Released by: Nuclear Blast
Release Date: January 30th, 2015
Genre: Symphonic Power Metal
Hansi Kursch – Vocals
André Olbrich – Guitars
Marcus Siepen – Guitars
Frederik Ehmke – Drums
1. The Ninth Wave
2. Twilight of the Gods
4. At the Edge of Time
5. Ashes of Eternity
6. The Holy Grail
7. The Throne
8. Sacred Minds
9. Miracle Machine
10. Grand Parade
With many bands it can be easy for their latest album to be ignored and lost in the shuffle, especially if it happens to be released during a particularly busy time of year. Such has never been the case for Blind Guardian, whose album releases are always treated as some kind of special event among power metal fans. Keeping with their tradition of taking as much time as is required to create a rich and deeply layered album, their tenth full length release Beyond the Red Mirror comes almost exactly four and a half years after its immediate predecessor At the Edge of Time. As soon as the album was revealed, it was instantly considered a top contender for 2015 by many, and happily the band has once again delivered.
Over the years their sound has greatly evolved, moving from an aggressive speed metal sound on their first few albums, to the more complex, deeply layered brand of prog infused power metal they’ve been playing since Nightfall in Middle Earth. Traces of that album and its successor A Night at the Opera can be found on Beyond the Red Mirror, but those awaiting a return to their original sound are in for some serious disappointment. More than anything else, fans should expect a continuation of what the band produced on At the Edge of Time. That album featured some very strong symphonic elements at times, and on this album the band has gone all the way in that direction, bringing in a big choir and three huge orchestras, to create some very epic symphonic metal tracks, while still not abandoning their power metal roots, or the prog elements they’ve developed on recent albums. At times it feels like the band is experimenting more than ever on this album, and moving further and further away from their classic sound, but they still always manage to bring back just enough speed and aggression to keep their essence intact.
I only have one minor issue with Beyond the Red Mirror, and that is with the production. At least on the promo copy I was given, the guitars and drums sound a bit weak and are, for the most part, buried deep beneath the sounds of keyboards, orchestras and vocals. This is especially noticeable on the opening 9 minute epic “The Ninth Wave”, which opens with some awesome choir vocals, introduces the epic orchestral work, and features an incredibly addictive chorus. It’s certainly one of the most ambitious opening tracks I’ve ever heard, and I can understand and appreciate what the band was going for, but unfortunately the production and the rather limited guitar work combine together to make parts of the song, particularly the verses, feel a bit disjointed. Though I will say, after the first two verses the song picks up and the instrumental section is very good, while obviously Hansi sounds fantastic as always during the chorus.
While the opener doesn’t quite strike the right balance between symphonic and power metal, other songs achieve better results. Of particular note are “Prophecies” and “The Throne”, both of which start out slowly, before picking up the pace and expertly mixing together some of their traditional power metal with their more recently established symphonic and prog elements, resulting in two highly complex songs with several tempo changes, that manage to be incredibly rewarding, especially for fans of their later albums, though I feel the former in particular should have enough speedier sections to satisfy fans of their earlier work as well. “Sacred Minds” is similar, but much darker and heavier, and it certainly feels like it would fit in well on Nightfall in Middle Earth. It even has some of the most aggressive vocals I’ve heard from Hansi in quite a while, with some occasional screams thrown in for good measure.
Continuing with the more experimental side of the album, “At the Edge of Time” has a much more cinematic feel to it than anything they’ve done previously, almost feeling like some of kind of musical at times. The orchestra and choirs dominate this track, along with Hansi, but while the guitars are mostly buried, I find the more grandiose feel helps make it a much more satisfying song than “The Ninth Wave”, and everything seems to come together surprisingly well. I’d even go as far as to say it’s one of my favorites on the album, though I expect some people to hate it. Much hype has been given to the 9 minute closer “Grand Parade” and rightfully so, because it’s definitely one of their most epic songs to date. It starts off slow and once again places a strong emphasis on the symphonic elements, with the chorus once again being something special, but the arrangements are extremely inventive and there’s some very effective up tempo passages later in the song. It’s another one of their many highly ambitious works where everything just came together in a wonderful way.
Fans of their earlier work do have a few songs to look forward to. Of particular note is the single “Twilight of the Gods”, which feels very similar to the previous lead single “A Voice in the Dark”, in that it has some slight speed metal elements mixed with the more modern style of the band’s recent albums, resulting in an explosive, highly energetic progressive power metal track. The most old-school track on the album is “The Holy Grail”, an ultra speedy track dominated by excellent riffs, strong vocals and of course a catchy chorus. It’s definitely the heaviest song the band has done in recent years, and manages to be another instant favorite. Another speedier track is “Ashes of Eternity”, which sounds strikingly similar to “Fly”/”Dead Sound of Misery” from A Twist in the Myth. Lastly, we have “Miracle Machine”, the lone ballad. As always, Hansi excels at ballads, and the song is simple but in a very charming way. It joins the likes of “Nightfall”, “Skalds & Shadows” and “Curse My name”, as being yet another Blind Guardian ballad that manages to be one of the highlights of its album.
While other big name German power metal bands have left me a bit less than impressed in recent years, Blind Guardian continues to be one of the most consistently inventive and enjoyable bands in the genre. Beyond the Red Mirror shows the band moving even further into a more symphonic progressive metal direction, but the bursts of power metal and epic vocal melodies ensure it can’t be mistaken as being by any other band, while their songwriting continues to be remarkably strong. Fans of their earlier albums have at least a bit to look forward to, but I think this album will be best enjoyed by those who started getting into the band with Nightfall in Middle Earth, and especially those who loved At the Edge of Time. As someone who doesn’t consider any of their albums to be less than excellent, I can confidently say Beyond the Red Mirror extends the streak to ten.
Written by Travis