Blind Guardian - Beyond the Red Mirror

Blind Guardian Beyond the Red Mirror cover
Blind Guardian
Beyond the Red Mirror
Nuclear Blast
Blind Guardian, are unfortunately on a steep decline, that was somewhat slowed, by their previous album “At the Edge of Time” that somewhat managed to recapture the bands more primal style… In their quest to write complex songs with lush orchestrations, but also try and modernize their sound a bit, ever since “Twist in the Myth” the first album not to feature their long time drummer Thomen Stauch, they seem to have trouble coming up with more compact, to the point and catchy songs, instead opting for overblown compositions that most usually implode under the weight of their own ambition...
This newest album, that the band has the nerve to call, a progression/successor of “Imaginations” probably one of their most celebrated and commercially successful albums seems to have fallen victim to the band’s over ambition… multiple orchestras/choir parts, multiple choruses and a lot of long winded songs…
The album’s opener “The Ninth Wave”, clocking at a mighty impressive, nine minutes and twenty nine seconds, exactly as long as the albums closer “The Grand Parade” begins with a very impressive, choral part which the band interrupts rather tactlessly. One of the first things that is apparently suffering on this album, no matter how much money has gone in the production is the mix. Trying to encompass all the different elements in it and keep things rather audible, it’s lower and boomy, with the drum sound being quite natural sounding, (bar the slight electronic percussive effects, which at best are annoying) but quite screwing the balance of everything else, as the various parts seem to be arranged in such a way to try and keep things from not happening all at once, because then, things sound too loud and bombastic and difficult to hear, with the drums, probably imposing over everything else…
All this would have been sort of OK, if “The Ninth Wave” was a great song, but from a decent chorus, that’s quite typical, this must be one of the most boring Blind Guardian songs, in recent memory.
In contrast the rather lame “Twilight of the Gods” again, possibly one of the weakest Bling Guardian singles released, sounds like some sort of masterwork. More metal and more in line with the band’s 90s output, it’s driven by a nice enough riff and an even if most of its verses, sound a little too familiar stylistically, the blooming chorus, sort of works. It’s not masterpiece, but it’s a keeper.
“Prophecies” begins a lot more peacefully, with multiple vocal lines, but soon turns into a typical “Blind Guardian” song… to the point where it feels formulaic… just like Manowar, tend to do songs with certain words, so do “Guardian”… Kings, Twilights etc… at least there are a couple of nice melodies and riffs, even if the song overall is not something too amazing. Also the drum sound is annoyingly bad, with cymbal hits, sounding way to thin and the hi-hat plainly bad. At five and a half minutes, the song could have been pretty good, but it loses its direction way too soon and just feels like it’s going through the motions with repetitions of parts until it reaches its conclusion.
Possibly paying tribute to their previous album or just being a song that they didn’t complete in time for it “At the Edge of Time”, manages to build quite an atmosphere, with its almost militarist drumming and ascending melodies... but going on for about seven minutes, without having a proper “release”, it feels like a pastiche of a lot of epic portions of music, missing a crescendo... a chorus that would have really made this epic piece stand out. At best there are some fairly good parts – bridges and a chorus, that doesn’t even stand out that much, but save the song from being completely embarrassing…
“Ashes of Eternity” begins with some really modernist drums and effects, but compensates with a pretty old school guitar wail… followed by a simple but sturdy riff and some pretty aggressive singing, that goes on for a while but however reaches a rather sweeter and more harmonious “Queen” inspired chorus… the whole thing seems a little too overblown, like the result of a rock and a softer songs colliding, but never quite mingling too successfully. Also the sound on this one seems to be boisterous, but the mix not so great, so I am a little curious, if there are any orchestral arrangement, probably too “soft” too hear but “loud enough” to cause this bizarre, confusing image in the mix.
“The Holy Grail” is another attempt of Blind Guardian to re-capture their lost “mojo”... again the band sounds like themselves, but fails to come up with a convincing chorus. And I can’t blame the song, since it seems to be quite a straightforward and simple double bass number… it’s just very mediocre with its highlight probably being the solos as well as the bridge/pre-chorus. It’s probably one of the better songs on the album however.
“The Throne” which clocks a little shy of eight minutes, begins with a wallowing yet quite interesting intro, quite rich in splendor and melody, the band actually making use of the “orchestras” – which are here pretty audible – but among the chaos, no better than a well sampled “keyboard”. Again, the constant barrage of parts, doesn’t allow the song to breath too much... a few parts stand out, without a “clear” chorus again. The song feels – simply too long – and probably for no good reason.
“Sacred Mind” is a decent initially softer song, that however has harsh vocals and very soon, becomes driven by a quite interesting riff and some intricate percussion. This is probably one of the few times on the album, where Blind Guardian manages to write a “song” and not a meandering “composition” with more clearly defined parts. While it’s still plagued by the issues that seem to run through the album, there's at least a “clear” chorus here and even the songs somewhat repetitive nature doesn’t become to annoying.
“Miracle Machine” is a ballad. Strings and lots of vocal layers make this an interesting piece. But it feels a bit out of place – too nude – in the midst of this completely overblown project... otherwise it’s pretty acceptable/good!
“The Grand Parade”, the normal “grand finale” of this album – that’s supposed to be semi-conceptual, is also over-orchestrated, but somehow, by probably keeping things quite static, in terms of arrangement for most of the duration, things don’t become too confusing, but don’t avoid becoming a little boring, with only “small” variations and orchestrations that are mixed in the background, giving the song some true variation, but if one tries to scan for them, it’s quite impossible to pay attention to the rest of the song… again, a song with some good ideas but overblown out of every proportion.
Along with “A twist in the Myth”, this album that feels like it’s “spiritual successor” a part II if you will , to it – seems to take everything that’s bad about later day Blind Guardian and turn it all the way to eleven. Repetition, lack of structure, lack of good choruses – although there are some good melodies here and there, which however the listener cannot enjoy as they do not remain buoyant for much too long, only disappearing in a gazillion of other things going on in each song – in most cases… And to think that people criticized “A Night at the Opera” for being overblown. This is even more of that and with weaker ideas/songs. Whoever gave this album perfect marks or near perfect marks, hey – I’d like to get your payroll guys...
This is by far one of Blind Guardian’s lowest creative points and I just hope that if they intend to do that “Symphonic” album they have been threatening to do, that they either hire someone else to do the orchestrations for them and that they keep it rather simple. They try to say too much and they end up making very little coherence on this album and it’s a pity, since a few songs could have turned out OK, if their composers weren’t so drunk by ambition…