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BLIND GUARDIAN Beyond The Red Mirror

By Peter Atkinson, Contributor
Friday, February 13, 2015 @ 12:35 AM

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Beyond The Red Mirror

Nuclear Blast

German power metal kingpins BLIND GUARDIAN are almost always at their best when they are their most grandiose. And though grandiosity can certainly be measured by a matter of degrees when it comes to this most epic of bands, BLIND GUARDIAN's high-water marks remain the back-to-back magnum opuses – opusi? - Imaginations From The Other Side and Nightfall In Middle-Earth from 1995 and 1998, respectively.

Granted, the band can sometimes go a bit overboard, as on 2002’s A Night At The Opera that staggered to a close under the weight of its 14-minute denouement “And Then There Was Silence”. But when given a thematic thread to tie everything together, BLIND GUARDIAN weaves sonic magic.

And the band’s 10th studio album does just that. Beyond The Red Mirror takes the central sci-fi/fantasy world narrative of Imaginations, expands upon it and carries it through to its “promised end” over an extravagant, yet relatively tidy, hour-plus roller-coaster ride.

BLIND GUARDIAN signals its intentions for the get-go, with the sprawling 9:30 lead track “The Ninth Wave”. It opens to the haunting hum of choral vocals – from one, or perhaps all, of the three choirs that appear on the album – before eventually giving way to the band's trademark twisty-turny, cinematic bluster, complete with tangled guitar interplay, huge choruses and frontman Hansi Ku¨rsch's soaring yowl.

Not ironically, Mirror concludes in similar fashion, with another 9:30 tour-de-force, “The Grand Parade”, that is draped in sumptuous symphonic instrumentation – from one of the two orchestras that perform here – and as monumental a crescendo as you're ever going to hear. It makes for a stunning finale after an equally magnificent start.

These two behemoths book-end the comparatively more streamlined “guts” of the Mirror tale. “Twilight Of The Gods” follows “Ninth Wave” with a blast of double bass-powered thrash as drummer Frederik Ehmke works himself into a lather. “The Holy Grail” is even faster and more menacing, whereas “Ashes Of Eternity” and “Sacred Mind” sacrifice some velocity for the sake of rhythmic intricacy, but still kick ass. All, however, are graced by the densely layered harmonies and cascading vocal accompaniments that have become BLIND GUARDIAN’s calling card – granted one that borrows more than a page or two from QUEEN’s book of theatrical tricks.

The less frantic “Prophecies” delivers big hooks countered by elegant solos from the tandem of André Olbrich and I<>Marcus Siepen. On the understated “At The Edge Of Time”, by contrast, the guitars provide an almost delicate accent to the rich orchestration that commands the song. “The Throne” takes much the same approach, but with an elaborate presentation that brings more of everything to bear and heightens the bombast.

What really impresses about Mirror is just how much has been incorporated here – thanks to more than 200 guest musicians and the overall complexity of the arrangements - yet how seamlessly it has been integrated. Where the accents often seemed superfluous on Night At The Opera, even though there was less of them, the compositions here are so dramatic to begin with they almost demand an orchestral/operatic embellishment. Mirror has the sonic feel and scope of soundtrack – or some 'roid-raging Broadway musical - and to do less would sell the material short.

Perhaps as a nod to the classical angle, the production here from longtime co-conspirator Charlie Bauerfeind is a bit tepid, even soft. There are precious few rough edges to give the metal end more bite, save for on the more aggressive tracks, and the sound is so clean as to almost render it sterile, were it not for the sheer scale of the music. That BLIND GUARDIAN has been working simultaneously on a full-blown orchestral album – one that has been kicking around for nearly 20 years, but is tentatively due next year – may have had something to do with that.

And it’s a relatively minor complaint about an otherwise pretty damn impressive work. Beyond The Red Mirror might not quite rank up there with the Imaginations/Nightfall masterpieces, but it’s the best thing BLIND GUARDIAN has done since and sets the bar pretty high for the orchestral album, whenever that sees the light of day.

4.0 Out Of 5.0

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