Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Blind Guardian - Beyond The Red Mirror (2015)

The German power house Blind Guardian is once again back with their unique power metal style that blends medieval fantasy and soaring melodies. A style that has taken them to the top of the metal chain, a place they have never left since the release of such legendary albums as "Nightfall In Middle Earth" and "Imaginations From The Other Side". Speaking of the later album, "Beyond The Red Mirror" is a concept album that acts like a sequel to "Imaginations From The Other Side", sort of as a celebration of its 20th anniversary. A pretty good way to celebrate one of the grandest albums in the band's discography.

Sound wise, there is no doubt that Blind Guardian has made both "Imaginations From The Other Side" and "Beyond The Red Mirror", but they are still two different albums that has their own strengths and weaknesses. While "Imaginations From The Other Side" was the darkest Blind Guardian album up to the date of its release, perfecting the band's sound to what it is today, this album is a more symphonic power metal record that uses a ton of orchestral means to make the album grander, or what do you say about three huge choirs from three different countries and two full scale orchestras. Grand is just the middle name when it comes to this album.

This grand orchestral sound does have its advantages, giving the album a strong personality, but it also has some disadvantages, like that it takes a huge chunk of the spotlight, leaving some of the band members behind. I find the overall production pretty weird since the twin guitars does not have as much force as I would like them to have, and the same goes with the drums. I can understand that this highlights the orchestras more than what a normal metal production would have allowed, but this was close to overkill. It still does not take away the fact that there are high quality musicians behind the instruments. Olbrich and Seipen produces tons of good riffs and solos, Ehmke puts in the right beats, and the wonderful sound of Hansi Kürsch's vocals are amazing as usual, maybe even better than ever.

Even if this album displays a side of the band that is new and innovative, it still has a solid ground of classic Blind Guardian metal that is very recognizable. The single "Twilight of The Gods" is easy to like thanks to its catchy melodies and excellent cooperation between Hansi and the choirs, while "The Ninth Wave" strikes with a heavy attitude, epic melodies and a very catchy chorus, all packed neatly in a 9 and a half minute spot. But it is when the album reaches mid point when it is truly lifting up towards the skies. Starting with the bonus song, the ballad "Distant Memories" brings the album to another level with its beautiful sound, and one of few songs where the over use of the orchestras is justified. The speed is picked up again in the following song, "The Holy Grail", a classic Blind Guardian attack that makes you bang your head and follow Kürsch in the vocal roller coaster. The middle part is completed then with the excellent "The Throne", sealing the best part of the album in perfect fashion.

The overall song quality is very nice and holds the high standard that the rest of the Blind Guardian discography holds (even if it contains some low marks like "Miracle Machine"), but in the end, it is the weird production and the over use of the orchestral arrangement that keeps the album from being a instant classic. "Beyond The Red Mirror" contains a lot of good quality music and it really hurts to know that it could have been even better if some better choices had been made. None the less, it is still a fun, grand album that every Blind Guardian fan should be proud of, and I definitely feel like the album is worth the 5 year long wait. Of course, it is not as good as "Imaginations From The Other Side", but for a sequel, it certainly does the 20 year old classic justice, which is all I ever hoped for.

Songs worthy of recognition: The Holy Grail, Distant Memories, The Throne

Rating: 8/10 Prophecies

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