[Cover artwork by Peter Mohrbacher]
Here are three potential reasons you probably don’t need to read a mess of words concerning The God Machine: 1) If you’re already a Blind Guardian fan, you will buy the record even if the band expressly stated their very lives could be in jeopardy if you do so, and it wouldn’t even matter if the artwork depicted Gimli riding a crystal horse while dressed in the very same extremely flattering bikini Beyoncé wears on the cover of Renaissance; 2) If you’re not a fan of Blind Guardian, the prior 11 albums (10 if you’re one of those dreary goblins who chooses to overlook Twilight Orchestra: Legacy of the Dark Lands) have proven beyond a shadow of a doubt the likelihood Blind Guardian will suddenly morph into your next favorite grinding tech brutal slam band is as close to nothing as scientifically possible; and 3) The typical modern human being has a brain that’s addicted to perpetual stimulation, so expecting them to read very far beyond a big juicy headline is a wild concept when we know there’s about 100 other juicy headlines vying for attention in our immediate peripheral.
These are all solid reasons why tacking a bunch of words to a record such as this could be seen as a wholly ineffective endeavor. However, I’m also the guy who stops the microwave with seven seconds left every single time because I think it somehow adds positive karma to my world, so, yeah, let’s get crazy. For the sake of the attention-challenged, however, here’s a headline that gets straight to the point:
« Everyone Should Buy The God Machine, Including Newborn Babies »
I know, I know, that’s patently absurd—babies don’t even have a source of income when they first land on the planet. Well, get to work, babies. No one gets a free ride on this rock, and the crackerjack hospital, hippie commune, etc. that helped drag you into this world doesn’t just hand out The God Machine as a welcome to life, though perhaps that should be the case.
Sub-headline: If you are aware of Blind Guardian and somehow find a way to not care about the band’s blessed and continued existence, you are hereby excused from this conversation moving forward. All due respect, though, you might consider returning your ears to whichever busted-ass IKEA you bought them from (on clearance.) All due respect.
Yes, I’m (mostly) kidding about all humans needing to be interested in this record. Nothing is for everyone, appetites sway, and all legacy bands face the unique challenge of deciphering precisely when the cons outweigh the pros, leading to a coin finally getting placed on the tongue. In this particular case, however, blind as the guardian may be, his or her heart continues to tick and kick as if blessed by Juventas herself. The pandemic evidently pissed off Blind Guardian, and that rejuvenated fire can be heard up and down the entirety of The God Machine. Evidence of this renewed fierceness first became evident in 2020, back when the band played the virtual Live at Wacken World Wide and first showcased “Violent Shadows” to a stadium filled to capacity with…well, air and lights. The song itself is largely based on Brandon Sanderson’s Stormlight Archive, and more specifically on the character Kaladin Stormblessed, and it certainly underscores the newfound energy and HEFT that reinforces The God Machine and makes it the weightiest thing they’ve done in decades.
“Violent Shadows” also does a great job of showcasing the band’s decision to strip things down a bit in favor of a more direct approach that punches right for the choppers. This was a unanimous decision by the band—a means to syphon the pent-up anger and frustration of not being able to tour or enjoy each other’s company for 2+ years into the songwriting. The results are certainly palpable, as it’s been years since we’ve experienced a studio interpretation of Blind Guardian filtered through a true speed metal lens. Album opener “Deliver Us from Evil” (based on Arthur Miller’s ode to the Salem witch trials, The Crucible) similarly delivers the fire, a song Olbrich stated as being “how speed metal should sound in 2022,” and a cut that will definitely leave fans believing the clock has magically dialed back 25 years. It is modernized, though, and it additionally manages to pull a new(ish) trick from the sleeve with a moody mid-section Kürsch refers to as a fresh “dark and doomy” side to Blind Guardian.
Rest assured, we still love the twisting, complex, layered-to-the-rafters orchestral variety of Blind Guardian, too, as evidenced by our continued devotion to 2010’s At the Edge of Time and certainly 2015’s Beyond the Red Mirror, but some fans are probably happy that 2019’s Legacy of the Dark Lands falls under the Twilight Orchestra moniker, so nerds such as yours truly can avoid trying to determine just out how to rank it whilst
arguing about discussing the Blind Guardian discography with other very level-headed and sophisticated BG freaks. (Worth noting: the fully orchestral Legacy of the Dark Lands is far from a bad record, it’s simply a…divergence that finally needed to see the light of day after Kürsch and Olbrich worked on it for the better part of the last 25 years.)
