It's a decision as off-putting to metal heads as Supercuts and sobriety. This Friday, two of the most anticipated trad-metal shows of the year will be taking place on the same night, at different venues. Longhairs must decide between seeing the Cleveland debut of German power-metal favorites Blind Guardian (along with Yngwie Malmsteen devotees Symphony X) at the Agora or catching the Dio/King's X/Hammerfall gig at the Odeon. We know -- asking old-school metal fans to choose between the two sucks almost as much as last call, but in order to make things a little easier, we thought we'd compare and contrast the tours to help headbangers determine the better value.
What it's gonna sound like: A heavy-metal hodgepodge. Swedish meatballs Hammerfall are full-on power-metal throwbacks, content to sing about such hot-button issues as, uh, dragon invasion (somewhere, Matthew McConaughey is nodding in agreement). They may be among the only bands in the world who actually take Manowar seriously.
King's X is the odd band on the bill. Fronted by a gay black man in a scene as white as a seagull sandwich, this Texas prog-rock trio brings some much-needed diversity to the fold. The group is more into the Beatles than fire and brimstone, and has the dubious distinction of being cited as an influence by countless bands -- from Pearl Jam to Anthrax to the late Soundgarden -- who sell way more records and don't have to open for friggin' Dio.
Finally, there's Ronnie James. At 60, he's old enough to be your dad. And if you were lucky, he would be. Yeah, most fifth-graders are taller than the Danny Devito-sized rocker, but so what if he can never board any of the cool roller coasters at Cedar Point and has to settle for the merry-go-round instead? Dio's voice is a thrill ride in and of itself, dude.
Necessary accoutrements: Hermetic, sperm-count-reducing jeans; a pair of high tops; perhaps a scabbard.
Would Satan approve? Doubtful. After all, Ronnie James once sang on a gospel album with Kansas's Kerry Livgren. We believe it was called Holy Shit -- or at least it should have been.
Moreover, two-thirds of King's X used to be in Christian-rock creampuffs Petra, and the band once included Bible passages in the liner notes of an album. Since singer Doug Pinnick has come out the closet, though, the band has distanced itself from its Christian past.
Fun fact: Dio has a street named after him in his hometown of Cortland, New York, called Dio Way. Take that, Ozzy.
Verdict: A very solid, well-rounded show. We'd pay good money just to see Hammerfall bassist Magnus Rosen alone. The perpetually smiling Rosen has to be the happiest dude in metal, with the triumphant countenance of a toddler who just passed some gas. The last time we caught the band in town, opening for Death at Peabody's in 1998, the guy never closed his mouth once, displaying a huge, gaping grin like a heavy-metal hyena. After you hear Hammerfall's totally sincere, Beavis and Butt-head-esque take on Judas Priest's "Breaking the Law," you'll be beaming, too.
Blind Guardian/Symphony X
What it's gonna sound like: The aural equivalent of an all-you-can-eat buffet, with emphasis on the cheese bar. Blind Guardian is heavy metal at its most -- absolutely most -- bloated. Think Rush Limbaugh in a codpiece. Think Slayer wrasslin' Jethro Tull. Better yet, don't think at all; it'll only make you realize how silly you're being for even reading this. The band came to fame in the late '80s by churning out technical, highly progressive power metal while adding the velocity of speed metal. In their native Germany -- where irony is punishable by law, we hear -- the band is huge.
For their part, New Jersey's Symphony X is as much a heavy-metal caricature as their tourmates. The band began as total Malmsteen disciples and soon gained a following among guys who get more hot and bothered by Guitar World than Playboy. Much like Blind Guardian, the band got an early career boost by developing a rabid following in Japan. Speaking of which, does anyone have the slightest clue as to why the Japanese love this stuff so much? Seriously. The country is like life-support for crap-ass metal. Granted, Japan has given us many important cultural contributions -- the X-Box, Sapporo -- but it's just too bad the country has better taste in beer than metal.
Necessary accoutrements: A nine-sided die; your role-playing buddies (you definitely won't have a date); a desperate look in the eyes.
Would Satan approve? Most likely. Blind Guardian's original name was Lucifer's Heritage. Poor Beelzebub. First he gets banished from heaven; now this. How the mighty are fallen.
Would Bilbo Baggins approve? Oh hell yes. In an effort to pay tribute to J.R.R. Tolkien -- and ensure that they never get laid, ever -- the band's Nightfall in Middle Earth is a concept record based on the author's novel The Silmarillion. The disc even boasts spoken-word storylines involving trolls and other mythical creatures -- like girlfriends.
Verdict: Okay, we'll admit it -- as goofy as it is, Nightfall is a pretty rippin' record, and Blind Guardian has had its moments throughout its long career. But the band's latest, A Night at the Opera, is truly one of the lamest records of the year -- it should have Freddie Mercury doing pirouettes in his grave. And Symphony X has always been awful.
Guess we'll see you atop the silver mountain then, dudes.