listen to. That was in my early 20s though. I'm now in my mid 20s approaching my late 20s and I simply do not give a shit anymore. I've grown up with this stuff since I was 9 years old and it has been one of the only constants in my life. Just to show how geeky I am, some of the best memories I have of being 15-17 years old are of me sitting in my room listening to albums like this. And I still love just sitting here staring at the album cover while the music plays and getting lost in the worlds that these bands create. I've gotten some people I know to appreciate metal in an intellectual sense, and some of them even enjoy some of this stuff now, but I feel like if you didn't grow up with this stuff you'll just never get what it means to people like me.

  7. That aside I just want to say I love this album. I am still unable to chooce a favourite from Blind Guardian's discography but this makes it to the top three with Follow The Blind and Tales from the Twilight World. They are like fuel for my escapist tendencies, for better and for worse.

  8. Nekromantis: I am touched by what this album means to me more than I enjoy it as a collection of riffs and songs and hooks. If I try to listen to it as a distanced critic now, I can find a lot that puts me off. But if I remove the distance and feel like the thirteen year old me that was into this and Helloween and Rage and stuff like that at a formative age, then... the original text of the post happens.

    Supreme: I hear you on the 'my Heavy Metal is not rock and roll!'. However it's a gradation (there's very rock-esque NWOBHM, for example) and the gradation slopes slippery downwards to very dubious ideas (and ideological systems) in which Heavy Metal is a continuation of romantic classical music, free from the burdens of modernity and other such toss.

    And yes. If you didn't listen to Blind Guardian when you were a teen, you'll never know what it feels like when 'in my thoughts and in my dreams, they're always in my mind...' comes on. Heavy Metal hooks people in their teenager years, I have this intuitive suspicion. As you say, I too have met people whose interest in HM had been mostly fueled by intellectual curiosity and that's fine, I certainly have it too. But it also flows in my veins and that's more difficult to communicate. But I am trying.

    I appreciate the dialogue, guys.

  9. My first encounter with Blind Guardian was in high school, but the album was Nightfall in Middle Earth. My brother and one of my closest friends were right there with me, and they were every bit as enthusiastic about the band's greatness as I was. Of course, attempts to share it with my other "guitar-minded" friends at school were met with nary a comment of approval. "Cheesy" was a word I heard often. "Crappy" was another. I'm sure if I hadn't attended a Christian high school I would have gotten far worse.

    I still listen to Blind Guardian occasionally. I suppose I could say that my interests have matured, but what that means is not a move away from childish things. It simply means that I recognize them as an artifact of my childhood to which I can return whenever I need it, and I expand my view to include more "mature" forms of art, whatever the hell that means. So I listen to Shostakovich and George Crumb and Xenakis and all these guys, but I haven't abandoned the things from my youth. I still listen to Ayreon for crying out loud. Right now, my car's CD player is filled with Meat Puppets, not because their music is amazing, but because their music represents something for me that no other artist does. It's for that reason that bands like the Meat Puppets and Blind Guardian and Ayreon will always remain important to me.

  10. Nightfall's a strong work, only marred for me by its excessive connection to the Tolkien story. As a teen I rejected it for the wider and more ambiguous works such as this one, instinctively. I didn't want a 'soundtrack to a book', I wanted a soundtrack to my own fantasies.

  11. This was a fascinating read and reminded me of those powerful and kind of guilty feelings I associated with everything metal and fantasy as an early teen. My extremely strict, fundamentalist christian parents contributed to the overall atmosphere at the time.

    Thanks to fantasy literature, pen and paper RPGs (which we had to play secretly in the basement with my brother and cousin like some eerie cult), Warhammer Fantasy Battle and the like, nerdy things; I managed to develop a realm of my own which distanced me from the dull everyday life of a kid raised in a glass prison.

    In my regular BBS chat room (internet wasn't available for me then), I found out that there's this band, Blind Guardian, which plays fantasy themed metal. I told my brother about it and he managed to get this very album. Amusingly enough he chose Somewhere Far Beyond because of the extremely cool, RPGish cover art.

