Blind Guardian - "Beyond The Red Mirror" (CD)
"Beyond The Red Mirror" track listing:
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 Mind
9. Miracle Machine
10. The Grand Parade
Reviewed by CROMCarl on November 24, 2014
As an avid Blind Guardian fan since the days of “Tales from the Twilight World” (the album that I felt defined a sound and “subgenre”), the group heads up a handful of bands releasing albums that force me to deviate from the usual course of listening by standing up straight hearing every note from start to finish. Admittedly, the luster of the great Guardian has tarnished just a bit with the band’s obvious, but not shocking, turn towards a progressive direction. Who can blame them…stagnation from a musician’s point of view must be a terrible thing. However, stagnation from a listener’s point of view hasn’t been more at odds than with “A Twist in the Myth” and “A Night at the Opera.” On one hand, they contain some of my favorite songs from the German greats (“Skalds & Shadows” “Another Stranger Me” “Punishment Divine”), yet they resonated much differently than in the days of old.
At the risk of sounding hypocritical, I admit that early Blind Guardian is where my heart lies, though the band has never, ever released a bad album. Still, with every new release hope is renewed. So “Beyond the Red Mirror” drops on my lap and hope rises, only this time it was realized and that old excitement seems to have returned in full force. Let me explain….
In preparation for “Beyond the Red Mirror,” my mindset was on further progression with hints of old along with a head scratching curiosity for exactly where Hansi Kursch’s fascination with mirrors originates. The result is an album that brings back much of the electrifying magic of “Imaginations from the Other Side” along with heavy nods to the influences like Uriah Heep, Mike Oldfield, and above all Queen. Add to the mixture a modern almost slight touch of dare I say “techno” with some of the keyboards, particularly in the opening track “The Ninth Wave” and the opening measures of “Ashes of Eternity.” What you have is a band that continues to astound. Any of that resonating powder that was lost on this author with the last couple of releases comes in more than just a salt shaker this time around.
Before you enter the “Red Mirror” you should be aware of a few things. At times (non-shocker), there might be way more going on at any one time than some people can handle. There are moments when the orchestration even eclipses the guitar sound (“At the Edge of Time”), something that finds me wrestling between love and absolute hatred. Fortunately, song writing is a key strength of Blind Guardian so the band can go full “Van Canto” and the song itself will always be great (no disrespect to Van Canto, where lack of guitar is expected).
The album’s first single “Twilight of the Gods,” due to drop in December, is pretty much the microcosm of what you should expect with “Beyond the Red Mirror.” Every element new and old that is incorporated within can be heard in this one song, which itself is a “forward thinking” take on an older style. It would be shocking if it didn’t make an immediate impact on fans of new and old. It’s funny saying that in 2014, because back in 1995, the band was thought of in the same light. It’s only when time and music caught up with the sound did any “kink in the armor” (referring back to resonating) show.
For fans of the band’s old style, it would be a total shock if “The Holy Grail,” with its shades of “Twilight World,” and equally speedy “Ashes of Eternity” weren’t the top choices. They are for your author, as they combine the requisite speed and crunch to satisfy the lust for things long past. “The Holy Grail” is the most “old school” song the band has done in years. For fans of proggy new Blind Guardian, the songs would be “At the Edge of Time” and “Sacred Mind.” In the former, the orchestration is spectacular, but for the fact that it overtakes the guitar sound by a more than a mile. That stings a bit, since the band’s older guitar driven nature was what made it so attractive back in the days of discovery. Then there are the tracks that border on both, like “Prophecies” (the Uriah Heep is strong with this one) and “The Throne” (an eight minute builder). The “Grand Parade” grand finale already finds itself in the ranks of best Blind Guardian tunes, with its large bombastic nature. The album’s “Bard Song” or more appropriately “Skalds and Shadows” is “Miracle Machine.” The band’s knack for super fetching ballads is unprecedented in metal.
It seems that time and patience in building “Beyond the Red Mirror” has paid off with rejuvenated excitement. There are plenty of nods to old without sacrificing the group’s forward thinking mentality. Older fans alienated by “proggy BG,” finally have something to sink their teeth into. This isn’t to say that the band ever released anything bad…it just depends on which reflection in the mirror you choose to remember. Is the album the crowning achievement in a stellar career? Probably not…but compared to nearly every other band, Blind Guardian still stands on a iron hill that spans miles above.
Highs: Stronger ties to older material, enough to bring the power metal base back in force.
Lows: Sometimes the orchestration overshadows the band's most important weapon...the guitar.
Bottom line: Blind Guardian gazes into the red mirror reflecting "imaginations from the older side."
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