Album Review: Beyond the Red Mirror by Blind Guardian
Posted by RiffRaff
“It sounds like a ‘insert the same band name as the album here’ album.” In my years as a metal fan and hobbyist writer I have heard and lazily used that phrase way too often. An Amon Amarth, Primus, Slayer, Tool (one can keep dreaming right?) new album pops up, a quick sum up is requested, and that phrase gets the point across to existing fans quick enough. It can be a good thing as well as bad. Sure it says that the pedigree of quality is there but also doesn’t take into account any forward (or backward) progress in the bands unique, established sound may have undergone. Yet after listening to the newly minted release, Beyond the Red Mirror, from German heart-throbs Blind Guardian I honestly can’t think of a better way to describe it summarily. It sounds exactly like what you would expect a Blind Guardian album to sound like. Though, allow me to explore that statement just a tad deeper.
Taking bits and pieces of inspiration from nearly every record of theirs from Imaginations on the Other Side and onward (which, let’s be frank, is where the best of their material lay), BtRM feels like a Best of record filled with new songs and unfortunately, not as good as Memories of a Time to Come (which I consider the greatest Best of package ever produced). Yes, there are huge, orchestral songs, complex arrangements, chilling ballads, blistering solos, Hansi’s phenomenal voice, catchy and powerful choruses, and songs about the nerdiest things imaginable. Heck, the overall narrative of the record is a continuation of the story originally started on Imaginations (and is also one of my favorite aspects of BtRM). At times it just feels like BG are just following the motions and are rarely taking strides to expand their sound. Then I ask, can BG really expand their brand of power metal any further or do I really want them to? Well, no.
Yes, they are following the motions of BG album creation, but I’ll be damned if I didn’t say they don’t do a freaking great job at it. The instrumentation, songwriting, performances, everything is of the highest quality, and if you have a good pair of headphones or speakers, you are in for a treat. They continue to pull me into fantasy worlds and make that ‘power’ in power metal deserving of its moniker. The overall flow of the record is impeccably paced and while there isn’t as much diversity here like there was on At the Edge of Time or Imaginations there’s still enough to merit calling it a roller-coaster. And while I said they aren’t really taking strides to push the boundaries of their sound I don’t mean they aren’t trying the occasional new thing here and there; like bits of cabaret music or touches of industrial metal popping up here and there.
Usually when a band releases a self-titled album it is for the reason that album is the surmise of what the band feels is essence of their quintessential sound. I think this should be Blind Guardian’s self-titled album. Highly enjoyable all the way through, well-edited and doesn’t overstay its welcome, and has a lot of repeat listening power. Really, what more could a BG fan want? And if by some strange reason you haven’t given this band a shot yet, besides the previously mentioned Best of album, this would be a good starting point for getting an overall feel of this legendary band. Highly recommended! Peace Love and Metal!!! 4.5
P.S. I previously mentioned those with good audio equipment will be in for a treat and I really want to reiterate that again. Between listening to this on my dinky earbuds and my sexy AKG headphones there was a massive increase of enjoyment. Because of the orchestral nature of the album and outstanding production there is a lot of subtlety in every moment of the record that really shined when I upped my audio equipment quality. Also, I’m linking the YouTube video as usual, and naturally the audio quality there is in no way representative of the actual audio quality of the CD, so just use it as a little preview to see if it’s your bag.
P.P.S. This is directed to BG’s label Nuclear Blast. You guys release some of the best, well designed special editions available on the metal market. However, HIRE A FREAKING PROOFREADER! Nearly every NB special edition I have contains at least one typo (usually more), and ones that could have been caught by MS Word spellcheck. I understand you are Germany based, but still. If fans are buying the special edition it is because reading the lyrics and liner notes is something they like and usually typos irk us nerdy, ready types. Sincerely, the guy who probably has multiple typos in his above review.