Beyond The Red Mirror
30th January 2015 - Nuclear Blast Records
01. The Ninth Wave
02. Twilight of the Gods
04. At the Edge of Time
05. Ashes of Eternity
06. The Holy Grail
07. The Throne
08. Sacred Mind
09. Miracle Machine
10. Grand Parade
Do Blind Guardian even need an introduction? They’re one of the best power metal bands to have ever existed – if not the outright best. They’ve been around since 1984, and have been pushing the boundaries for what power metal can be since. Since 1992’s Somewhere Far Beyond, they’ve released albums less frequently than most bands – waiting three or four years between each output – but that has clearly had a positive effect on their music, as everything they’ve released since has been a near-masterpiece. Their tenth album, Beyond The Red Mirror, is their first in five years, following up to 2010’s At The Edge of Time.
One of the most notable things from quite early on is that the arrangements on the vocals are possibly their most ambitious since their magnum opus A Night At The Opera - and album which saw some songs needing rearrangement for live performance, so impossible were they to perform in their original format. There’s a also density to the lyrics, but the vocal melodies are well written – especially with that in mind – and they are just as compelling as Blind Guardian’s earlier output. Hansi Kursch really is one of the best vocalists in metal, and this is merely further evidence to prove that claim.
There are a fair amount of orchestral elements present – something the band has experimented with in the past – but this is a much fuller realisation of the sounds that began on At The Edge of Time. While there is no song that stands out with quite the same sense of epic scope as “Sacred Worlds” or “Wheel of Time”, “At The Edge of Time” gets near there, and opening track “The Ninth Wave” sounds really excellent as well, with an intro reminiscent of Two Steps From Hell. Given that the band worked with three different worldwide choirs and two full 90-piece orchestras, it’s hardly surprising that it turned out that way.
The mixing on Blind Guardian’s albums has always been good, and it would have to be here in order to get the most out of these orchestral and choral performances. There are a few times where the vocals are a bit buried under everything else that is going on, but for the most part it is really good; it’s well balanced, with the guitars not at all drowned out by the symphonies (see Fleshgod Apocalypse’s Labyrinth for how to not do this).
In the songwriting department, a lot of Beyond The Red Mirror feels a bit less than what the band are truly capable of. Songs like “Prophecies” and “The Holy Grail” are incredible, but then tracks like “Ashes of Eternity” don’t do as much for you. The advance single “Twilight of the Gods” has a few good moments, but it too doesn’t quite hold up to the best of the band. That song, coupled with album opener “The Ninth Wave”, do not mark the best of starts for Beyond The Red Mirror. It redeems itself well with the next tracks, “Prophecies” and “At the Edge of Time” however; both are full of fantastic melodies and fist-pumping orchestral arrangements, and are truly outstanding works of melodic power metal.
So Beyond The Red Mirror is split in terms of good and not-so-good, but Blind Guardian’s not-so-good is still better than most other bands can muster. They are a fantastically consistent band, and whilst the record is certainly not their best, it’s a solid album and definitely worth listening to, not least of all for the incredibly ambitious vocal and melodic structures. It makes great use of the symphonies without overusing them by forcing them into every song, and whilst some tracks are not all that interesting, there’s more than enough excellent material here to make up for it. It’s not quite as immediately catchy as At the Edge of Time, and whilst it might be a bit difficult to wrap one’s head around at first, the experience is ultimately be a rewarding one.
Best songs: “Prophecies” “The Holy Grail” “The Throne”