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Blind Guardian - Imaginations From The Other Side CD (album) cover

IMAGINATIONS FROM THE OTHER SIDE

Blind Guardian

 

Progressive Metal

3.94 | 185 ratings

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Conor Fynes
Prog Reviewer
4 stars 'Imaginations from the Other Side' - Blind Guardian (81/100)

It's a strange thing; Imaginations from the Other Side is considered by some to be the greatest album of Blind Guardian's career. In at least a couple of places I've checked, it stands as their highest-rated accomplishment; yet, it seems to get overlooked whenever there's an earnest, casual discussion of the band. Depending on their own relative backgrounds, people are quick to excitement over the intelligent bombast of Nightfall in Middle-Earth, or the punch of their speed metal origins, and some most over the blend of eras they forged with Tales from the Twilight World and Somewhere Far Beyond. By contrast, Imaginations from the Other Side falls in that liminal region between the bold transition of their third and fourth albums, and the ambitious heights they would hit on the sixth and seventh. Though it would be unfair to label Imaginations as a reimagining of Somewhere Far Beyond, the fact remains that the major revelations that came on either side of it have given the album a sense of 'middle child syndrome'. It's a shame, really-- though it's a few spots away from being my favourite Blind Guardian album, it's easily the most consistent album of their career.

I'd hate to give the impression that I mean to undermine Imaginations from the Other Side's own unique developments to this incredible band's sound. Though much of the heavy-duty evolution was over by their fifth album, Blind Guardian saw fit to highlight their progressive leanings on this one. Somewhere Far Beyond was forward-thinking for its genre, but had very little to it that would place it amidst the progressive metal pantheon. I do think Imaginations from the Other Side is the band's most strictly 'prog metal' output; although they would get wackier on the next two albums (A Night at the Opera in particular), Blind Guardian's increasingly orchestral arrangements actually saw fit to distance them from being associated with the likes of traditional progressive metal. Hansi Kürsch has expressed the influences drawn from bands like Fates Warning and Savatage, and I'd argue that Imaginations from the Other Side is the album where those influences are most apparent.

If anything most characterizes Imaginations relative to their other albums, it's the tone and inspiration behind it. If there's anything Blind Guardian fans and detractors alike can agree upon, it's the band's fervent dedication to their fantastical source material. Every alchemical combination of elves, dwarves, and dime-a-dozen chosen ones has been explored ad nauseam in power metal, and it was decidedly uncharacteristic for a band like Blind Guardian to have set aside the escapism to write about the pain and ruin we might like to be escaping from in the first place. These songs are still veiled in fantastical and historical imagery, but only thinly so; unlike Somewhere Far Beyond or Nightfall in Middle-Earth or any bleeding album by Rhapsody, the fantasy is not an end in itself. Fear of death, self-conscious anxiety and the uphill struggle of real life are all powerfully expressed in the lyrics, amplified further still by a particularly aggressive vocal performance from Hansi. Suffice to say, lyrics like "Bright Eyes" ("...blinded by fear of life...") leave little room for interpretation as a call to noble quests and eternal glory. Even so, anyone who would otherwise miss the fantasy element in the music are covered; Blind Guardian's focus on the Crusades and the Legend of King Arthur are not a world away from their usual lyrical fare, but it's enough of a shift to make it freshly distinct from their other exploits.

Imaginations from the Other Side may not come across as a career-defining epic, but most of the songs collected herein are excellent. Although the brooding, mid-paced title track is arguably the most iconic song here, the greatest standouts are "Mordred's Song" and "Bright Eyes". I'm not sure either of these songs could have fit on any of the albums before or after; this was the point in Blind Guardian's discography when they were progressive without yet becoming overwhelmed with orchestration, and the two highlights reflect that powerfully. Although "Bright Eyes" is an original tune, I've always had the weird impression that it was a cover of a pop song; it feels too vulnerable and bitter to have been written strictly as a power metal song, but it does go to show Blind Guardian have a lot more versatility and range than their haters give them credit for.

The album delivers a satisfying blend of high-octane tracks with more lavish pieces. Only the underwhelming speed-fuelled "Another Holy War" falls below the high standard I have for classic-era Blind Guardian, and even then, I only notice it because of how consistently impressive the rest of the album tends to be. If we look at the band's discography sequentially, Imaginations from the Other Side might appear less thrilling than it really is; the argument could be made that the album entailed an essential consolidation of their progressive threads, but it's nigh-undeniable that they have taken far bolder leaps in their career. Regardless, with a grasp of style, songwriting and execution as brilliant as they had by the point of Imaginations, I would happily digest another dozen albums of this sort with little or no evolution to distinguish them. Of course, by Nightfall in Middle-Earth, they had dismissed any notion of stagnation, taking some of the most promising ideas here to even greater heights.

Conor Fynes | 4/5 |

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