Nima : It’s been four and a half years since Blind Guardian released its last studio album: the magnificent ’At The Edge Of Time’. As a warm-up for the new studio album, ‘Beyond The Red Mirror’, which will be released at the end of the month, the band released the single ‘Twilight Of The Gods’, last month (review also in this issue of Lords Of Metal); a typical Blind Guardian song that showed also a more progressive side of the band, and already suggested that the new album would probably be somewhat surprising.
Let me just say already that this tenth long player is indeed the most surprising and most progressive effort in the band’s thirty-year history, and a rather complicated album! Let me put it this way: I’ve already played the album for a bout thirty times and still haven’t figured it out completely. On that regard ‘Beyond The Red Mirror’ gives me the same sensation as especially ‘A Night At The Opera’ did back then: it’s definitely Blind Guardian, but I had to get used to it. One thing is for sure: this has become a grand, epic and bombastic project, and the band has even used several choirs and orchestras.
The album opens with the long ‘The Ninth Wave’ that is immediately surprising with its intro. The track opens with a dark choir that has a Gothic and Gregorian vibe to it. The choirs come well into their own and reveal their majesty, and it is clear that there is a lot of effort put in the arrangements. The band takes it to a heavy and dragging start from there and is immediately recognizable. Along with the typical Blind Guardian elements the song takes a more progressive turn, which sounds fresh but has a 70s vibe at the same time. But that’s not all, because soon also the more aggressive typical heavy/power metal side of the band comes around the corner. This track is full of diversity and unexpected turns. Definitely a daring opener.
‘Twilight Of The Gods’ however is much sturdier, but also again contains progressive influences, which reveal themselves especially in the chorus. Those different styles make a return in each song, but there is more than that. Songs like ‘Prophecy’ and ‘The Throne’ are for example typical Blind Guardian and remind of the style of ‘Nightfall In Middle-Earth’ and the last two albums, but also to the magnificent ‘Imaginations From The Other Side’. ‘At The Edge Of Time’ and ‘Ashes Of Eternity’ however are again more progressive and more symphonic. Some pieces even remind me of bands like Rush and Saga, and even the early, progressive works from Chris de Burgh! But beware, the songs remain utterly Blind Guardian at all times.
‘Sacred Mind’ also starts off slower and has a dark atmosphere, but builds up to a faster and more aggressive piece, and comes across quite old-school at a certain moment. ‘The Holy Grail’ however is an old-school Blind Guardian speed metal smasher, that summons the spirits of the earlier records, and especially the classic break-through album, ‘Somewhere Far Beyond’. And that while ‘Miracle Machine’ is a typical, sometimes folky, acoustic Blind Guardian ballad. And it could be just me, but again the name Chris de Burgh strongly comes to mind. And finally the closer ‘Grand Parade’ is a genuine metal opera, in which the orchestras truly reveal themselves. But also this track takes an unexpected turn in the end, and heads into the pure power metal direction.
As you can see there is a lot going on on this record. Not only are we constantly facing changes in the tempos and moods and unexpected turns, but the music is full of essential details, which are impossible to discover after only a few listening turns. On that regard ‘Beyond The Red Mirror’ is an endless musical expedition. But the more I listen to the record, the more I come to understand it, and every listen becomes more breathtaking than the last.
‘Beyond The Red Mirror’ is simply a musical masterpiece, and what Blind Guardian (again) shows is a band that does not compromise, doesn’t limit itself and knows no rules. A band that is not afraid of taking risks and doesn’t go experiments and challenges out of the way. A band that comes across fresh-sounding, but also remains faithful to its roots, and a band that has developed a complete sound and style of their own. And with that a band that manages to surprise, yet please the loyal fans, but also has the ability to build up a new audience. And finally: this album shows a group of driven and highly gifted musicians, who have set the sights even higher for the genre.