by Alexandra Mrozowska
– Senior Columnist —
There’s hardly a thing as solid and imperishable as the Teutonic Metal scene – from the classic Heavy/Speed legends such as Running Wild, Rage or Accept to the groups that evolved from the same genres, yet shifted elsewhere somewhere along the way – Gamma Ray, Helloween, or Blind Guardian. Years after their presence was established, these pioneers of the European Power Metal sound are still a power to be reckoned with. In case you needed any proof of this fact, the latter of those mentioned above – Hansi Kürsch-fronted band returns with eagerly awaited album Beyond The Red Mirror. A follow-up to 2010’s At The Edge Of Time, it marks a span of five years with no studio recording, a precedent in Blind Guardian’s history. Released in late January via Nuclear Blast, Beyond The Red Mirror is divided into six parts (nine in limited edition/earbook), each consisting of one or two songs sharing a common motif (The Cleansing of the Promised Land, The Awakening, Disturbance in the Here and Now, The Descending of the Nine, The Fallen and the Chosen One and Beyond the Red Mirror).
The album starts with a massive choir sequence which morphs into an epic, over nine-minute long piece “The Ninth Wave” with distinctive symphonic and progressive flavors to it. Part I – entitled The Cleansing Of The Promised Land – is complemented with “Twilight Of The Gods”, perhaps slightly heavier and more guitar-oriented, embroidered with fast-paced riffs and majestic background choirs. The Awakening is impeccable layered vocal harmonies of “Prophecies” versus the thick, heavy sound of “At The Edge Of Time.” Disturbance Here And Now consists of “Ashes Of Eternity” and “The Holy Grail”, both filled with thumping bass line and gritty guitar licks.
Next is The Descending Of The Throne marked with the guitar-laden intensity of “The Throne.” The Fallen And The Chosen One follows with somber male choir sequence opening “Sacred Mind” towards its furious final only to be complemented by the piano-based melody and perfectly harmonized vocals of ballad-esque “Miracle Machine”. The eponymous part of the album is its final one (sans two bonuses of limited versions), represented by the grandiosity of “Grand Parade”, its instrumental artistry and dramatic mood.
Beyond The Mirror is a fully fledged concept album and even if the particular songs of it could have functioned well on its own, juxtaposed together they form a dramatized, dynamic, epic history with frequent references to its 1995’s prequel Imaginations From The Other Side. The definite asset to the band in the person of its frontman and co-founder Hansi Kürsch is no disappointment too, his famously layered voice clean and powerful. Music-wise, the German giants of Power/Symphonic Metal deliver what’s best in their arsenal and what’s been this band’s hallmark since the days of A Night At The Opera. A predictable album perhaps, but nevertheless a heavyweight champion in its category, Beyond The Mirror is laden with rich instrumental passages and elaborate solo parts that constitute a fine compromise between metal density and virtuosity. Atmospheric orchestral backing and heavy use of three different choirs that all contributed to the recordings add even more thickness to their metal sound, complementing the band’s instrumentation. Classical and progressive flavors to their music intertwine to blend into one sonic entity that is not only cohesive and coherent, but that is also simply Blind Guardian all along the way. Protagonists of the European Power Metal scene, the band is still the one their younger counterparts can (and should) learn a lesson or two from.
(Edition notes: The limited/vinyl version of the album consists of one additional track “Distant Memories” and the earbook version of the album has “Doom” as the final bonus track).
Genre: Progressive Power Metal, Symphonic Metal
Hansi Kürsch – lead and backing vocals
André Olbrich – lead, rhythm and acoustic guitars
Marcus Siepen – rhythm guitar
Frederik Ehmke – drums, percussion
Barend Courbois – bass guitar
Michael Schüren – piano
Mattias Ulmer – keyboards, piano
Thomas Hackmann, William “Billy” King, Olaf Senkbeil – the choir company
Hungarian Studio Orchestra Budapest (Peter Pejtsik – conductor)
FILMharmonic Orchestra Prague (Adam Klemens – conductor)
Hungarian Studio Choir Budapest (Peter Pejtsik – conductor)
FILMharmonic Choir Prague (Stanislav Mistr – conductor)
Vox Futura Choir Boston (Andrew Shenton – conductor)
I. The Cleansing of the Promised Land
1. The Ninth Wave
2. Twilight of the Gods
II. The Awakening
4. At the Edge of Time” – 6:54
III. Disturbance in the Here and Now
5. Ashes of Eternity
IV. The Mirror Speaks
6. Distant Memories*
V. Disturbance in the Here and Now (Reprise)
7. The Holy Grail
VI. The Descending of the Nine
8. The Throne
VII. The Fallen and the Chosen One
9. Sacred Mind
10. Miracle Machine
VIII. Beyond the Red Mirror
11. Grand Parade
Label: Nuclear Blast
Hardrock Haven rating: 7/10