Monday, February 9, 2015

Blind Guardian - Beyond the Red Mirror

In it's close to 30 year history, Blind Guardian has never released a bad album. That's right, you read that correctly, not a one. Every album the band has released, including their post-Imaginations albums were nothing short of spectacular. Yeah, their sound became more progressive, symphonic, even over the top. But that never got in the way of the sheer brilliance of their songwriting. With the release of their tenth full length, Beyond the Red Mirror, Blind Guardian has taken all the elements that made them great and combined them in an album of sheer brilliance that one would expect from a band of this caliber.

This is epic as only Blind Guardian can do. We have orchestras and choirs, namely the Hungarian Studio Orchestra and Choir Budapest and the FILMharmonic Orchestra and Choir Prague as is evident on the album opener, the monstrously epic "The Ninth Wave." This song seems to be a continuation of "Sacred Worlds" from the previous outing, At The Edge of Time. However, instead of just mirroring that song they expanded on it and created something even more over the top but brilliant. Starting with male choirs, gradually adding the female choirs as the song builds. As the choirs build the orchestra arrangements builds as well until the guitars kick in and Hansi's unmistakeable voice. He sounds better than ever as he always seem to sound as if he is a bard singing a tale of old. The chorus is bombastic and catchy. The background vocals are impeccably done complimenting Hansi's tone. This is not the most riff centric song but instead they use the melodies to make this song what it is. When the riffing is used it's typical Blind Guardian as with the leads. The dual harmonized leads are Andre Olbrich's signature sound and add to the melodies. The song ends with the same choirs that opened it...and this is just the first song!

In contrast to the epic opener we have a lot of metal here that reminds me a lot of Imaginations from the Other Side and even Nightfall in Middle Earth. The opening of "Prophecies" reminds me of "Blood Tears" from Nightfall but when the riffs kick in this song is all business. Moving between mid paced rocking riffs and some speed metal riffing, it's the melodies that draw you in. The leads are also highly on display here. "Ashes of Eternity" is another riff monster that pummel you but with tons of melody, especially in the choirs, which are just incredible. Olbrich's signature solos are the icing on the cake with this song. This is actually one of the heaviest songs they've done in a long time, second maybe to "The Holy Grail", which is another riff fest with the band showing their speedy side once again. This is a Blind Guardian speed metal song that could have been released on any of their 90s albums. The vocal melodies are, again, just pure perfection.

"Sacred Mind" starts off slow but picks it up after a bit with more of the band's signature riffing. At first listen it seemed that this would be a slight disappointment but it actually builds to be a really strong song. Speedy and riff laden with great vocal melodies and monster guitar work, this song could actually be on the epic side of this album. "Miracle Machine" might be seen as a weaker song as it's just a piano, strings and vocals and isn't the strongest Blind Guardian of this type, but it is necessary as a prelude to the album closer "Grand Parade", another monster epic song. In contrast to the opener, this is a long epic number with all the pomp of the opener but more riff oriented and the perfect way to close the album.

The version I have is the two disc mail order earbook edition. This version has two bonus tracks that are just as strong as the rest of this album with "Doom" being the strongest of the two. This song is a rather epic song going in several directions without being muddled. Mid paced in places, speedy in others the melodies are infectious and the chorus is really strong. This song closes this version of the album and actually adds another dimension to an already amazing release. All in all this is the best Blind Guardian album in two decades. As I said, I don't think they've ever released an album that is not worthy of this band's name but this album pushes the limits. It just gets better with each listen and has that magic and intensity that made me love the band to begin with. This album shows that Blind Guardian are still leaders in the metal world.


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