Sunday, February 15, 2015

Blind Guardian - Beyond the Red Mirror [2015]

More than being just a beloved paragon of Teutonic epic power metal, the way I've perceived Blind Guardian over the years has evolved from a visualization as a steadfast German act to a wonderful explosive tumult of symphonic music, power metal and just unabashed Lord of the Rings nerdery, which I can't help but relate to. Parading forth from their humble speed metal initiation during the late 80's to what most people (including me) probably see their peak with the subsequent records of 1995-1997, the band has scarcely disappointed, though admittedly mellowed in stride after ''A Night at the Opera''. My humble obsession for the band and their surprisingly serious antics stemmed from my ecstatic discovery of ''Nightfall in Middle-Earth'', which (a big fuck you to all the sleazy haters) was so impeccable, so fucking peerless that it just swooped my heart away in a flock of marauding orcs and glazing elves throwing down Silmarillion style. After so many disappointments in the last decade my expectations naturally plummeted, so it was clear from the start that the Germans' latest wasn't going to be another perfect herald of Tolkien-esque epic power metal, but that said, I've found that ''Beyond the Red Mirror'' resonated with me with more singular power than one would expect...

If I had to summarize me feelings for this album from the beginning, honestly, if you can skip the rather painful ''The Ninth Wave'', there is little to be disregarded and even less to be disliked, granted you're a fairly long running fan of the band. If you can skip that tumescent electronic garbage, and see through the 'wave', Blind Guardian immediately opens up the gates of heaven with a shredding, if pretentiously titled, vigorous tune (''Twilight of the Gods'') and then proceeds to kick ass from there onward. The arrangement and overall sound delivered in ''Beyond the Red Mirror'' carved up such an instantaneous passion in me particularly because it felt as though the band was just scraping off the old footprints of their 1995-2002 outings in varying degrees, sometimes molding into furious power/thrash eruptions (''Sacred Mind'') or a jumpier, gyrating miracle of folksy power progressive metal guitars (''Twilight of the Gods''), and sometimes just reaching out in a mellower and emotional level with ballad-ish tracks (''Miracle Miracle''); but nearly every form they take, the Germans seem well-nigh faultless at their task, even though they are mostly rehashing some of the irreplaceable material they put out two decades ago.

But being a four-year long effort, ''Beyond the Red Mirror'' is cemented in a bombast of irresistible orchestral performances that feel somewhat Wagnerian in their scope or just like something straight out of Disney musical in their epic playfulness (songs like ''Grand Parade'' take the front here). At any rate, the operatic details of the record are not just beautiful but feel larger and crucial to the general formula than, most of their recordings. The focal - and vocal - point of the record is Hansi's vocals which range accordingly to the frenetic volleys of guitar riffs and orchestral arrangements. The man - possible because he's still only 48 - doesn't seem to have lost his touch one bit, unlike one Bruce Dickinson whose voxing on ''The Final Frontier'' swelled a little too tiredly to be on par with a ''Powerslave'', and the almost psychopathic chorus flings that burst arbitrarily seem just fresh and jovial as they were twenty years ago. As if I hadn't praised them before, the guitars are pretty much excellent: not just loaded to the stocks with melodious and totally Blind Guardian-esque riffs that the group must have borrowed from a set of riffs which they wrote in 1997 but never integrated, but also from their sheer functionality. Seriously, none of the riffs here feel out of place. Sure, some prove to be tedious and bloated after 65 minutes of maniacal orchestral and sonic repercussions, but individually all are likable.

That brings me to a rather predictable snag: the album is just too long. This is evidently not the band's best outing, and even though the run time runs parallel to its aesthetic siblings (data check: Imaginations, Nightfall and A Night have lengths of 49, 65 and 67 minutes respectively) the amount of time they spend going through oldish ideas takes too much time. There's time enough on the record to give a detailed account of Middle-Earth lore even if you clip away the unnecessary fat, and even though songs as uplifting as ''At the Edge of Time'' pass the minutes away like melting butter, one can have serious gripes about the length in general. The production, too, on the ground that the guitars and bass were crafty but not paunchy enough, proves to be a bit of a thorn in the album's side. In the end, however, it's safe to assume that ''Beyond of the Red Mirror'' puts the Germans back on the map. At least to a more respectable point. It demonstrates that these ageing nerd/musicians are still sharp on their wit. All told, it reuses previous footings all too frequently to be creating some majestic gateway between this era and another, some dramatic experiment gone slightly wrong, but teetering on the edge of evolutionary greatness, but rather an album playing it safe. It's awesome for what it is, and I'm the rampaging (and shameless) fanboy who loves if precisely for that. The lyrical content alone is good enough for you to get interested. Don't be a fucking tool and buy it.

Sacred Mind
Twilight of the Gods
The Holy Grail
At the Edge of Time

Rating: 85%

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