Blind Guardian – “Beyond The Red Mirror” (Nuclear Blast Records)
The 10th album from German prog power gods Blind Guardian, “Beyond The Red Mirror” is the conceptual sequel to 1995’s “Imaginations From The Other Side”, telling the tale of two worlds now in decline that can only be bridged by a mystical last gate – the red mirror! With no less than 3 choirs from the US, Czech Republic and Hungary as well as two full-scale orchestras being brought to bear on this album, the effect is nothing less than spectacular, the sound of which is more fitting to a movie score (or battlefield – ed) that can only be appreciated fully as a live experience. That said, while already being aware of Blind Guardian’s orchestral album in the making, the band have skillfully kept these influences in the background to provide a fuller sound and create more of a surrounding atmosphere to their already powerful material which thankfully retains its roots throughout. Hansi Kürsch’s fine vocals effortlessly straddle his range confidently from being soft on the prog futurama of ‘Miracle Machine’ to the epic charging glory of ‘Holy Grail’ where you see him at the front, imaginary flags flying as you are drawn forward to chant the chorus in unison with your metal brothers and sisters, such is it’s irresistible effect! This is an exciting, emotionally charged album that exudes energy from the shining futuristic guitar breaks of André Olbrich and Marcus Siepen to their spell bounding dual melodies showing Blind Guardian’s power metal roots are very much still evident, complete with Frederik Ehmke’s driving double bass drumming adding to the frantic heart beating pace! Although their first album without former session member Oliver Holzwarth on bass, new boy Barend Courbois is a veteran of over 4,000 shows and 60 albums – a veritable titan to match this album’s expectations! Formed in the mid 80s, Blind Guardian have come a long way indeed, delivering a symphonic spectacle that is up there with the likes of Queen, The Who and Pink Floyd, no better exemplified by the epic finale of ‘Grand Parade’ which brings it all together majestically with prog choirs, cellos, Kürsch’s vocal lead and those simply mind blowing guitars. Although close to 10 minutes you are so absorbed in the concept, transported to these magical worlds that you never want it to end even when the climax finally blows your mind. In a nutshell: album of the year.