    The fact, that my parents had judged all the fantasy books etc. as satanic tomes created to delude innocent kids to serve the devil and burn in the eternal fires - only further ignited that flame of curiosity and excitement towards fantasy and metal. So you can imagine how gobsmacked I was, finding that there's music actually called fantasy metal. Power metal wasn't that popular term yet in the mid 90s Finland.

    One day I was home alone and went to my brother's room to secretly listen to this mystical and forbidden piece of art. From the first notes of Time What Is Time, I felt enchanted. It was the opening step in my long and sometimes painful journey to get rid of the binds of fundamental christianity and grow out from a set layout of rules and angles on life and beyond. That music would open my eyes to a huge new world - the world of heavy metal.

    There's a wide spectrum of moods present on this recording. From acoustic intros and passages to at times epic, boisterous vocal work all the way to the ferocious and aggressive riffs. That mixture combined with fabled lyrics worked wonders in the fertile imagination of a spiritually and mentally confused kid.

    I'm in the latter half of my twenties now and only recently I've listened to Blind Guardian again after a long break. I still find a lot of enchantment in it, even though I'm not sure whether this album would induce the same powerful effect had I never heard it before. Now, as I've gone through many phases in my musical preferences and matured quite a bit, I'm focusing more on the arrangements, guitar work and harmonies among other details, and yet I find their musical output also unique and exceptional. Far from that candy coated, double bass drum driven, mindless power metal we got craploads near the millennium and after it, mostly from Finland, Sweden, Germany and Italy.

    Blind Guardian definitely has a sound of their own which endures time and will always have that spark of enchantment which carries our minds to a world of bards' songs, ale, swords and sorcery.

  12. I have to say that of all the power metal bands, Blind Guardian, esp. on SFB/IFTOS/NiME are impressively devoid of Cheese.

    Really, the classic insult thrown at the band and their fans is that they are nerdy. Geeks. RPG boys. Who dream of dragons and unicorns. Which could be true I suppose, although I personally do not find the (american) definition of a "nerd" insulting. The stereotypical RPG kid who finds more substance in simple escapism, yes.

    But I think Blind Guardian put their money where their mouth is, so to speak. The escapism is not without substance, at least not in their "good years" (I'll conveniently consider those to be the years with Thomen as their drummer).

    This is one of my favourite albums ever. The fantasy element is totally devoid of cheese (perhaps a little bit on Theatre of Pain orchestral version), there are both sides of the spectrum here, light and darkness, there is GOOD power metal and ORIGINAL, which are feats in themselves and I am a complete sucker for Hansi's vocals.

    Oh, and being a huge Tolkien fan, I found NiME to be a magnificent metal soundtrack to The Silmarillion. Funnily enough, a favourite of a lot of fans, "When Sorrow Sang", which could have been on IFTOS easily, is one of the worst imo, simply because it does not capture the essence of the story it tells.

    As for our own fantasies, you can do that, music has the gift of having the cake AND eat it. The desperation in Noldor (Dead Winter Reigns)for example, is felt through the piece without having to share (in your mind) the trip through the ice desert! ;)

  13. That's exactly what Meat Puppets albums are for me. Most of their lyrics don't really make any sense unless you are on psychotropic drugs or something, but upon repeated listens, my mind automatically invents significant meaning. I'm a big program music guy, and so usually the meaning is a story that runs through the whole album, and so I end up turning regular old collections of songs into concept albums. But for some reason it only happens with the Meat Puppets. I don't know why.

    Blind Guardian are almost always very explicit about what their songs are about, so for me it's difficult to apply much additional meaning to them like that. Somewhere Far Beyond is a good listen for me, even today, but the subjects of the songs are so eclectic that I have a hard time tying them together conceptually. Even the bagpipes appearing in both of the last two tracks confuse me. I associate "Somewhere Far Beyond" so strictly with King's Gunslinger that it feels a little like putting a sousaphone solo in the middle of a song about a Chinese diplomat.

    I feel as though I'm coming across as overly negative, and I don't mean to do that, because I enjoy this album a great deal. I hope you understand what I'm trying to say.