VERSUS: Imaginations From The Other Side vs. Nightfall in Middle Earth

VERSUS: Imaginations From The Other Side vs. Nightfall in Middle Earth

Welcome to Versus. The series where we look at two albums in metal history, compare them, to see which one was the better record.

In this edition of Versus, we are doing another internal battle with a band that has become one of the most well-known bands in the power metal genre, Blind Guardian. Hailing from Germany, forming in 1984, the band is one of the most successful and influential bands in both the power metal genre and even in the speed metal genre with their early releases. Today, we are tackling two of the band's most popular releases in the band's discography. One record beginning the transition into their classic power metal sound from a more speed metal origin. The other, a full-blown concept album showing the grandiosity and scale that the band would make with its follow up. So, grab your battle axe, roll your D-20 die, and prepare to battle the five armies in this matchup I'm calling "The Battle for Helm's Deep".

In this corner, we have the band's fifth album, 1995's Imaginations From The Other Side. The atmosphere of the album is darker in tone compared to the band's earlier works. The album began to move away from the speed metal sound and begin to form into the band's famous power metal sound that would be influential for future bands. The band even experimented with "ballad/power ballad" like songs, showcasing the band's new ideas and creativity in this new direction. Does this record deserve to stand on top of the mountain in this matchup?

The album opens with the over seven-minute title track. the longest song on the album. Drummer Thomen Stauch's opening drums, drenched in reverb, into the dueling guitars by André Olbrich & Marcus Siepen is such a strong opening riff to the song. Then vocalist and bassist Hansi Kürsch's gritty and demanding vocals kick in. His somber and clean vocals on the second verse, mixed with his bellowing cries, accompanied with a choir in the chorus is so theatrical and gives that large scale feel to the song. Filling the space of the mix. The guitar playing does have that speed/thrash sound still in their sound, but the progression throughout the track shows the bands amalgamation into the power metal grandiosity of the genre. With church bells, choirs and string sections, it is a great opening track, especially showing off Kürsch's insanely strong vocal chops. Next is "I'm Alive". Very thrash heavy opening riff with the complimenting drums, into a beautiful clean guitar passage before going back into the speed. The choir and backing vocals on Kürsch is strong, aggressive and harmonious at certain points. The song is more reigned in, with more focus on speed and intensity and less on the grandeur and theatrics. The riffs throughout by both Olbrich & Siepen just show the complexity along with precision in the playing.

Following that is "A Past and Future Secret". Starting off with a medieval sounding acoustic guitar opening, the song changes pace and goes to a ballad-like feel to the song. Kürsch shows off his clean vocals and less grit. The production sounds more folky in its sound, almost like something you'd hear at a renaissance fair. The song is beautifully mixed, and a nice reprieve from the previous two songs. Kürsch's vocals are so beautiful sounding, and little flurries of his gritty vocals make slight appearances in the background, until becoming front and center near the three quarter mark as the song builds to a fever-pitch. I love this direction and the band does this sound beautifully. "The Script for My Requiem" starts with bouncing bass and synth string layers as the guitars come in with that classic heavy metal gallop playing. The verse section just has more restrained guitar playing to let Kürsch perform his theatrical vocals on the verse. Stauch's drumming is impressive, adding fury and vigor to the song, with intensity behind the vocals, especially into the chorus of the song. I love Kürsch's scream "I Cry" into the short guitar solo and the pace picking up, along with Stauch's thrash drumming. The other song that showed the band experimenting with this new direction is "Mordred's Song". Starting with a heavy metal like guitar riff of string hopping in its playing, the song has a almost power ballad like feel and energy to the song. Kürsch's battle cry screams ring out so well in the mix, with thundering drums behind him, into a choir heavy chorus. I do like the instrumentation of the song and it is definitely a unique direction, but I wouldn't say it is not as experimental as people think it is. It still sounds like a normal song from the band.  

