Written by: Lord Hsrah
Beyond the Red Mirror follows after a long 5-year wait since German power metal titans Blind Guardian's last studio release, which was 2010's At the Edge of Time. The record received warm and positive reception from both fans and the media alike. Beyond the Red Mirror, however, is a completely different gravy compared to At the Edge... or some of their releases of the 21st century such as A Twist In The Myth, which saw the band move increasingly to a more progressive direction.
Released by Nuclear Blast, Beyond the Red Mirror is a concept album that loosely follows the events of their 1995 masterpiece Imaginations From the Other Side. And like it's prequel, this is a very riff driven album that was the Krefeld-formed band's style for the 80's and the first part of their 90's records. The orchestral elements climb higher up the pecking order of the song composition percentage, taking the band to a more classical side. This is also the first album to feature new bassist, Barend Courbois, following the departure of long time session bass player, Oliver Holzwarth, who left the German outfit after filling in for bass duties, both live and in the studio for 13 years.
Guitar duo Andre Olbrich and Marcus Siepen go back to their riffy, thrashy, speed metal-ish roots to take over this album and, much like Imaginations..., the atmosphere is considerably dark in contrast to their later albums that followed the '95 Virgin Records release. Blind Guardian's tenth full-length drops the endless layers of melodic lead guitar work that Olbrich started laying down following the release of "Imaginations..." on their subsequent records, and follows quite a bit of a simpler guitar writing approach in comparison. The spotlight here is shared by the orchestra and the choir, which add a lot of depth to the atmosphere and the feel of the album, does an amazing job of filling in the void left by the missing guitar layers as well.
Band creator and original vocalist, Hansi Kursch, is just as powerful and dynamic as ever. His vocal prowess doesn't seem to have waned as he explores harsh, raspy and screamed vocal styles alongside deep, calm and softer tones to better fit the songs as and when they demand. Kursch does well to cover the vocal front and overlayering of his vocal lines highlight the very tone and timber in his voice.
The album opens with a grand orchestral passage heard in "The Ninth Wave" that the choir perfectly complements. The "utopia, discordia, dystopia..." chants sung in unison scream a loud "HYPE!!!" as the song opens hard and strong. The symphonic groundwork is basically laid down here in this nine-and-a-half minute epic and the symphony carries the song while simple riffs accompany it, leading into the more guitar-driven "Twilight of the Gods" which is more reminiscent of their older material. But the rest of the album, though filled with chunky riffs, sounds quite, how do I say... "unorthodox", though it has a good bit of elements from both the pre- and post-Imaginations era material. The lyrics draw references from a range of topics, all tailored and suited to fit the concept aspect of the album. "Sacred Mind", for instance, draws on the city of "Xanadu" from the film "Citizen Kane."
Overall the album is produced well--of course in the vein of a lot of modern production--and the 5-piece outfit do not stray away from the classic sounds that many are accustomed to. Where they do stray away, however, is the kind of compositions and the type of song writing that they have undertaken for the album. The subversion certainly comes the expense of the foundations that releases like 1998's all-time classic Nightfall In Middle Earth laid down, i.e. the melodic guitar parts, leads that weave a story, vocals that explore various atmospheres and compositions that wrap it all ever so smoothly and perfectly to tell an amazing tale.
This is not to say that Beyond the Red Mirror doesn't have any of those, as it does. I mean, it is, after all, "the Bards" that we're talking about here. But the guitar emphasis seems to be missing. Certain songs are indeed too weak for a Blind Guardian album, and while Beyond... is no Nightfall... or Imaginations... - and pretty much like the movie trope of the sequel being unable to measure up to its predecessor - it is still a very enjoyable album despite its flaws. Songs like "The Holy Grail", "The Throne," and "Distant Memories" (bonus track) do well to carry the album along with the two aforementioned songs. “Beyond…” achieves what a lot of us think is impossible to - satisfy everyone. The album appeases the thrash-only-loving cult of Blind Guardian fans (you'd be surprised to know they do exist), and those who like some nice riffage must love this album as well, and at the same time, the record also doesn't fail to show some love to the classical (both, music and Blind Guardian) lovers.
Blind Guardian - Beyond the Red Mirror was released 2015 via Nuclear Blast
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We provide thoughtful reviews of music that is heavy, gloomy...and loud enough to wake us from slumber. Written by a highfalutin peasantry!