What is the goal of Legacy of the Dark Lands? To my ears, it sounds the point of the album was to write a metal opera in the style of Blind Guardian. But what if the goal of Legacy of the Dark Lands, a thing that made sense at the time of its conception was accomplished between 2002’s A Night at the Opera and 2015’s Beyond the Red Mirror? What if, in the years since A Night at the Opera, Blind Guardian had developed their sound to be so unique and so orchestral that by the time Legacy of the Dark Lands was released, it was unnecessary and maybe even uninteresting? If that were the case, then Legacy of the Dark Lands wouldn’t feel revolutionary or visionary; it would just feel like Blind Guardian without drums.
Legacy of the Dark Lands is a monumental accomplishment of orchestration and production. Contrabass, timpani and brass combine in ways that are crushingly heavy at times (“Harvester of Souls,” “Treason”). The choral arrangements add breadth and depth to the sound and, though the album starts slow, Legacy of the Dark Land’s finale (starting with “Harvester of Souls”) is impressive. Dropping more traditional metal instrumentation does appear to have freed André and Hansi to write songs like “The Great Ordeal,” which feels more like an Austrian classical piece than orchestral metal. These experimental moments may come back to influence future Blind Guardian albums in important ways, I suspect. They also have the effect of demonstrating the importance of more aggressive percussion, however, as at times the crescendos feel weak (“The Great Ordeal,” “Dark Cloud’s1 Rising”).
The unfortunate irony of Legacy of the Dark Lands is that what the band desired to accomplish is undermined by what the band already accomplished in its career. Blind Guardian’s sound has developed to be so epic, orchestral and idiosyncratic, that when they released their supposed “magnum opus” it turned out to be closer to a parvus opus; possibly just an opus, sans adjective. Legacy of the Dark Lands does not carry the same heft or perform with the same poise as the band’s other material. By eschewing heavy percussion in the style of metal bands, Legacy of the Dark Lands lacks the strength that 2015’s Beyond the Red Mirror had. Add a confused story, mediocre voice acting and strange throwbacks to Nightfall in Middle-Earth in the dialogue, and Legacy of the Dark Lands becomes cheesy and strangely backward looking.
Finally, Legacy of the Dark Lands isn’t the departure from the band’s sound that it would have been when first dreamed up in 1996. Instead, the desire to make orchestral music has fused with Blind Guardian’s thrash metal roots and resulted in something far more compelling. When I want the epic story and orchestral feel that Legacy of the Dark Lands is going for, I listen to Beyond the Red Mirror because it’s compelling, sophisticated, coherent and unique. Legacy of the Dark Lands is a thing Blind Guardian should be lauded for trying, but it will not be remembered as their magnum opus.