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HMS Music Spotlight

We have decided to pull one music review out from the batch every month to give longer thought, so to start us off right, we have a very in-depth look at the latest release from Blind Guardian.

There have always been certain bands that discover a formula that works for them that they don't deviate too far from. This formula helps make their albums more enjoyable to most by letting them know what they can expected on subsequent releases. After a while though most bands begin to deviate slightly from what they are most known for. Either they change genres completely or they just don't put as much effort in the recording process as they have in the past. Blind Guardian is one of those bands that no matter what they do, whether it be aggressive power thrash or very melodic and intelligent Tolkien-inspired epics, always seem to be right on the mark. After a five year gap since their highly acclaimed At the Edge of Time was released, their newest album Beyond the Red Mirror immediately became one of the most heavily anticipated and overhyped albums of 2015. Many people felt they already knew what to expect from the release without even listening to it. This album is supposed to be bombastic, have very unique guitar passages, Hansi Kursch's trademark aggressive yet melodic vocals, and more backing tracks that you can even imagine.

From the beginning of the album things immediately take off in a bit of an odd direction with the 9 and a half minute track “The Ninth Wave”. The first two minutes are essentially rather deep men's choir vocals before Hansi's voice can first be heard. I am rather confused when it is over 5 minutes in and I feel like the song has never really taken off. There are all of the layered backing vocals you would expect along with Andre Olbrich's trademark guitar tone, but somehow the song just doesn't really seem to strike a memorable chord with me. I honestly feel that it is a huge mistake to begin your album with what is intended to be epic. If it fails to deliver immediately it leaves a lot of catching up to do for the rest of the album. The Ninth Wave really has nothing salvageable about it to me. It’s not terribly done, but even after multiple times of hearing it, none of it is instantly catchy as most Blind Guardian songs in the past have been.

“Twilight of the Gods” was everyone's first taste of the new album. Usually Blind Guardian chooses rather well in picking their singles. They often come out being some of the best songs on the whole release. This track comes off as very cut and paste to me. The lyrics seem very cliché of what a lot of power metal bands do. The chorus is relatively decent though and Hansi's voice sounds as good as ever, but it just seems like something is missing from the whole composition. They have always seemed to build their songs around an extremely memorable chorus, but this one appears to be lacking something very small that pushes it over the top. It ended up as just another Blind Guardian track, not great, not terrible, but still identifiably Blind Guardian.

In terms of past albums, “Ashes of Eternity” sounds like it would have been a b-side on A Night at the Opera. The verses to it almost remind me of Battlefield, but the song is missing the absolutely insane guitar shredding and extremely memorable chorus. The guitars are decent, but all in all seem like basic solos that Andre has already played hundreds of times before. This really could be a great song if they just changed a few things about it. Ashes of Eternity seems to carry the trend so far with the rest of the album in that it just appears to be missing just a few things that would actually make it a great song.

Blind Guardian
Beyond the Red Mirror
(Nuclear Blast)
Written by: Adam Phillips
6 out of 10

About halfway through the album the band finally pulls together something great. “The Holy Grail” starts off aggressively like something that would have very easily fit in on Imaginations from the Other Side. The guitar playing is more precise and unique, the drums sound like standard yet intense blasts like they have always been known for, the chorus is definitely the most memorable on the entire album, and the lyrics tell an excellent story. Blind Guardian always manages to write some incredible tracks like this, I just didn't think it would take six tracks for my jaw to finally drop to the floor in amazement. If Beyond the Red Mirror were an album full of songs like this it would easily be an album of the year contender. The next track “The Throne” is in a very similar to The Holy Grail. It seems like it could have been off of one of their classic albums especially with the intensely epic orchestration. Out of all the guitar solos on the album this one is definitely the most memorable as well as probably the longest and for an 8 minute song it really doesn't seem like it with as well as it is performed. The Holy Grail and The Throne make a really nice one-two punch, but not exactly a knockout still.

Ballads are something I've always enjoyed from Blind Guardian, from Blood Tears to The Bard Song they have consistently been some of the best songs they've recorded in my opinion. “Miracle Machine” kind of sounds like a Queen song that was never quite finished. It doesn't really have a sing-a-long chorus and musically it never really takes off. I was really looking forward to this track and it honestly left me desiring something a lot different from what I was given.

When it comes to Blind Guardian I have come to expect to be instantly blown away by whatever they release. For the most part Beyond the Red Mirror failed to do that. There are a few really strong tracks around the middle of the album, but a lot of songs just seem incomplete. The orchestration and song structure that is undeniably Blind Guardian is there, but there are a few aspects that could have used some more work, especially in attempting memorable choruses and identifiable guitar solos. I have a feeling this album is going to grow on me in the future, but as of right now it left a very bland taste in my mouth. It is by no means terrible, I was just expecting so much more. If I had to give it a rating I'd give it a 6 out of 10.

Adam Phillips, HMS

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