The God Machine thankfully does not do away with orchestration entirely, it simply relies on it much more frugally. We hear it punctuating the end of the very excellent “Damnation” with a quick brass blast, and it springs up similarly in the corners of “Blood of the Elves” and closer “Destiny.” Really, the only cut that takes it to the next level by tacking choral elements and strings to the brass bombast is “Secrets of the American Gods,” a song inspired by the Neil Gaiman novel, and one Kürsch was initially worried traveled too close to what was delivered with Beyond the Red Mirror. Well, surprise! It also happens to be one of the strongest tracks on the record, delivering a hugely cinematic experience in a relatively tidy 7.5 minutes that’s packed to the gunwales with stirring vocal hooks and plenty of superbly affecting lead-play.
The only other song released to date (as if four isn’t enough) is the exceptionally zippy “Blood of the Elves,” a track motivated by André Olbrich and Marcus Siepen’s extended forays into the Witcher video game realm—a domain I expect the latter to be notably proficient in navigating, as he’s beginning to look a bit like the Witcher’s cousin who seems slightly less motivated to hunt monsters. (“A manticore is harassing the townsfolk down at Matilda’s Big Muffins? Have you called my cousin yet?” ~ Marcus of Rivia, probably.) It is the opinion of this particular stowaway to Tanelorn that this song represents the album’s most explosive strike in one notably pithy presentation. It’s as bright as the sun, beautifully aggressive, and sports the sort of beer hall chorus that sounds as if it could have fallen off the wagon from an Imaginations from the Other B-Sides record. It also sprinkles in a few of those big brass blasts to give an already stout midsection even more OOMPH.
You… You know all about these songs, though. You know all about these songs because you are a Blind Guardian fan, and as so deemed, you have already committed these four songs to memory. And with that, we have finally circled back to the “putting words to this record is likely ineffective” argument. But is it not at least entertaining to discuss Blind Guardian by its very nature? Is it at all entertaining to see a Blind Guardian nerd yammer on about a new Blind Guardian record? ARE YOU NOT ENTERTAINED? IS THIS NOT WHY YOU ARE HERE? Does Russell Crowe even care about Blind Guardian? Would Maximus? I don’t even have one spare second to google “Russell Crowe Blind Guardian,” but I’m at least 90% sure the result would deliver a spectacular photo of the man himself sporting a “Show Me Your Tommyknockers” shirt from around 1990. Moreover, we’ve already come this far, so why not lift the smallest of veils from the remaining five songs without, you know, fully spoiling the surprise.
“Damnation” sports a haunting intro that quickly shifts to some very nice heft, and it also throws down one of the catchiest choruses of the record; both “Life Beyond the Spheres” (concerning the Big Bang Theory, the actual theory—nothing at all to do with the TV show about four hapless dongs constantly getting assaulted by laugh tracks) and “Architects of Doom” (Battlestar Galactica nod) turn things down a slower and much darker path, despite the latter boasting the record’s most FUN series of leads right around its midpoint; “Let It Be No More” is the most engaging power metal ballad I’ve heard in years, and it very literally made me cry because it is in part dedicated to Hansi Kürsch’s recently passed mother, an immensely unfortunate event that I, too, experienced in 2022; and “Destiny,” a song that jumps from the gate sounding a bit like a more charged version of Stevie Nicks’ “Edge of Seventeen,” was actually something I considered a “soft closer” at first blush, but it has since grown on me due to the unique manner in which it blends a certain playfulness with a considerably gloomy / cryptic swagger.
Boom, we’ve made it to the end. I’m not sure if it’s at all funny that I couldn’t (or rather didn’t) find a more direct way to speak of a Blind Guardian record the band made a concerted effort to make more direct themselves, but maybe I can at least get a couple extra credit points for forcing a few people to picture Russell Crowe wearing an inappropriate Blind Guardian shirt. Ultimately, opting for something “more down to earth” was a very smart move for a band that’s spent the better part of the last decade+ finding new and meaningful ways to be anything but, and it is indeed very refreshing to hear Blind Guardian achieving that objective so…awesomely in 2022. Over and above that, a recent clip of Kürsch and Olbrich made it seem as if they plan to use The God Machine as some sort of springboard for a new era of the band—tidings I’m guessing will prompt more than a few soiled pantaloons amongst longtime fans. In the meantime, however, get fully prepped and primed to fully lose your heart to The God Machine, a wonderful record Blind Guardian very much deserves to release in the year of our Lord 2022.
Oh, and here’s that image of Gimli riding the crystal horse from the cover of Renaissance you were hoping to see.