There may be people out there who don't regard BLIND GUARDIAN's "Imaginations From The Other Side" as a classic heavy metal record, but those people are wrong and deserve to be publicly scorned for their foolishness. "Imaginations…" remains a lot of fans' favorite album by the Germans, not least because it seemed to confidently define the band's sound at a point when melodic bombast and theatricality were, with mainstream rock and metal folk, about as popular as genital warts. Hansi Kürsch knew differently then, and 25 years later, this triple-disc celebration of a seminal masterpiece feels like vindication on a huge scale. BLIND GUARDIAN raced to the front of the pack when this was originally released in 1995, and they remain the undisputed champions of this stuff. Listening to this deluxe extravaganza's first disc, a complete performance of the album captured in Oberhausen, Germany, in 2016, the timeless nature of the material and the diehard ethos that has propelled Kürsch's crew forward for three decades are abundantly apparent. There's still plenty of fire in the band's collective belly, and they play these revered songs as if their lives depend on it, with their leader, as ever, in the finest of voices.
The second disc comprises the album itself, in its 2012 remixed and remastered form. Turbo-nerds will doubtless pore over the details and, in many cases, declare the original to be superior, but frankly the latter version sounds utterly incredible and noticeably more vital and vivid than that first draft. And of course, as many artists have pointed out over the years, the original version does still exist. You can have both. It's cool.
BLIND GUARDIAN are plainly catering for the true devotees here, however, because this lavish set's third disc is a definite obsessives-only affair. With instrumental versions of the whole album and a smattering of demos, it's aimed squarely at the BG completist. Weirdly, a terrific orchestral version of "A Past and Future Secret" is chucked in at the very end, seemingly as an afterthought. Meanwhile, the very notion of listening to a Kürsch-free BLIND GUARDIAN may seem preposterous, but if you have an ear for finer details, instrumental versions of "I'm Alive", "Mordred's Song" and the rest are subtly revealing and further evidence of this band's inherent classiness. But if it's primal heavy metal thrills you crave, a Blu-Ray boasting a film of the entire "Live in Oberhausen" set completes the picture, with the undeniably exhilarating sight of masters at work, in front of a psychotically enthusiastic crowd.
Not every re-packaged classic gets the treatment it deserves, but this is about as comprehensive and megafan-friendly as it gets. A lovingly crafted piece of highbrow heavy metal art, "Imaginations From The Other Side" hasn't aged a bit.