Sound — 7
It's been half a decade since the members of Blind Guardian returned to the studio and completed work on a new album, so it shouldn't prove difficult for unaccustomed listeners to imagine the excitement from power metal advocates when it was announced that the band had not only finished production on their tenth full-length effort, but that it would also serve as the follow-up to their 1995 concept album "Imaginations From the Other Side." For longtime Blind Guardian fans, this news was perhaps the equivalent of Rush's well-received return to the storybook lyrical approach during 2012's "Clockwork Angels," however what's for certain is that the attention of even the casual listener was peaked leading up to the album's release date.
"Beyond the Red Mirror" accomplishes the distinctive breed of symphonic metal which Blind Guardian's catalog proudly represents, however where the album truly succeeds is the fact that it isn't just a simple rehash of the group's original chemistry. The members of Blind Guardian took things a step further as far as the actual performance by colliding their guitar-oriented sound with three different worldwide choirs and two full-scale symphony orchestras, unifying more than two hundred musicians on a single album. That's quite the achievement by any means, however it further exemplifies the notion that if Blind Guardian are going to put out a new studio album, they're going to do it right.
"The Ninth Wave" showcases the abilities of these newly introduced individuals before transitioning into the high octane "Twilight of the Gods," which stands firmly upon the foundation of blistering arpeggios, deafening kick drums, and the ferocious operatic techniques of lead vocalist and frontman Hansi Kursch. "Prophecies" feeds into the concept album attitude which "Beyond the Red Mirror" was established on, which we'll address further below, however the actual musicianship behind Blind Guardian remains in top form here. Andre Olbrich and Marcus Siepen are found tackling the rhythm and lead guitar work, nailing impressive harmonies and attributing a formidable backbone alongside the percussion stylings of Frederik Ehmke as we head into the slightly atmospheric power ballad "At the Edge of Time."
Such selections as "Ashes of Eternity" and "The Holy Grail" forward a speed metal character highlighted by melodic group refrains, which is a chemistry not unlike that found on their 1988 debut "Battalions of Fear," whereas later numbers such as "The Throne" and "Grand Parade" reduce the tempo to relaxing gallop while maintaining the album's brooding overtones. "Miracle Machine" and "Scared Mind," much like the aforementioned "At the Edge of Time," drop towards an almost blissful ballad mindset which tends to make for some somewhat awkward transitions in the tracklisting. These numbers have particular roles in the storyline, which explains their diminished angst, yet it still has an impact as far as the album's sound is concerned.
Lyrics — 7
Lead vocalist Hansi Kursch has managed to maintain his ferocious operatic approach for the past three decades, which is no small feat, however this can perhaps be attributed to his consistent activity within the progressive metal community. Throughout the past several years alone, Kursch has offered his talents to albums from Doro to Iced Earth and Grave Digger, aside from his commitments to the side project Demons and Wizards, all of which feature his distinctive singing style. It's this same performance which adds to the appealing qualities of "Beyond the Red Mirror," even when the album's storyline tends to make more of an impact on the end result than one may anticipate. Rather than having lyrical roots within the actual musicianship, "Beyond the Red Mirror" tends to make the storyline the center of attention, and as a result the music sounds as though it were written around the tale itself.
Overall Impression — 7
The members of Blind Guardian offer a frequently rewarding performance on their first studio album in five years, "Beyond the Red Mirror." While the lyrical concept may have taken away from the end result to an extent, there's no denying the impressive musicianship found here, and there are plenty of memorable moments to appeal to the band's dedicated audience.