Then we are off to the races with "Born in A Mourning Hall". I love the classic heavy metal feel of the opening. Drums are pounding and driving, while the guitars ring through in the mix. The guitars are fast, heavy, and in your face with the performance. The grand scale chorus is loud and proud on the song. Kürsch is a master of the vocal juggling of high screams, clean vocals and aggressively intense vocals, making him one of the strongest voices in the genre, with this song showing off his range very well. I LOVE the dueling guitars after the halfway mark, just channeling that classic New Wave of British Heavy Metal sound that Iron Maiden did so well and just is a great addition to the band's sound. One heck of a song and one of my personal favorites off the album. With "Bright Eyes", it starts with a nice vocal harmonies with a very 80's sounding opening. The song is more mid-tempo then a lot of the album, with Kürsch belting his heart out during the chorus, mixed with the complex drumming of Stauch throughout the song. "Another Holy War" continues the heavy, thrash infused guitar playing in the opening riff and throughout the track. Stauch's drumming is impressively fast on the song, seeming like the band is trying to keep up with him with how fast, hard and complex he is on the song. The album closes with "And The Story Ends". I love the vocal peaks and valleys of the opening, with guitars ringing and choir vocals filling the mix and atmosphere of the song.  I love the many tempo and pace changes of the song, along with the catchy chorus and guitar playing throughout the song. A good closing track to a strong album and a good glimpse into the future of where Blind Guardian would be going.

In the opposite corner, is their follow up with 1998's Nightfall in Middle-Earth. The album is a concept album based on The Silmarillion by J.R.R. Tolkien. The album is more theatrical in it's themes, with spoken word interludes & narrating parts of the story throughout the album. Cited as the band's best-known and most-popular albums in their release, considered a landmark of the genre and one of the most influential records in power metal. Does it stand the test of time and overcome their previous record in this battle?

After the brief opening interlude "War of Wrath", the album's opening track is "Into The Storm". I love the opening riff along with the church bell in the opening second. The production quality is a step up from Imaginations. The song is full on the power metal sound we know of now. Kürsch's vocals are mixed again beautifully with the choir on the chorus, especially into the clean high into gritty delivery on the end of the chorus. The instrumentation is more progressive and theatrical in the band's performance. I love the dueling harmony guitars at the halfway mark. The drums are a little further back in the mix compared to the previous, but Stauch's double bass and tom hits have a lot of punch in the mix. Great opening track and building the band's direction with not only the concept of the album, but the overall direction the band would be going following this release On "Nightfall", a beautiful medieval sounding mandolin/guitar sounding clean intro, with Kürsch delivering a somber vocal into his "cry to the sky" aggressive vocals. The vocal gymnastics of highs, soft cleans, aggressive and gritty highs is a showcase. A love how the song is more clean guitar driven, showing the band can be heavy without a lot of distortion and can create a large scale performance with not much. The Stauch & Kürsch combo at the halfway mark show them gelling so well together, with each giving the other time to shine as well as accent. The guitar playing becomes more prolific in its harmonies near the end of the track.

"The Curse of Fëanor" has a great opening guitar riff. The drums are driving and punching through in the mix with the double bass. Vocals are theatrical, along with the production, creating the blockbuster movie feel in the performance. I love the energy in the vocals and the overall feel of the song. Especially the pace pickup into the guitar wail accent. "Blood Tears" has a melancholic, yet somehow uplifting feel to the opening with its guitars and instrumentation. The harmonious vocals on the chorus and the booming drums, channel the sadness and dread in the vocals at certain points. The song picks up and we get the thrash/power metal sounding chugging guitars with fast-paced d-beat drumming. The progression throughout the song in the vocals and music is so diverse and movie-score quality in transitional sections.

