Review by Natalie Zed; Photos by Adam Wills
It should come as no surprise to anyone reading this that I’m a card-carrying nerd. It wasn’t a phase I grew out of; it’s a significant part of my personality and influences my character to this day. Many people find their way to metal via their nerdy tendencies. For everyone who found metal because they were pissed off with religion or society, or had a deep love of an instrument or related to the aesthetic, there are also those who discovered the left-hand path because of the dragons and epic soundtracks of D&D.
The crowd that gathered at the Kool Haus to see Blind Guardian was definitely composed of my fellow nerds-in-arms. You might think this would mean they were sedate; this couldn’t be further from the truth. The moshing started during the very first song by the less-than-brilliant openers and only intensified as the night progressed. This was one of the very, very few occasions that, after staking out and guarding an excellent spot right in front of the stage, I actually had to abandon my post shortly after the headlining band started. I ended up watching from the back bar out of concern for my safety and visibility (everyone I was with made similar decisions). The crowd was positively ravenous. When nerds let go, they really dive in tooth and claw.
The show began with openers Seven Kingdoms. They were overjoyed to be on the tour, so much so that they wondered if they belonged there. This was a question I found myself asking as well. Their alt-rock power metal did nothing for me. They struck me as very much a television executive’s idea of what a metal band would look and sound like — long hair, eyeliner, leather jackets — rather than an actual group. Lily the Pirate commented that they seemed like a slightly harder Jem Jam. Last song “Seven Kingdoms” was definitely their strongest. Their set was at least mercifully short and the crowd lapped it up, though I think the audience was so pumped full of nerd juice and overpriced tall cans that just about anything would have had them salivating for more.
The show truly commenced when Holy Grail began. I am extremely fond of this band to begin with, but this was the best set I have ever had the pleasure of witnessing them play. Vocalist James Paul Luna’s performance was characterized by manic head-banging and energy. The band’s sound was crisp and full, light and heavy by turns. I first encountered Holy Grail when they supported Amon Amarth early this year, and they have consistently impressed with their live performances. They’re clearly a band that love being on stage and give the audience everything they have every single time. They’re also quite an intelligent and versatile thrash band, fitting just as well on a bill with Viking metal as with the epic power metal of Blind Guardian. They tailored their performance to fit the taste of the crowd somewhat, performing “Crisis in Utopia” and “Call of Valhalla” to roars of approval. By the time they closed their all-too-brief set with “Fight to Kill,” my love for Holy Grail had blossomed anew.
Despite the incredibly positive reactions to both opening acts, there was no question in anyone’s mind which band the audience were here for. The moment the overture of “At the Edge of Time” began, the Kool Haus erupted. The audience was no longer a collection of discrete individuals; the room was suddenly occupied by a single entity, one cacophonous voice entirely at Blind Guardian’s mercy for the entire two-hour set. Very few shows can inspire this kind of intense, unifying energy, but this was such an event. I experienced something similar recently when I witnessed Devin Townsend: the wonder of an entire capacity crowd joyfully singing every single lyric to every single song. It’s genuine magic, a transcendent, transportive type of occasion. It’s these types of live experiences that reinforce exactly why I became addicted to metal shows: being a part of collective epiphanies such as this.
Despite a huge, garish banner and epic lighting, the stage still had an almost minimalist appearance, relatively speaking. The band members wore simple, logo-less, black T-shirts and the performance was free of pyrotechnics or video screens. The focus was definitely the music. Despite the length of the set, with a catalogue like Blind Guardian’s there’s no way to play everything everyone wants to hear, especially when supporting a new album. However, their set list sampled wisely and satisfied as much as they could. A highlight was definitely “The Bard’s Song,” performed acoustically, which allowed for the crowd’s voice, singing along for all they were worth, to come through particularly clearly (a full set list can be found here). Vocalist Hansi Kürsch was a curious frontman, baiting the crowd, teasing, “We have no intention of satisfying you; you’re all going to be disappointed.” His initial rough handling of the crowd softened as the night wore on, warmed and, ultimately, won over by the crowd’s enthusiasm and unflagging positive energy.
It was freezing cold after the show; photographer Adam Wills and I had emergency cheeseburgers to insulate us before finding our ways home. It snowed in Toronto for the first time this winter that night. Riding home, “Nightfall” still ringing in my ears, everything felt a little bit fictional, even mythical, as though in the wake of Blind Guardian, reality had become a little thinner. Magic.