Review: Blind Guardian – Beyond the Red Mirror


If Blind Guardian are not by now regarded with the sort of reverence generated by Metallica or Iron Maiden, it is a crime against heavy metal. Formed slightly before I was born, they might be the longest tenured band in existence that still carry extraordinarily high expectations. No one realistically expects a band to stay at the peak of their inspiration for thirty years, but Blind Guardian are the exception. They’ve never shown their age or wavered towards mediocrity. Does Beyond the Red Mirror keeps that tradition running strong?

“Yes” is the short answer. A thousand times “yes”, and only a fool would deny it. But when you’re talking about a band that released the unequivocal greatest power metal album of all time, there is still plenty of room for discussion.

Blind Guardian pulled off a pretty tough transition in 2002. They followed up Nightfall in Middle-Earth (1998), their magnum opus by nearly everyone’s measure, with a relatively significant change in style. A move like that has spelled disaster for many great bands, but when Blind Guardian traded in an edgier, crisper production for smooth and seamless symphonic beauty on A Night at the Opera (2002), it totally worked. Their next two albums continued in that direction, and I never had the slightest cause to question it. While A Twist in the Myth (2006) ranks relatively low in their discography for me, that resulted from what I felt was a bit of lackluster songwriting–not pervasive, but present enough to leave the album somewhat diminished in the shadow of its two groundbreaking predecessors. At the Edge of Time (2010) was a grand return to form, definitively proving that this band would not suffer a slow decline as the years caught up to them.

Beyond the Red Mirror opens up with a lot less steam than “Sacred Worlds” lent to At the Edge of Time. The first track, “The Ninth Wave”, kicks off with a pretty typical epic introduction, complete with a professional choir and orchestra, but it’s the sort of sound that really hinges on what will follow. We’re used to a sort of constant rise from symphonics into metal, but “The Ninth Wave” is far more brooding at the outset. “Underwhelming” might be the right word for any other band, and nothing about the lead in really grabs me, but let’s not forget what band this is. I feel pretty neutral–not negative–about the album until the first chorus kicks off. And when that point is reached–“Sail on till you reach the promised land. We all drown in the fifth dimension. The ninth wave.“–you get this big dump of pent-up anticipation that you never knew you had. The five year wait is over. Beyond the Red Mirror is here, and the chorus carries all the grandeur you knew would be coming. It feels so complete and full, so Blind Guardian to the core, that the introduction isn’t sour in retrospect. Instead, the slow motion into glory lets the album creep into you. One second you’re waiting for something to happen, the next you’re in love, and they don’t have to resort to anything jarring or sudden to create the effect.

“Prophecies”, “At the Edge of Time”, and “Grand Parade” follow this trend of paced execution, keeping you wrapped in the warm vibe that is Blind Guardian’s sound while ebbing and flowing along. Not out of place on A Night at the Opera, these four tracks suit the album’s production well and deliver without any misgivings.

“Miracle Machine” serves as the album’s only ballad, and the other five tracks… they’re pleasantly not what I expected. For all the big name orchestras involved in recording Beyond the Red Mirror, Blind Guardian actually get pretty old-school. “Ashes of Eternity”, for instance, is heavily driven by rhythm guitar, and André Olbrich’s tasty solo near the middle is cast far more in the spotlight than it might have been on previous albums. “The Holy Grail”, “Sacred Mind”, and “Twilight of the Gods” follow a similar pattern, while “The Throne” exists somewhere in between. My initial reaction to these songs was not entirely positive, but they’ve almost all grown on me over time. They make for an interesting perspective on Blind Guardian’s career. Hansi Kürsch’s gorgeous vocals still feel fairly well rooted in the A Night at the Opera sound, but Marcus Siepen and André Olbrich are bringing back a lot of the band’s more classic power metal sound. With Hansi still largely dominating the choruses and rhythm and lead guitar being more focal in between, the songs take on a novel sort of vibe that feels like quintessential Blind Guardian but does not point directly to any one previous era in the band’s illustrious history.

I definitely dig it, yet I don’t feel like Beyond the Red Mirror will leave quite the lasting impact on me that Nightfall in Middle-Earth, A Night at the Opera, and At the Edge of Time did. The problem, aside from the lack of a really stand-out ‘bard’ track–“Miracle Machine” is nice but has none of the sing-along appeal of say, “Curse My Name” or “Skalds and Shadows”–lies in the production. I can’t help but feel like Olbrich and especially Siepen are getting the short end of the stick throughout. Like the three albums before it, Beyond the Red Mirror sacrifices a lot of crispness to encompass the massive volume of vocals and orchestration. That worked really well before, but here I just don’t know. Lead and rhythm guitar alike rang with crystal clarity on Nightfall in Middle-Earth, and that was a major part of what made the album perfect. If guitar is to play a more central role again, it would be nice if I could properly hear it. My one beef with Beyond the Red Mirror is that, while the band continues to evolve in positive ways, their producer may be failing to keep up.

