Savage Circus - Dreamland manor 4.5/5
1. Evil eyes
2. Between the devil and the seas
3. Waltz of the demon
5. It - The gathering
6. Beyond reality
7. When hell awakes
8. Ghost story
9. Born again by the night
Oh, how I have been salivating over this release since I first learned of its impending distribution early this summer! As most of you know, Blind Guardian drummer/founding member Thomen "The Omen" Stauch abdicated his throne behind the bards' drumkit earlier this year, apparently in large part because of his less-than-ecstatic reaction to the Guardians' recent musical direction. (There have also been plenty of nasty Internet rumors circulating that he just couldn't hack the intensity, stamina and power required in a live situation anymore, but I can't vouch for their veracity.) Rather than retiring to the Bavarian countryside to raise a brood of mini-Omens, Stauch nobly set about trying to recreate the magic of his predecessor outfit's halcyon days circa 'Tales from the twilight world' or 'Somewhere far beyond'. To assist him in his quest, he enlisted the aid of Iron Savior mainman/producer extraordinaire Piet Sielck (who receives "Second Engineer" and performance credits on both of those hallowed Blind Guardian recordings, as well as on 'Imaginations') to play guitar. With Sielck's expert advice, Stauch turned to Sweden's most accomplished Blind Guardian-clone, Persuader, where he recruited a Hansi Kursch sound-a-like vocalist in Jens Carlsson and a master in the Andre Olbrich school of guitar work in Emil Norberg. And there you have it. Ladies and gentlemen, Savage Circus.
The result of this collaboration is 57 minutes of pure bardlike magic that will be cherished by those who yearn for the "old" sound of Blind Guardian, before they were seduced and sullied by the pointless allure of 100 vocal tracks layered atop each other, with endless complexity in arrangements and writing, all at the expense of potent songwriting. If you recall with fondness the days when the Guardians used to let it rip with reckless abandon, then 'Dreamland manor' is the answer to your prayers. The Guardian resemblance is uncanny. Carlsson sings more like Hansi than Hansi does these days. The choirs, no doubt engineered by Sielck (who also had a huge hand in the choirs on the classic Blind Guardian-releases), have that big, patented, epic, Wagnerian sing-a-long quality patented by the Guardians. Norberg adds all the little licks, solos and detail work that you would expect from Olbrich. And the drumming carries on in Stauch's traditional, no-frills, punishing-but-slightly-unimaginative galloping double-bass-crazed style just as he's always played.
Of course, this astonishing recreation of the elements of Blind Guardian's classic sound would mean nothing without quality songs. Fortunately, they're here in spades, as this CD presents one after another epic tune worthy of the bards' name in quality and spirit. 6 of the 9 tracks exceed 6 minutes in length and most are speedy, double-bass-fueled extravaganzas, but with the nifty twists and turns that Blind Guardian are known for, plus more than a pinch of Iron Savior vibe (see "When hell awaits" for an example of a song that easily could have appeared on 'Condition red' or 'Battering ram'). "Evil eyes", "Tomorrowland", "It - The gathering", and "Born again by the night" would all rank favorably in the all-time hierarchy of Blind Guardian songs if only Hansi, Marcus and Andre had helped to write and perform them. Let's be clear: This is enormously high praise, as pre-'Tokyo tales' Blind Guardian includes some of the best metal songs ever written. Of the 9 cuts, only the piano ballad, "Beyond reality", is unconvincing and several steps below any ballad Blind Guardian ever recorded.
I suspect opinions will really swing on this CD. Some listeners will deride 'Dreamland manor' as a superfluous copycat recording that may ape Blind Guardian, but can never possibly equal the originals. I say that Thomen is an original and has every right to continue in the style that he helped forge ever since the 'Battalions' days. Others will express frustration with the Iron Savior influence. I say that the influence is subtle and adds richness, depth and texture to the recording. And still others will worship this CD as one of the finest releases of 2005. I fall into that 3rd category. For me, listening to this CD is like unearthing a dusty shoebox filled with long-forgotten completed, immaculately produced demos from one of my all-time favorite bands recorded at the apex of their creative genius. It's hard to imagine a much better musical gift.
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