Imaginations From The Other Side is the 1995 fan favourite studio effort from German power metal pioneers Blind Guardian. Yes, 1995 – one year after Nevermind, just a few months before Alice in Chains’ self-titled. Whilst music fans in the US and the UK weren’t exactly queuing round the block for the bastard musical spawn of Iron Maiden and J.R.R. Tolkien, in the far and distant lands of Europe Blind Guardian were laying the foundations for what would become Wacken-headlining levels of success.
Seen by many as the crowning achievement of the first half of their career, when they were more of a straight ahead, fast and furious heavy metal act compared to their more symphonic, grandiose 21st Century iteration, it’s been remastered and repackaged into a bumper 25th anniversary boxset that offers a veritable dragon’s hoard of treats for fans.
First up, we have a brand new live set from 2016 with the album played from start to finish. Though many of these tracks are long-standing live staples, it’s great to hear some of the deeper cuts being delivered in the live arena to an adoring crowd who are happily belting out every chorus, and most of the verses for good measure. 'Another Holy War' is a real standout on this disk. Blind Guardian have aged about as well as any band of their vintage could expect to, what little they have lost in terms of ferocity has been more than made up for by the tightness, precision and sheer musicianship that they display. Lead vocalist Hansi Kürsch marshals the crowd with aplomb (admittedly this doesn’t take much, the band’s live shows are renowned for their audience participation) whilst the rest of the band don’t miss a beat.
The studio album itself is here too, but bar the inclusion of a couple of bonus tracks this version bears very little noticeable difference to the 2007 remixed and remastered version available, nevertheless it’s nothing other than a pleasure from start to finish. All of the hallmarks of Blind Guardian, and arguably the most endearing elements of power metal as a whole, are here in spades and there’s not a single track on the album that’s less than great. The whole thing has a heft and crunch that is too often absent from the genre in the modern day, where many contemporary artists have an unfortunate habit of wading into Disney territory, sanding down all of their edges under a tidal wave of synths. That’s not to say that melody is neglected here though, quite the opposite, vocals and lead guitar are seemingly locked in a constant battle to outdo one another in terms of hooks - André Olbrich is absolutely masterful here, weaving delicate, intricate and downright beautiful lead lines over each and every song. Fans of power metal and indeed more conventional metal could do a lot worse than to use this as a jumping-in point for the band, and those who like what they hear will doubtlessly want more and end up delving further into the back catalogue.
Also included is a bonus disc containing an entirely instrumental version of the album along with a handful of demos. Whilst this is the kind of stuff that is only going to really excite hardcore fans it’s definitely worth a spin. The absence of vocals brings some of the more subtle embellishments (a sprinkle of strings here, the swell of an organ there) to the fore, whilst you may not consciously notice these things in a casual listening session they certainly add some scale and grandiosity and show that the seeds of their more orchestral future were there from the early days. In fact, listening to these actually made me hear the original versions in a slightly different light as I more actively noticed the intricacies that had disappeared into the background before. 'A Past and Future Secret', which on the surface is an enchanting but fairly straightforward ballad, really shines in this context as the acoustic guitar underpinning it is able to take centre stage.
All in all this is a wonderful celebration of an album that is integral to the band’s history, the level of quality is enough for new listeners to enjoy but this is one for the fans first and foremost and it’s difficult to see them being anything less than delighted.
Imaginations From The Other Side Live is released December 11th via Nuclear Blast.