I think that’s a big issue. This album is awesome, but I would love it so much more if they’d filled the symphonic void with louder, crisper guitar. That goes for about half of the tracks. I just sometimes feel like a few modest tweaks would have made them better. I’m looking forward to seeing some quality live videos of these songs pop up on Youtube, because I think a live venue may do them better justice. For now, Beyond the Red Mirror earns entry into my Blind Guardian playlist with ease, but I’ll not be revisiting it quite so often as Nightfall, Night at the Opera, or Edge of Time.

If you want another song to check out, I think “Prophecies” is my favorite. “The Ninth Wave”, “Ashes of Eternity”, and “Grand Parade” come close.

Song of the Day: Valkyries (by Blind Guardian)


In honor of Ragnarök, here’s a blast from the past in celebration.

Through the Shattered Lens

This pick for song of the day marks the fifth time the “Bards” from Germany has made an appearance. This song marks the third track to be chosen from their latest album, At The Edge of Time. To say that I am a fan of Blind Guardian would be just a tad bit of an understatement.

“Valkyries” is the latest song of the day and it’s Blind Guardian at their most progressive metal. As a band they’ve grown from a German speed and thrash metal band then became one of the progenitors of the power metal subgenre. For the past dozen or so years they’ve evolved their sound to incorporate progressive, melodic, symphonic and orchestral stylings to their basic power metal sound.

This song has lead bard Hansi Kürsch writing about Norse mythology, specifically the concept of the Valkyries who fly and roam above the battlefield to take those…

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Song of the Day: Sacred Worlds (by Blind Guardian)


The latest “Song of the Day” comes from those metal gods who make up the power metal band, Blind Guardian. It’s a song which begins their latest full-length album, At The Edge of Time, and also a reworking of the song the band created for the console rpg title, Sacred 2: Fallen Angel. The song I’ve chosen this time around is “Sacred Worlds”.

The song was originally titled “Sacred” and was introduced in the game the band made it for during a quaint sequence where virtual, fantasy versions of the band do headbanging show in your typical fantasy inn populated by orcs, goblins, trolls and other find gentle creatures. While the original song was great on its own when the band reworked it with a brand new orchestral intro and outro the song took on a more epic sound.

It’s a pretty long song at a running time of 9:17 and is one of the better songs in Blind Guardian’s latest album. It’s also one of thew songs in my Skyrim playlist which I listen to nonstop while playing in Bethesda Softworks’ latest epic rpg title.

Sacred Worlds

The realm’s bleeding
It suffers
Old and weak

No further arguing
There is war at hand
The system’s failing
Engines running

Then after all
I sense the end is dawning
These lunatics deny the truth

I know I will not fail
There’ll be

War it’s now or never
We shall stand together
One by one
This world is sacred
(I’m coming home)
War it’s now or never
We shall stand together
One by one
This world is sacred
I’m coming home

Coming home

You chase in twilight
And you know
You will be on your own
On your own

The misery shown
I’ll be alone in this hour
I’ll face the unknown
Witness the end

I’m bleeding, I’m fading
Here in my final hour
When long-lost memories return
And a voice keeps calling
“All dead and gone
It’s out of hand
Life is in motion”
I’m wishing, I’m fading
“Time to wake up
Face the truth”

I’m sinking
I’m drowning
There’s no doubt, no regret
“Time to reveal now”
This is no illusion
It is real
Carry on the flame
It’s not over now
Watch me, I will rise
Time to reveal now

I know I will not fail
Anymore

I’ll go on forever
All that really matters
Blessed realm
This world is sacred
(I’m coming home)
War it’s now or never
We shall stand together
One by one
This world is sacred
(I’m coming home)

Yesterday’s gone
There’s no today, no tomorrow
I’m raised from the dead
The ritual failed

There at the gates
I’m left alone in this hour
Driven insane
I am left alone

And now I drown in deepest shadows
While the golden hall is sealed
I’m wishing
I’m fading
And I’m part of the machine

My eyes are the eyes of a dead man
And I feel the unholy stream
The source of my power
T-energy
I’m in control

I will live forever
All that really matters
Find the one
This world is sacred
(I’m coming home)
War it’s now or never
We shall stand together
One by one
This world is sacred
I’m coming home

I spread my wings
But keep on falling
I should have known
I can see it coming
The war is over
There’s whispering in the wind
Just let me out of here
There is no way
There’s no end
While all the suffering goes on
All that I know
Is that I’m not insane
It’s not over

Song of the Day: Valkyries (by Blind Guardian)


This pick for song of the day marks the fifth time the “Bards” from Germany has made an appearance. This song marks the third track to be chosen from their latest album, At The Edge of Time. To say that I am a fan of Blind Guardian would be just a tad bit of an understatement.

