BLIND GUARDIAN: BEYOND THE RED MIRROR (2015)
1) The Ninth Wave; 2) Twilight Of The Gods; 3) Prophecies; 4) At The Edge Of Time; 5) Ashes Of Eternity; 6) The Holy Grail; 7) The Throne; 8) Sacred Mind; 9) Miracle Machine; 10) Grand Parade.
Now look, this isn't even funny any more. Not only have they already used the word «beyond» in at least one of their album titles and the word «mirror» in at least several of their songs ("mirror mirror on the wall..."), but I think that every word and idiomatic combination in these titles, if not in the entire lyrics, had already been commissioned by our fantasy friends sometime in the past. Unsurprisingly, pretty much the same can be said about the music. And it took them, what, a whole five years? To come up with an album that, maybe more than anything they did in their career, sounds like a barely noticeable rearrangement of the same jigsaw puzzle?..
At the very, very least, they could have followed up on the success of ʽSacred Worldsʼ and ʽWheel Of Timeʼ, two tracks where the mix of guitar metal and orchestration seemed to open up a whole new world of possibilities to explore and exploit. But with Beyond The Red Mirror, it's as if those two songs were never written — as if they admitted to themselves that this was a failed experiment. What happened? Did the money run out? No, it did not, because there is an orchestra here — in fact, there are two: Hungarian Studio Orchestra Budapest and FILMHarmonic Orchestra Prague (the latter is the same one that was used for ʽSacred Worldsʼ). Did they commission research on fanboard opinions, and come to the conclusion that use of the orchestra was «lame» and that it «sissified» their sound or something?
I have no idea, but the fact is, that we are generally back to square here: vocals, guitars, keyboards, pound pound pound, stern martial chorus of Elven warriors who prefer their battles over their ladies, everything mega-powerful, ultra-melodic, algorithmically predictable, and immediately forgettable. If there is at least a shadow of some new idea here, it is the use of a baroque choir on the introduction to ʽThe Ninth Waveʼ — I think that previously, all of the harmonies were done by the band members themselves, but here they went for a fuller approach. Not that the use of such choirs in metal should come as a surprise, either, and with the song itself so unremarkable on the whole, the stern religious harmonies hardly add any awesomeness.
According to what my ears tell me, this album does not contain a single memorable riff or a single truly impressive vocal chorus. The reasons for this could be technical: for instance, when they finally get to ʽGrand Paradeʼ, obviously intended as a grand finale, the chorus is completely ruined by flat production where the vocals, the orchestration, and the choir merge together in a muffled, sloppy mush that feels completely mechanical and soulless, neither tragic nor joyful nor endowed with any emotion, just big-big-big. So, perhaps, bad production and dynamic overcompression are to blame. But this hardly settles things: even without the poor production, this is a sleepwalker's album, riding along on years and decades of accumulated experience and professionalism and not a drop of actual inspiration.
But then, who cares? I have seen so many rave reviews by newly fascinated fans that it is quite clear — they can remake the same record fifty more times and still not worry about their not-particularly-demanding fanbase. And I really almost literally mean «remake the same record»: this here regurgitation is worse than yer basic AC/DC, because at least with the Young brothers, it is the riffs that count, and every time they set out to make a new album, they know they have to present some new «skeletal structures» (and if there are too many recycled riffs on an AC/DC album, it is by definition an unsatisfactory AC/DC album) — whereas with these Blind Guardian records, the denseness of the arrangements, the orchestrations, Hansi's mammoth vocals all mask the «skeletal structure» and make it look insignificant next to the overall style of the presentation. And that style never changes. And these are the rules of the game, I know, but I also know that not every metal band is necessarily supposed to abide by these rules, and if you do not know how to bend them or at least how to make them serve a good purpose, too bad. Thumbs down.