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An odd marginal release from Blind Guardian when they were really starting to make it big (at least in Europe), this is a mixture of B-sides collection and promo introduction for newcomers to the band, which fails to give any kind of clear picture of what to expect from a regular studio release. Six of these songs are covers of famous, non-metal artists performed with varying degrees of authenticity and artistic license, while the rest consists of earlier Blind Guardian material either re-mixed to a more radio-friendly acoustic form or reproduced from the original, if it was acoustic in the first place.
The resulting album is part novelty release, part fun extra for the band's hardcore fans, and I suppose it has greater mainstream appeal based more on the former market; just as it's worth tracking down the albums of TV stars who fancy themselves as singers and proceed to butcher some of the greats, the speed metal covers of 'Mr. Sandman' and 'Surfin' USA' have the potential to raise a few eyebrows and get some people rocking out on the dance floor, or whatever it is young people do these days.
My main problem with cover songs, apart from the lack of originality, and essential worthlessness of reproducing something unless you're going to tackle it from a drastically different angle... alright, my third main problem with cover songs is that I'm hardly ever familiar with the original, being too cool or sheltered, take your pick. Oh, you went for that one. Fortunately, about half of these are classic and overplayed enough for me to have some degree of familiarity, particularly the Beach Boys stuff and 'Mr. Sandman' from its appearance in 'Back to the Future' that I watched about eighty eight times as a child. The opening tracks are tackled in exactly the same manner: the song begins to be performed authentically, but about half-way through becomes dominated by fast, powerful drums, André Olbrich's screaming guitar solos and Hansi Kürsch's even more screaming vocals, which sound particularly great in 'Surfin USA.' The choices are often zany, but in this latter case it really works.
Later covers are performed with a greater degree of loyalty, which makes them duller in the case of Queen's 'Spread Your Wings' that ends up being my least favourite song here for its irritatingly sung chorus, but Mike Oldfield's 'To France' is handled in a compelling and thoughtful manner, the rock and symphonic elements increasing steadily throughout and Hansi sounding great in the choruses as usual, but my favourite has to be Uriah Heep's 'The Wizard,' a great folk ballad that perfectly suits Blind Guardian's style both thematically and musically, and could easily be mistaken for one of their own. 'Barbara Ann/Long Tall Sally' is very unusual in that its second half is sung by someone completely different more in line with the original, but it's fun to hear Hansi sneak in a chorus from 'Johnny B. Goode,' also heard on the earlier live album 'Tokyo Tales.'
Despite the shocking grief of its first impression, 'Bright Eyes' is not, repeat not, a cover of Simon & Garfunkel's harrowing song about rabbits or whatever, but is the first of several Blind Guardian originals to receive the stripped-down acoustic treatment. Along with 'Mordred's Song,' this was one of the more emotional, more atmospheric and less aggressive offerings from the then-contemporary 'Imaginations from the Other Side' album, and both are well suited to acoustic slimming even though they fail to match up to the originals. Olbrich's acoustic solos are fun and plucky (in a literal sense), but 'Mordred's Song' sounds much better as a screamed energetic outburst than a mellow contemplation, though the former song is almost equally valid in this alternate form.
The short interlude 'Black Chamber' is rather pointlessly re-worked here also, made into an a capella performance from several Hansis that still only lasts a minute and isn't really going to appeal to anyone, while 'Theatre of Pain' is made over entirely and reduced to a purely symphonic version. This is interesting in concept but lousy to listen to, only serving to annoy in the same way piano or orchestra takes on your favourite rock songs only make you long to hear the proper instruments and some singing. But this is the sort of thing B-side albums are for, after all: pointless re-mixes for the fan who has everything.
The final thread running through this loosely woven, distractingly patterned jumper of an album consists of the band's three major acoustic songs from the three most recent albums up to that time, all of which are still live favourites today. The slightly amateur 'Lord of the Rings' and the much more polished 'A Past and Future Secret' are taken straight from their respective albums, while the finest of them all 'The Bard's Song' is a live performance from Germany (evidenced by the pre-song banter) that will possibly blow listeners away as the crowd chants its way through the entire thing with only the most minimal accompaniment by Hansi. It's not the most satisfying thing in the world to hear a muffled crowd singing rather than the band, but it proves the effect Blind Guardian have, and if nothing else, serves to encourage people who were bought this album as a joke to search out for the real thing.
1. Mr. Sandman (The Chordettes cover)
2. Surfin' USA (The Beach Boys cover)
3. Bright Eyes
4. Lord of the Rings
5. The Wizard (Uriah Heep cover)
6. Spread Your Wings (Queen cover)
7. Mordred's Song
8. Black Chamber
9. The Bard's Song (Live)
10. Barbara Ann / Long Tall Sally (The Beach Boys cover)
11. A Past and Future Secret
12. To France (Mike Oldfield cover)
13. Theatre of Pain
Disc #1 Tracklisting
1 Mr. Sandman
2 Surfin' U.S.A.
3 Bright Eyes
4 Lord of the Rings
6 Spread Your Wings
7 Mordred's Song
8 Black Chamber
9 Bard's Song [Live]
10 Barbara Ann/Long Tall Sally
11 Past and Future Secret
13 Theatre of Pain