So what exactly is this album supposed to be? I’ve seen this question thrown around a bit lately as many of us wonder whether or not to start hitting the currency converters on our phones to find out the cheapest potential price at which to import this. The name Blind Guardian is synonymous with quality and more often than not, we as fans buy first and ask questions later. Billed at its best as a three disc set (an abbreviated 2 disc version is also available), Memories of a Time to Come collects sixteen previously recorded and released Blind Guardian songs culled from the entirety of their discography, and either remixes or re-records fifteen of them. The lone untouched track is “Sacred Worlds”, from 2010’s At the Edge of Time — and before you ask, there is no explanation as to why it is included this way. The third disc of the set features the band’s old demo recordings from the era in which they were known as Lucifer’s Heritage (some tracks are listed as reworked, but its difficult to tell what that exactly means). View the complete spec sheet here.
The announcement of this compilation came as something of a surprise, especially given that the only releases the band had mentioned during their last press campaign as being ‘on the horizon’ were the orchestral project and the next proper Blind Guardian album. Additionally, an interview with Hansi and Andre on Italy’s Spazio Rock suggested that the only remixing project the band had planned, however vaguely, was a complete redo of 2002’s A Night at the Opera. The only thing I can guess at is that Virgin Germany, Blind Guardian’s previous label, was going to release a basic best-of compilation regardless of the artist’s approval or disapproval, and the band wisely chose to include themselves in the process in an attempt to turn it into something unique. I suppose that’s blindly giving Blind Guardian a lot of credit, but I can’t see a label coming up with an idea that is a bit more expensive than just your simple cut and paste best-of compilation (especially for a band that is no longer on their roster).
The selling points being touted are the newly re-recorded versions of “The Bard’s Song (The Hobbit)”, “Valhalla”, and the 2001 epic that defined pomp, “And Then There Was Silence”. The first thing I can say about this compilation is that while the three re-recordings are admirable in both intent and execution, they are rather overvalued in proportion to the actual meat of this beast, namely, the remixes. Before I start on those, I have to get this out of my system: Were Blind Guardian fans really clamoring for a re-recorded version of the lesser half of the two part “Bard’s Song”? It has always been for me the often skipped over track on Somewhere Far Beyond, and I know its never really been a concert staple like its much praised better half…now those two reasons alone could be all the motivation the band needs to give the tune a second look, but frankly the decision to re-record this particular song over many other potential candidates baffles me. I guess the positive takeaway here is that I’ve ended up listening to the song more than I ever did in its original incarnation, though I’m still rather unmoved by it.
The newly recorded “Valhalla” is a significant improvement on the original, even Kai sounds better here, and the guitar solo section is smartly changed up in a satisfying way — however, overall there is nothing all too different going on, this is basically a studio version of how the band approaches this song live. I don’t know what I was expecting, but perhaps something akin to the pair of acoustic recordings found on the old b-sides compilation The Forgotten Tales back in 1996, which completely broke down and re-imagined the original recordings to create something really fresh and unique, which gave the songs some additional or different emotional resonance. This is something I find myself thinking about especially when listening to the new “And Then There Was Silence”. You know what? I prefer the original. Sure it sounded far more compressed, claustrophobia-inducing even, but it was sharper, in terms of execution in the melodies as well as vocal harmonies. The new version feels rounded, softened, less urgent. I found myself wondering whether or not it would have been better served by a remix, I think it would have.
And now on to the remixes themselves. Well, this is why you should drop the cash on this. These are remixes in the proper definition of the term, and every single song that undergoes this treatment benefits as a result. What were once compressed background vocals are now given room to breathe, have their own space, and stand out. Hansi’s lead vocals are placed up front more, Andre’s leads are clearer…hell it seems that everything is able to breathe easier, and given space to ring true. I’m not an audiophile so I can’t get any more specific than I’m being, but classics like “Nightfall”, “Bright Eyes” and “Imaginations From the Other Side” really benefit, they just pop. Were I introducing someone to Blind Guardian I’d make sure these were the versions they’d listen to first. In saying that I realize that the two disc version of this release would make a great introduction to the band for a new listener, a good mix of selected cuts spanning a career of fine moments, presented in the best possible sound quality. I suppose the real draw here is for hardcore Blind Guardian fans, who have already listened to the original recordings of these songs thousands of times and will be able to greatly appreciate the differences presented with the remixed versions. As for the Lucifer’s Heritage demos on the optional third disc, well, they’re demos, embryonic skeletons that were fleshed out for the better later. You either enjoy listening to their imperfections or you don’t.
In summation, the triple disc is worth the purchase if you’re a die hard fan, just take the re-recordings with a grain of salt and enjoy the remixes and demos. Give the two disc version to that one friend who is still not yet a convert.