“Valkyries” is the latest song of the day and it’s Blind Guardian at their most progressive metal. As a band they’ve grown from a German speed and thrash metal band then became one of the progenitors of the power metal subgenre. For the past dozen or so years they’ve evolved their sound to incorporate progressive, melodic, symphonic and orchestral stylings to their basic power metal sound.

This song has lead bard Hansi Kürsch writing about Norse mythology, specifically the concept of the Valkyries who fly and roam above the battlefield to take those worthy slain warriors to Valhalla. Kürsch has been one of the best songwriters in the metal scene that I’ve had the pleasure to listen to. His songs are musical epic poems and if one has been following the previous “song of the day” entries involving this band they would’ve seen just how complex and intricate the lyrics Kürsch as come up with for each and every song. “Valkyries” lyrics are no different and listening to him sing it in his distinct voice conjures up images of glorious battlefields and brave warriors clashing in battle.

Listening to this song definitely would make for a great way to pump one up for the possibility of going into battle with battleaxe and sword in hand.

Valkyries

To the gods of the north, I pray
And raise my cup for the fallen ones
Then I cry
In Valhalla they’ll sing

Rain
Red blood keeps pouring down
Come Valkyries, join me on that final ride

Here I lie bleeding
Odin, I await thee

The battle rages on

New lines they’re weaving
The future, the past and the present
They’re one
They will reveal their mask
To show me a way to survive
This bitter war

Soon it will be over
He will be the one
We’ll weave in

And terror will now rule these lands

When the battle is lost
And the slain ones are chosen
Valkyries will guide us home
When the battle is lost
And the slain ones are chosen
Valkyries will guide us home

Destiny
A spinning wheel
The path of glory
Round and round
Come join us
On your final ride to Asgard
Let’s move on fast
Allfather waits
So let’s heed the final call

For now
We leave this world behind
It’s over

All glory to the brave
Still blood will rain
Through storm and fire
Let war winds reign
It’s the feast for the crows

Follow the light
Just follow the light
Or fade away

Soon it will be over
He will be the one
We’ll weave in
and terror will now rule these lands

When the battle is lost
And the slain ones are chosen
Valkyries will guide us home
When the battle is lost
And the slain ones are chosen
Valkyries will guide us home

We’ll keep on weaving
We’re crushing through lines
With our battering swords
We’re marching on
Assign the brave
To survive
This bitter war

Soon it will be over
He will be the one
We’ll weave in

And terror will now rule these lands

When the battle is lost
And the slain ones are chosen
Valkyries will guide us home
When the battle is lost
And the slain ones are chosen
Valkyries will guide us home
We’ll heed the final call
A call to arms
The valkyries will guide us home

Then finally I hear them say
Carry on
For Valhalla awaits you

Song of the Day: War of the Thrones (by Blind Guardian)


Again the power metal lads from Germany, Blind Guardian, appears for the fourth time with one of their newest songs for Song of the Day. The song of which I speak of is the second ballad of two that Blind Guardian composed and produced for their latest album, “War of the Thrones”.

While metal bands have done ballads in the past and will continue to do so, Blind Guardian has shied away from the power ballads of most metal bands and have instead opted for the kind of folksy ballads that troubadours and traveling bards of the Middle Ages and the Age of Renaissance played much in inns and royal courts across the lands. In fact, the band has seen themselves more like traveling bards (but with a power metal kick to their music).

“War of the Thrones” definitely sounds like something a traveling troupe of bards would play at a royal court. Even the subject matter which inspired the song is from a historical fantasy series of novels by fantasy writer George R.R. Martin whose A Song of Fire and Ice many have seen as the American Lord of the Rings. The band never shies away from the fantasy aspects of their songwriting and with this song they embrace this aspect of their band’s sound.

The song’s lyrics has themes and ideas from Martin’s fantasy series. From the raging war for the throne of Westeros which has engulfed the lands south of the Wall to the sinister “Others” beyond the wall whose march will raze the Wall which keeps them from the warring kingdoms in the south. For fans of Martin’s fantasy series the song should be a delight as it brings up imagery from the books. For fans of Blind Guardian it’s a nice addition to their growing folksy ballads which goes hand in hand with their faster and more complex work.

