Blind Guardian – Beyond The Red Mirror (2015)
Reviewed by Sebastian Kluth
Blind Guardian’s tenth studio release Beyond The Red Mirror is not only another concept album, but also intended as a direct sequel to Imaginations From The Other Side, which came out twenty years earlier. Objectively, Imaginations was a popular record that revolutionized the power metal scene (and arguably the entire metal scene in general) due to its progressive mixture of crunching speed, epic power metal, and increasingly important orchestral elements at a time when heavy metal needed fresh influences to survive. Personally, that release is by far my favorite record from this band. Blind Guardian’s earlier records were a little too fast and simplistic for my tastes, while the later releases have felt more and more like overloaded headache symphonies to me. Imaginations From The Other Side had well-balanced production, creative and concise song writing, and featured amazing musicianship in all areas. I was curious to hear the band returning (at least in spirit) to this outstanding release after a wait of almost five years since the last regular studio output.
Overall, Beyond The Red Mirros really can’t contest the creativity, energy, and spirit of Imaginations From The Other Side. Still, there are a few positive aspects about this record. Blind Guardian slowed down the pace of its songs, which is a striking change. All tracks here are mid-tempo. This gives the huge emphasis on choirs and orchestration the occasion to integrate better into the band’s complex soundscapes. Hansi Kürsch’s unique vocals also get the chance to fully dominate. The album comes around with some more powerful choruses than the predecessors as a result. The first highlight of the album is the uplifting chorus of the single “Twilight Of The Gods”, which comes closest to the essence which made Imaginations so outstanding. In my opinion, the two bonus tracks for this album happen to be both its best and most interesting, so make sure to get the limited earbook edition or the Japanese version of this release if you decide to purchase it. “Distant Memories” is an appeasing ballad with reasonably employed orchestration, a few beautiful guitar melodies, and varied vocals that take their time unfolding throughout six magical minutes. “Doom” has an apocalyptic atmosphere which is shown through dark and calm passages in the beginning, then by more dramatic and faster sections that come back throughout the song.
There are also many things wrong with this release. First of all, the production sounds clinical, powerless, and unbalanced. The guitar sound is not as gripping and dominant as usual, the drums sound distant, and the bass guitar is barely audible in many places. There are just too many unclean layers of loud “noise” stacked on top of each other, which harms the dynamic of the final product. Blind Guardian, in my opinion, should have chosen someone other than Charlie Bauerfeind as producer, and might ask their cross-genre colleagues from Dimmu Borgir, Epica, and Therion how to fuse classical and metal instrumentation in a coherent way. Another big problem is the song writing. The ambitious concept has become more important than the songs themselves. The band wants to tell an epic story, but focuses too much on the lyrics (which are also very repetitive, as you can already tell just by taking a look at the song titles). This is not just due to the fact that this record quotes Imaginations From The Other Side from time to time. The band wants to proudly show off its lyrical effusions without realizing that they are, in fact, one of the album’s main weaknesses, as they sound mildly amusing, peskily repetitive, sometimes nonsensical, and redundantly stereotypical. Apart from the three tracks mentioned above, all others end up sounding extremely similar. The constant overwhelming inclusion of digital orchestration, choirs, and strong, multi-tracked vocals takes up so much space that the core instrumentation has no real impact on the song writing whatsoever. These musicians are therefore essentially reduced to the role of session players, relegated to support. The transitions between the tracks are quite good, and different passages within individual songs sound fluid, but this only underlines the fact that one gets the impression of listening through the same boring symphony for almost a full hour. The longer tracks (between six minutes and nine and a half) especially lack focus, and are hard to sit through. They are not the kind of complex tracks that need some time to grow on you either. It’s not because these tracks are overloaded and overlong that they are progressive. Actually, they go straight nowhere most of the time.
On Imaginations From The Other Side, each song felt creative, powerful, and outstanding, the mixture of genres was balanced and progressive, and the production was avant-garde, crystal clear, and has aged gracefully. Twenty years later, Beyond The Red Mirror offers tracks that sound elegiac, overambitious, and repetitive; a mixture of styles that feels one-dimensional, bloated, and tiring; and a production that comes across as loud, mushy, and uneven. Ironically, the bonus tracks are by far the best songs on the record, giving mixed hope for the band’s future. Blind Guardian still has a lot of talent, and the capacity to release another true symphonic metal milestone if can strip down its ridiculous mixture in the future. Blind Guardian needs to learn that sometimes less is more (as on A Twist In The Myth, perhaps), and that the sum of an equation is sometimes less impressive than its different parts. In the end, I can only suggest you to stick with the excellent original. I can’t recommend this unnecessary sequel.
2.5 // 5