On the 16th of November, the weather was typically Vancouverish: dreary, with a heavy rain chilling the city’s inhabitants to the bones. Inside the Commodore Ballroom, the atmosphere could not have been more different. Gathered inside the large venue were hundreds upon hundreds of ebullient metalheads huddled together, chatting gleefully in the warm glow of the ambiant lights, as all were waiting for the triumphant return of Blind Guardian, one of the world’s most beloved and respected metal acts, coming back to Vancouver after far too long.
Before the headlining mythical metal act took the stage, the drenched Vancouverites receive the gift of Grave Digger, another legendary ensemble who knows how to captivate an audience.
From the moment they walked on stage until they left it, the German band had the people in attendance hypnotized. Perhaps it was the stupefying black and white striped guitar of metal god Axel Ritt, or the fact the band has over two decades of experience in delivering exhilarating performances, but Grave Digger was frankly mesmerizing.
Using songs like “Witch Hunter,” “Excalibur,” “Ballad of a Hangman,” and “Rebellion (The Clans Are Marching)”, the European quintet razzled and dazzled the crowd with their musical tales. From witches to famous swords, knights, kings, and rebels, the stories flowed freely, enchanting the hundreds of fans in attendance.
Grave Digger won the crowd over with the help of Chris Boltendahl’s powerful voice, Axel Ritt’s guitar theatrics, the heroic Sean Bean-esque looks of Jens Becker, and the spooky masked presence of Marcus Kniep behind the keyboard, and finished big with “Heavy Metal Breakdown,” which had the entire crowd chanting loudly and proudly.
The people who had faced the torrential rain to make it to the Commodore Ballroom were rewarded for their bravery because though Grave Digger had thoroughly rocked the venue, Blind Guardian was in a league of its own. With the house lights off, a dark blue hue envelopped the band when they walked on stage as if they walked in an enchanted forest, and the German group appeared larger than life.
As he sang “The Ninth Wave,” “Banish From Sanctuary,” and “Nightfall” with all his might, frontman Hansi Kürsch reminded the hundreds of fans piled up high on the front barrier just why he’s been hailed time and time again as one of the best vocalists in metal. The more songs the band played, the more enraptured with the musicians the crowd became, with reason. The perfection with which every one of them played combined with the light show and made the performance nothing short of magical.
With every colour change, between the dark forest green and the doom-like red, the heavenly bright whites and the glacial blues, the crowd was transported to a different realm, setting the mood flawlessly for every one of Blind Guardian’s songs. “Tanelor (Into The Void),” “Fly,” “Prophecies,” “Lord of the Rings,” “Bright Eyes,” and “And the Story Ends” were all among the songs bestowed upon the adoring crowd for their first set. When the six musicians left the stage the first time, the crowd requested more.
“Guar-Di-An! Guar-Di-An! Guar-Di-An!” the crowd chanted in a frenzy, louder than I had ever heard a crowd chant for an encore before. The fantasy metal musicians went back on stage for more, much to the delight of the boisterous fans in attendance. The encore consisted of “Sacred Worlds,” “Twilight of the Gods,” and the much anticipated “Valhalla.” The band, obviously used to their fans singing along to their most poignant song, allowed the crowd to sing the chorus over and over again: “Valhalla, deliverance. Why’ve you ever forgotten me?” Viking-looking men held each other’s shoulders and sang the words like an incantation that could call the valkyries to take them to valhalla until the band put an end to the song and wished everyone a good night, but it wasn’t quite over. The fans resumed their chanting to invite the band back for an encore, and surprisingly, the German men obliged!
“Imaginations From The Other Side” was beautifully played, but it was “The Bard’s Song – In The Forest” that truly made the evening a spellbinding one. Green lights, acoustic guitars; the slow song was played soulfully, and the crowd never stopped singing, burying Kürsch’s voice on more than one occasion. Standing next to me, a man who towered over me had tears rolling down his cheeks as he sang with abandon, and he was far from being the only one in the vicinity. With the band and the crowd forming one cohesive entity, the song seemed to last hours.
Unfortunately, as all good things must come to an end, Blind Guardian topped off the evening with “Mirror Mirror” and bowed to the smitten fans who applauded until their hands went numb, thanking the band for a bewitching evening that was long overdue.
Written and Photographed by Kai Robidas
*edited by Kate Erickson