King Arthur’s Reign — Blind Guardian, Grave Digger Fall Tour Pays Homage to Legendary Ruler

Editor’s Note: My husband Brian writes his second post for The Stratton Setlist about the Sept. 20 Blind Guardian and Grave Digger show at the Crofoot Ballroom in Pontiac, Mich.

King Arthur, the Once and Future King, briefly returned to the Crofoot Ballroom in Pontiac, Mich. on Sept. 20.

He didn’t come from England, but instead arrived from Germany accompanied by bards singing of his deeds. In this case, the bards were power metal bands Blind Guardian and Grave Digger.

Grave Digger's Axel Ritt, left, and Chris Boltendahl sing about Excalibur at the Crofoot Ballroom in Pontiac, Mich.
Grave Digger’s Axel Ritt, left, and Chris Boltendahl perform at the Crofoot Ballroom in Pontiac, Mich.

Together, Blind Guardian and Grave Digger told their mystical King Arthur stories through power metal, a subgenre of heavy metal music characterized by melodies, speed and rousing choruses and lyrics inspired by fantasy, mythology and history.

It’s like taking the music of Iron Maiden or Dio from the early ‘80s and combining it with Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody.” Power metal flourished from these musical roots in the mid-1980s and has thrived in Germany and other European countries ever since.

Back in Pontiac, the night opened with Grave Digger, led by the charismatic Chris Boltendahl on vocals. Boltendahl took us through a setlist of songs that celebrated heavy metal culture, the rebellions of the Scots against the English, witches and hangmen.

But, the highlight for me was their song, “Excalibur,” which perfectly set the tone for the night. The audience clearly knew the song, and together with Boltendahl, everyone raised their arms and proudly sang the chorus:

“Excalibur/Sword of the kings/Take me on your wings/Back where I belong.”

This song served as the perfect segue for Blind Guardian, who performed their 1995 album, “Imaginations from the Other Side” in its entirety that night. The album contains one of my favorite Blind Guardian songs, a ballad called “A Past and Future Secret.”

Hansi Kürsch sings of King Arthur's legendary tales at the Crofoot Ballroom.
Hansi Kürsch sings of King Arthur’s legendary tales.

When they finally played the song, Blind Guardian vocalist Hansi Kürsch said in his strong German accent, “This is a song told by a guy called Merlin about a guy called Arthur.”

Drummer Frederik Ehmke took a break, while guitarists André Olbrich and Marcus Siepen traded their electric guitars for acoustic ones, and seated on stools, began the song.

The somber song, which would not sound out place at a Renaissance Festival, tells how Merlin foresaw the life and death of King Arthur:

“I knew his name/He’s the one who pulled the sword/Out of the stone/It’s how that ancient tale begins.”

This song is inspired by T.H. White’s novel, “The Once and Future King,” and it’s one of reasons I love Blind Guardian, and power metal in general. Together, we share a passion for fantasy, magical quests and triumphant endings.

Hearing these songs about King Arthur takes me back to eighth grade when I first read “Le Morte d’Arthur” and fell in love with Arthurian literature.

Blind Guardian also has songs about Michael Morrcock’s “Elric of Melniboné” saga, Robert Jordan’s “Wheel of Time” series, Homer’s “Illiad” and more. I’ve read all of these stories as well and reliving them through music brings on a whole new meaning for me.

Best of all, though, are Blind Guardian’s songs inspired by J.R.R. Tolkien, the grandfather of fantasy literature. In particular, their 1998 album, “Nightfall in Middle-Earth” is my favorite and a masterpiece of power metal.

A concept album based on the events in Tolkien’s “Silmarillion,” it details the tragic struggles of the elves against the dark lord Morgoth. The songs brilliantly capture the epic scope and poignant losses of the work.

The crowd was in for a treat that night since Blind Guardian played three songs from “Nightfall in Middle-Earth,” including my favorite, “Curse of Feanor.” With fists pumping in the air, I wholeheartedly sang along as the elf lord Faenor lamented his sins and vowed revenge against Morgoth.

Blind Guardian closed the night with the fan favorite, “Mirror Mirror,” which tells of the inevitable destruction of the hidden city of Gondolin. Hearing all of these deeds celebrated in song was exhilarating.

For me, it was truly a celebration since attending Blind Guardian concert is akin to reveling in fantasy literature and metal.

Sure, it might sound geeky, but trust me, when you’re there and you see the energy between the band and the crowd and the earnestness with which the band plays, all such thoughts disappear.

You excitedly belt out the songs with the bards and raise your arms to the sky beckoning King Arthur’s brief return.

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