Blind Guardian at the Agora in Cleveland

Blind Guardian are back in the states!

“You never can go wrong with Middle Earth!” Hansi Kursch boomed moments before launching Into The Storm that spring night in Cleveland. The guitars wailed out, a power metal mosh pit opened up on the floor, and I was reminded of why It’s always a special occasion when Blind Guardian comes to town. The German behemoths known and loved as power metal royalty the world over have avoided extensive U.S. touring in recent years–until now. Whilst checking out their recent U.S. show, I was stunned by the musicianship and efficiency they carried themselves with. That impeccable, distinctly German organization was on full display the evening I caught them at the Agora in Cleveland, along with a healthy dose of playfulness and teutonic swagger.

I wasn’t alone in having trekked across state lines to catch the show. License plates from all over the Midwest adored the cars in the parking lot, and the pre-show chatter turned to who had travelled farthest to see the band, along with stories of adventures and mishaps along the way. It felt almost like being at a tiny, Midwestern version of Wacken with lower-quality beer! As we entered the venue, I assured my friends that “, this is power metal. Moshing probably won’t happen,” whilst completely forgetting the band’s thrash and speed metal roots. A critical mistake!

Night Demon opened things up that evening, treating us to a hard-charging revival of traditional heavy metal reminiscent of bands like Saxon and Diamond Head. The power-trio got things started with heavy riffs and familiar melodies that warmed the crowd nicely, while offering a bit of modern Californian grit at just the right times. A truly fantastic choice as an opener.

Blind Guardian were up next. Walking out to a nearly empty stage devoid of amps and backline gear, the band stood in the center of a blank canvas and looked like they were filming a music video instead of playing a concert. This setup represented the antithesis of recent shows I had seen with countless keyboards and rack mount units. Liberated from the extra stage clutter however, the band could move around unencumbered and ensure that every movement and song change went off without a hitch for a massive sound from a minimal stage setup.

While the bards have enjoyed over 30 years in the metal spotlight, they still performed their songs with utmost proficiency, showing no signs of slowing down. Hansi put his full weight behind every belted lyric of the first track, the perennial favourite Imaginations from the Other Side, and held nothing back as his trademark roar boomed over the crowd. By the time the final chorus finished, we were all truly enraptured by the display.

For their parts, rhythm guitarist Marcus Siepen kept the riffs flowing like wine in a Middle-Earth tavern, whilst lead guitarist Andre Olbrich played the soaring melodies and staccato-picked solos that fans have come to know and love. And the tone! I felt goosebumps going up my arms with every solo, as the wah-fueled tube amp distortion drenched me in mid-2000s concert nostalgia. Holding down the rhythm section, Frederik Ehmke on drums and Johan van Stratum on bass both provided a thundering foundation for the bombastic vocals and guitars.

Hansi playing conductor with the crowd

Settling into the show after the first few tracks, the lights dimmed and we were treated to the first “slow” song of the night, Nightfall. A staple of any Blind Guardian concert, it provided another reminder of why these shows are so damn special. As the song churned onward towards the chorus, Hansi signalled for us to fill in the upcoming refrain and we obliged with a sound and force that took me by surprise. Over subsequent tracks like Script for my Requiem, this choir of metalheads only grew in intensity.

Hansi knew exactly how to push us into even greater fevor with each song as if he was playing the crowd as his own personal choir. But when he wasn’t playing conductor, he also treated every moment between songs with a distinct playfulness – “We will give you a little present now, to tell you about the American Gods”.

As the night drew to a close and the encore played on, we found ourselves staring down the barrel of one of the greatest crowd-interaction numbers in the heavy metal canon–Valhalla. Moshing was hard and heavy at the start, with its speedy galloping riffs leading towards the anthemic chorus section. As the second half of the song hit, however, chants of “Valhalla… deliverance…” echoed throughout the venue and continued long after even the band expected them to end. The feeling of nerdy camaraderie was heavy in the air following the song, and it helped to wrap things up on a high note for everyone. The show closed with Mirror Mirror, and we made our way out to the car with raw voices and sore necks, reassured that the bards can still deliver an efficient, seamless, impactful show–whether in a small concert hall or on a festival stage.

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