War of the Thrones

Nothing will grow here
Icy fields – blackened sorrow
Legacy of a lost mind
Feed my void
What you’re waiting for

I’m too late
It is more than a game
The river reveals
Now I’m in between these lines
I cannot escape it seems
Sail on, my friend

All I ever feel is
All I ever see is
Walls they fall
When the march of the Others begins

All I ever feel is
All I ever see is
Rise and fall
When the War of the Thrones shall begin

While I sit there in silence
Come and talk to me
I can’t free my mind
It is all I’m begging for

While I sit there in silence

Will it ever end?
Will I find what I’m longing for?
Will I ever walk out of shadows so grey?
I’m condemned, I am hallowed
Icy fields they won’t hurt anymore

Will you walk with me?
Any further
There at world’s end
It’s me
I sing

I cannot escape it seems
Sadly I sing

All I ever feel is
All I ever see is
Walls they fall
When the march of the Others begins

All I ever feel is
All I ever see is
Rise and fall
When the War of the Thrones shall begin

Away
Watch the river it flows
(Now and ever)
I cannot believe in more
And now my time will come
Carry on

Will I ever learn from the past?
Will I fade away?
Will I ever stay where the shadows will grow?
There is luck at the gallows
I will free my mind
Soon it will show

Let it rain
There’ll be no spring
My dream is a mirror
It reveals a matter of lies

All I ever feel is
All I ever see is
Rise and fall
When the War of the Thrones will begin

All I ever feel is
All I ever see is
Rise and fall
When the War of the Thrones has begun

Leave a fee for the tillerman
And the river behind…

Song of the Day: Control the Divine (by Blind Guardian)


Latest song of the day once again comes courtesy from the German power metal lads of Blind Guardian. This time around the song chosen comes from their latest album which has already seen a European release and set to drop in North America in August 24, 2010. The song I’ve picked from their latest album, “At the Edge of Time”, is the seventh track: “Control the Divine”.

This latest album’s sound harkens back to Blind Guardian’s seventh full-length album, “A Night at the Opera”, which brought the band into the realm of epic power metal and some progressive rock elements which showed the band willing to experiment with their sound to come up with some new hybrid style. “Control the Divine” definitely combines the epic power and proggy sounds evident in ANATO. While it doesn’t have the old-school speed metal riffs of “Tanelorn (Into the Void)” (second track in the new album), the mid-tempo of “Control the Divine” remains consistent throughout the song from André’s lead guitar to Ehmke’s drumming. But it’s the singing of lead vocalist Hansi Kürsch which makes this song my overall favorite in the album.

Kürsch has a distinct singing voice and with his penchant for overdubbing his vocals to create Blind Guardian’s epic sound of having a “huge chorus” singing along (there’s not just Hansi) definitely fits in well with the song’s lyrics. Lyrics which tells within a span of 5mins and 25secs John Milton’s epic poem, Paradise Lost. The song tells of Lucifer’s downfall, to the rebellion in Heaven against God, and right up to the Lord of the Morningstar’s bitter brooding and vow to destroy God’s chosen (humans). That sounds  quite a lot to put into a song which is just under five-and-a-half minutes long, but Blind Guardian accomplished it.

Oh yeah, this song also has a very kick-ass melody.

Control the Divine

For what I was
I’m doomed to be
The tempter and the secret foe
Cause I am hell and hell is me
Pure hate will grow

Still I claim to be the chosen one and
Still I claim
This is rebellion rising

[Bridge 1]
First amongst equals
We’re bound to no law
There’s no one before us
Ethereal sons
Now disobey
Awake and arise
You’ll be free

[Chorus]
How can we take it away
From someone who has no right?
No right to control the divine
Night shall invade
Suspicion awakes
Wherefore He’s greater than I

[Lead: Andre]

Stay silent
Until the end of the world
So just like slaves we may deem him
Dead silence
Until the end of the world
Hence from this moment we’re doomed
I feel
It hurts though
Disburdened spirits we will be
I’ve learned my lesson
Pure and sore
An offer divine

We’re far beneath them
They consider us slaves
They steal our pride
Don’t trust them blindly
Cause truth they conceal
As it seems
I’ll reign
Cause here in my tower
Impassioned, I’ll show you a way

[Bridge 2]
I can feel your hallowed rage
Now enter my realm
Awake and arise, you’ll be free

[Chorus]
How can we take it away
From someone who has no right?
No right to control the divine
Night shall invade
Suspicion awakes
Wherefore He’s greater than I

[Solo: Andre]

[Bridge 3]
Descend – just keep moving
All things shall proceed
It’s freedom you’re choosing
Preserve our hate
Eternalize
Awake and arise
You’ll be free

[Chorus]
How can we take it away
From someone who has no right?
No right to control the divine
Night shall invade
Suspicion awakes
Wherefore He’s greater than I
How can we take it away
From someone who has no right?
No right to control the divine
Night shall invade
Suspicion awakes
Wherefore He’s greater than I