With thirty one years of active service and numerous successful studio releases to show for it, German symphonic Power Metallers Blind Guardian are in the privileged position of having a major say in how the whole music industry ‘game’ is to be played these days.
Spending twenty four months in the studio in preparation of their latest musical project many not be exactly what their loyal fans and their label Nuclear Blast had been hoping for, as the period in between this and the last studio album was raised to a staggering five years, but the ten compositions that the members of Blind Guardian are presenting us with in “Beyond The Red Mirror” are so brilliantly balanced, finely crafted and expertly executed that this has been a release definitely worth waiting for.
Working on technically demanding arrangements while utilising the services of various choirs and orchestras was an approach that the band first attempted during the recordings of 2002’s “A Night At The Opera” and the end result, as I am sure most of you die-hards will be sure to remember, left much to be desired.
Luckily for all of us, in “Beyond The Red Mirror” these cunning Germans seem to have finally managed to strike the right balance between the Metal and the symphonic/operatic elements that define their unique style, exploiting both to maximum effect.
Though the album is dominated by colossal riffs and melodic vocal passages that fans of the band have not really heard since the days of “Imaginations From The Other Side” (1995) and “Nightfall In Middle Earth” (1998), these ten compositions have been adorned and enriched by pompous orchestral passages and numerous epic-sounding choral themes – elements that definitely benefit the album in terms of feel and atmosphere while, thankfully, not undermining its natural heaviness.
Few songs have had such an immediate and decisive impact on me over the years as the album’s opening track “The Ninth Wave”. Kicking off with a moody, epic-sounding choral intro, this nine and a half minute opus is filled with enough lead guitar melodies and overlapping vocal melodies to justify every possible association with the band’s glorious past (see “Imaginations From The Other Side”) while “Twilight Of The Gods” is the kind of galloping, riff-orientated up-tempo tune that people have always associated with the music of Blind Guardian.
Hansi Kürsch’s commanding vocals work miracles when combined with layers of inspirational choral themes in the amazing “Prophecies” while both “At The Edge Of Time” and “Ashes Of Eternity” provide further examples of a successful symbiosis of Rock and classical elements in their studio album number ten.
If you think that Blind Guardian’s music has lost some of its aggression and urgency over time, then simply listen to the blistering riffs and bombastic drum beats of “The Holy Grail” and then allow the epic-sounding orchestral melodies of “The Throne” to take you on a trip to musical landscapes that only this band is capable of offering.
“Sacred Mind” is a thematically varied piece which, at times, presents the listener with some of the darkest vocal deliveries on record while the three minute piano-led ballad “Miracle Machine” is another example of the band proving its adulation of the music of the mighty Rock legends Queen.
In the album’s second nine and a half minute composition, namely “Grand Prade”, the quintet has certainly left the best til last. Flamboyant guitar passages, massive supporting riffs, up-lifting orchestral scores, pompous choral themes…all elements work tirelessly for the benefit of the song and offer the band’s fans one of the most sensational and thematically demanding Blind Guardian compositions to date – the most appropriate way to conclude this truly sensational album indeed.
I’ll be honest with you: even though I have always been naturally inclined to support Blind Guardian and their musical vision, never in my wildest dreams did I expect them to be able to release an album that could openly compete for my loyalty with my ‘desert island disc’ choice “Somewhere Far Beyond” (1992) but that is exactly what “Beyond The Red Mirror” has managed to achieve here.
In retrospect, one can appreciate this album as the culmination of a fourteen year long process that started after the release of “A Night At The Opera” – a process that finally finds its true voice in an album that may just manage to define what proper Symphonic Power Metal should sound like in the years and decades to come!
A truly outstanding album that deserves the highest praise possible.