Next is my favorite track off the album, and from the band, with "Mirror Mirror". I love the harmonized guitars, building drum strikes into the super speed/thrash heavy opening riff. Kürsch's reverb and layered vocals add so much punch in his aggressive parts and his clean. I love the choir layering effect on the chorus with the double bass from Stauch adding punch in the chorus. The slow downed, almost mid-tempo second verse section, with accompanied acoustic guitars, back into the fast-paced riff and drums, shows the band's progressive sound on this record is strong and present on the track. With "Noldor (Dead Winter Reigns)", the song has a great thundering drum build with cymbal strikes and tom fills. The vocals are more bass tone in the opening, adding a feeling of downtrodden to the feel of the song. I like the guitar tone on the track during the verse. Double bass punches through on the song. Olbrich & Siepen play off each other so well on the song. Their playing style is so on-point on this album and throughout the band's career. On "Time Stands Still (at The Iron Hill)" with the opening brass, strings and guitar with driving drums behind it, it is a strong opening to the song. The song is heavy, complex, and again the drumming is a standout along with the vocals. The chorus has an almost medieval sound to it, giving it a unique bounce to the feel of the chorus.

"Thorn" has a very synth heavy opening feel, into a slowed-down acoustic guitar section with light drumming. Kürsch delivers a quiet and feeling of longing in his vocals during the clean guitars before the track builds into the chorus. I love the dual harmonies Olbrich & Siepen bring to the track back into the verse section. They really are a riff-factory of unique harmonies and progressive power metal sounding guitar pieces. The opening piano piece of "The Eldar" is very atmospheric and ethereal, along with the vocals and the ghost-like feel behind it. I love how it is just piano and Kürsch on the track, showing the power his voice has with just him and the piece musically is very relaxing and a nice change of pace from the rest of the album. "When Sorrow Sang" kicks the door in with it's opening riff and tom fills across the opening seconds. I like the short guitar solo flurries and wails during the verse section going into the chorus. I do love the guitar call-and-response feel, along with the bass before the halfway mark of the track. The album's final non-interlude track is "A Dark Passage". With building war drums, strings and echo-tinged guitars, the song builds to a grand cinematic-esque ending. The musical arrangement, along with the vocals and instrumentation, gives it that movie score like quality to the aura of the song. Vocals are aggressive and heavy in the ferocity, then transition into the bouncy clean delivery in the chorus-esque sections. The song has a Queen feel to the grandeur and feel of the song. It is a strong closer and showcases the band's legacy in the power metal genre as one of the best in the genre.

As this battle has concluded, and the battlefield lay desolate with Orcs, Elves, Bard, Hobbits and Humans, which album stands as the victor of this battle for Middle-Earth? In my opinion, Nightfall in Middle-Earth is the winner of this matchup. I love Imaginations a lot, but I think Nightfall took it up a notch, or amped things up on that record. The music sounds grander, instrumentation is more theatrical and epic in its performance, Kürsch's vocal mix is better and stronger, really showing how good he really is vocally. Both are great records from Blind Guardian and are great introduction albums to the band, both are classic in the power metal genre, and are overall great records in heavy metal. Definitely the band's best one-two punches in their discography.

Blind Guardian would continue adding to it's legacy of speed and power metal with six more albums. Each record becoming and encompassing a more grander in scale, sound, production and instrumentation. Their most recent record, 2022's The God Machine, received critical acclaim from fans and critics. Making countless best of lists for 2022 and the band's success rising that much higher.

Kürsch would form a side project with Iced Earth guitarist Jon Schaffer called Demons & Wizards in 1998. Releasing three albums, until the band disbanded after infamously Schaffer was involved in the January 6th U.S. Capital Building in 2021, resulting in Schaffer being arrested and found guilty and is awaiting sentencing at the time of this writing. His main band, Iced Earth, would go on hiatus with two members leaving the band, while Kürsch would leave Demons & Wizards, as well as the label dropping the band.

Do you agree with my decision? Who do you think should have won? Cast your vote on the poll below, leave your comments on our social media, and your suggestions who you think should step in the ring next. I’m Justin, your friendly neighborhood metalhead, for This Day in Metal and this has been Versus.

VS: Imaginations vs. Nightfall - Online Poll - StrawPoll
What’s your opinion? Vote now: Imaginations From The Other Side, Nightfall in Middle-Earth…

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