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[COLUMN] Geeks In Metal

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“I can’t fly,” Bran said. “I can’t, I can’t…”

How do you know? Have you ever tried?

— George R.R. Martin, A Game of Thrones (1996)

In this edition of Geeks In Metal, we will be deviating away from the extreme end of metal, and instead focusing on one of power metal’s most prestigious acts, Germany’s Blind Guardian.

Blind Guardian are a band unique to their own niche. Inimitable and inspired, over their three decade career, the German four-piece have touched many times on the works of well-respected and established authors: ranging from the likes of J.R.R. Tolkien, to Robert Jordan, to Stephen King.

Today, we will be discussing another author Blind Guardian have in their past covered: that of American writer George R.R. Martin and his series A Song of Ice and Fire; with a specific focus on the first book in his epic fantasy series being A Game of Thrones. And further, to the character of Brandon “Bran” Stark.

In 2010, Blind Guardian released their ninth studio album, At the Edge of Time. Lauded and critically successful, the album featured a collection of conceptual songs covering a whole myriad of works by various fantasy authors, along with other historical figures like John Milton, who too had select pieces of theirs chosen and paid homage to. Here, we will be discussing the sixth track of the eight-track album (which will in time be covered fully), as well as the album’s single, A Voice in the Dark.

Blind Guardian are no strangers to the works of George R.R. Martin (with At the Edge of Time also featuring another song inspired by his books, War of the Thrones), and as is always the case, all music and lyrics were composed by band frontman, Hansi Kürsch, and guitarist, André Olbrich.

With A Voice in the Dark, it sees Blind Guardian dive into one of the more compelling chapters from A Game of Thrones: that of Bran’s vivid dreaming whilst unconscious from the fall that had failed to kill him, but instead left him paralysed. In this chapter, Bran first comes to hear the voice of the three-eyed crow, an unusual creature Bran had never seen or heard before. Speaking to him as if in his ear, yet still afar. For anyone caught up with the books or the popular television series, we now know the purpose and role of the three-eyed crow and his plans for Bran, but at the point of A Game of Thrones that this song takes its basis in, none of these things were known. Bran was flying blindly, so to speak; being opened to a world he’d never seen before — one which the three-eyed crow adamantly pressed is one Bran has to see. By taking this plunge, Bran is forced to make a decision: learn to “fly” (as the three-eyed does, wings or not) or die.

From its opening moments, A Voice in the Dark captures this intensity and peril in equal measure. A chaotic, quick-riffed intro met with the clangour of sharp drumming sets things into motion. At the point Bran accepts things and swoops into flight, the song comes alive. As it moves along, it does a more-than-fine job iterating Bran’s cynical thoughts and general confusion as to his predicament.

As the known world is exposed before his unbelieving eyes, the instruments dash with a flurried vigour. Heightened by the panicked, yet precise vocals of Kürsch — which at times seems to mirror at once both the confusion of Bran and the urgent nature of the three-eyed crow.

Something that works particularly well with A Voice in the Dark is the way the narrative slowly unravels how Bran is the “key” to everything that is beginning to take place around him in the world of Westeros and beyond, and equally to the way the lyrics contrast the infamous line of “Believe in dark wings and dark words” (a very important phrase from the books, denoting the bad news that arrives on the wings of a messenger raven), with the notion of “Black shadows they hide and they wait / But they soon will return”.

This ominous sense of foreboding arrives with the realisation to Bran — amidst a beholden sense of fear he can’t escape — that in order to weather the terrible winter that is to come, he will need to wake up: “Now find a way / Cause you’re the key / Begin to understand”.

Experiencing all the pain around him, the erratic nature of the music mirrors Bran’s plight; one where, as described by the three-eyed crow…

Paralyzed and frozen
Free your mind
You’re broken
Paralyzed and frozen
Learn to roam
Don’t look back

Unknowingly to Bran, he is being taught the art of clairvoyance. He foresees the pain and suffering that is to come; he feels it scratching its way closer within him. To overcome the darkness and the swallowing descent he must “be aware”, he must awake. It is frantic and desperate, and as the verses hurry with the swift chorus and ringing refrain of Olbrich and Marcus Siepen‘s guitars, the echoing thoughts of Hansi Kürsch are made known with keen resolve.

Bran’s body drifts now but continues to rush to the depths below. “On through the mist, I’m facing ground,” he ponders. He knows he “won’t fly again”, that he won’t walk, but also, somehow, knows that his story is not over; that there is a greater purpose awaiting him somewhere beyond, far out of his current understanding but of which, “There from the ruins [he] will rise”. The pace quickens near the end as the remaining time for Bran’s decision seems to tick away hurriedly with the accompaniment of Olbrich’s impassioned guitar solo. Ultimately, the song comes to its ends as the chorus began, with a dire warning:

Fear the voice in the dark
Be aware now
Black shadows they hide and they wait
But they soon will return

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