Blind Guardian - Beyond the Red Mirror (2015)
One thing I love about Blind Guardian is that they never make the same album twice. Each release has a slightly different feel to it , while retaining the same core identity. On Beyond The Red Mirror, the differentiation is a new style of orchestration and choir arrangements. They lend certain songs on this album a certain grandiose and lovably pompous air. In that way, I would say this album is stylistically most similar to A Night At The Opera. Since that was a near-perfect album to me, I have no complaints, though significant traces can be found from all three of their 2000s releases. There is certainly a lot to like here for anyone who has enjoyed the last three Blind Guardian releases.
- "The Ninth Wave" is an unorthodox symphonic power metal song, and an intriguing opener. The intro choir is a nice way to set up the album, and I was also surprised to find myself enjoying the electronic touches in this song. It doesn't hook you immediately like "Sacred World" did and is more of a slow-grower. But once the chorus and that twin guitar solo section hit you, they will be echoing in your head for days. 8.5/10
- "Twilight Of The Gods" is rather standard Blind Guardian affair, but that's a compliment! It's a fairly simple song, which is why it was the lead single, but it's catchy and will be a hell of a lot of fun to sing along to at the shows. 8.5/10
- "Prophecies" might just be my pick for favorite song on the album. The lyrics are poignant and relatable, with perhaps the catchiest chorus on the album (Shadows will be rising soon!!). The melodies in the last two stanzas are amazing ("break the seal, find the red door" and "the eternal, the infernal, will we ever see the light again?"). Infectious. 10/10
- "At the Edge of Time" wins the award for best chorus on the album. Absolutely magnificent, uplifting and, yes, EPIC. It makes me feel like I'm soaring through the clouds. Hansi really shines on this track, as does the orchestration. 9.5/10
- "Ashes of Eternity" is probably the heaviest song on the album, with some headbangable riffs and some good screams from Hansi. It's the least memorable song on the album, but it's certainly a decent attempt at a classic speedy Blind Guardian song. I just don't think the vocal melodies mesh well with the music. 6/10
- "Distant Memories" is a bonus track, but I have no idea why it wasn't included on the main release. It is utterly beautiful. Transcendent. Probably in the top three songs from this album. It is a ballad that sees Hansi Kursch deliver one of his most tender, heartfelt performances ever. I love the sorrowful, regretful mood of this song and how it connects to the overarching story. Towards the end, when Hansi shifts into the climax melody ("Out of the dark, into the grey...") I get chills and can't help but sing along. We will salute you... 9.5/10
- "Holy Grail" is a song that would've been right at home on Imaginations From The Other Side. No orchestra, and some riffs from Olbrich & Co. that absolutely shred. Kursch is great as usual - sounding like he's a long-haired 20-something again. The chorus reminds me a bit of the intro to "The Quest For Tanelorn" and the chorus of "Journey Through The Dark", which are very positive comparisons. A highlight, especially for those who prefer the classic Blind Guardian sound. 8/10
- "The Throne" is probably the most bombastic song on the album, channeling the spirit of "And Then There Was Silence" with its constant barrage of vocal melodies and an extended guitar solo. The guitars, symphonies and vocals all have several memorable parts and play off each other beautifully. So so epic. It has grown on me a lot since I first published this review and is one of the true highlights now. Weeeee will NOT surrender! 10/10
- "Sacred Mind" is quite unique, probably the proggiest song on the album. There's a very neat guitar line that ripples under the chorus. The song builds up momentum very effectively from the brooding intro crescendos into the aggressive verses before finally arriving at the soaring, mysterious chorus. I personally find the chorus a tad irritating because the word "Xanadu" is drawn out and repeated like four times, but that's a minor complaint. I heartily enjoy the other parts of the song. 8.5/10
- "Miracle Machine" is the 2015 equivalent of "Black Chamber". Hansi Kursch once again lets his idolization of Queen shine through. It's basically a capella, with Kursch's clean vocal lines being the sole focus with some soft, happy-sounding piano in the background. I personally find this song a little cheesy. It doesn't have the darkness or emotional resonance of "Black Chamber". But it's well-performed and still enjoyable. It's a much-needed respite before the lengthy closer. 7/10
- "Grand Parade" lives up to the Blind Guardian legacy of epic album closers (WoT, ATTWS, And The Story Ends, SFB, Last Candle, etc etc etc). Brilliance sustained across the entire duration. 10/10
Overall, Beyond The Red Mirror is certainly an album that is worthy of the Blind Guardian legacy. It is not a perfect album (the muddled production threatens to prevent some songs from reaching their full potential), nor is it their very very best, but I do love most of the songs, and it will join my regular rotation of BG favorites. That's all I can ask for. Thank you, Bards, for continuing to work hard to bring us passionate, inspiring music.