Compiling gestures from throughout legendary band Blind Guardian’s discography, Beyond the Red Mirror shows us a synthesis of their journey, bringing in their late 1980s style along with updates in the power and so-called symphonic metal up to the present state of affairs in said genres. As such, this album’s strongest uniting element is the band’s own style, which lies in great part in the vocal approach of Hansi Kürsch. Apart from that, there is an evident diversity in the songwriting that ranges from the mediocre, to the best power metal from any period can offer. But it should be stressed that the consistency in style is still very strong and this along with the sober and talented songwriting skills of Blind Guardian lend a coherence to the music that set it on another level completely apart from the distracted music the vast majority of bands of its kind display. This is also something the band has improved on compared to its earlier albums where the anxiety to insert interludes bordered on gimmick instead of having them moderately and carefully contribute to the aura of the album.
Despite bringing a mature and experienced offering in Beyond the Red Mirror, Blind Guardian is not immune to the pitfalls of the power and “symphonic” metal subgenres. Some of the tracks still fall into simple catchy grooves with little thematic substance and straight-up pop structures. Some may raise their hands against this last comment, but in the context of the nature of power metal, a genre driven by standard chord progressions and simple, catchy tunes, having a strong theme is very important since the music is almost all about this. This is why choruses are so important in power metal as well (that and the fact that it is essentially pop music going on metal). The clearest example of this in the album is the fifth track, “Ashes of Eternity”, which is unabashedly a pop, pseudo symphonic metal track that relies almost entirely on groove, which indicates an empty song.
As for the highlights, the band has some truly outstanding features in the album like very smooth tonicizations that elongate sections or connect two different sections smoothly in away that does not break up the melody but rather transforms the song, giving it the aforementioned variety within consistent style and coherent expression. I would like to point the audience in the direction of the fourth track (which is taken from their previous album), “At the Edge of Time” , for a remarkable example of this. This track contains all the cliche elements of modern power metal. The spoken word, the beginning without drums and only guitar melodies, the heavy synth “orchestration”. But here they point strongly in a direction, they all seem to be working together for the concept, and actually carrying the song forward surely and decidedly through passages, ravines, forests that take your breath away through the power of expectation, prolongation and the shifting of the harmonic goal so that the moment you are almost there, a new vista is revealed. Each a vital support for the leading vocal melody, the different ideas in the smoothly connected sections build on and connect strongly with each other here, an exemplary lesson for metal composition of any kind.
The appropriate, technically efficient and inspiring guitar solos come when expected and do not steal the show. This in itself should be a lesson for power metal bands. Blind Guardian have also finally reached a point (which they have been approaching throughout their discography) where the music does not seem to be entirely about the saccharine expression of the vocals or screechy guitar melodies that do not add anything to the construction of the music except superficial flare. This is a mature band that has released in Beyond the Red Mirror one of the best records this genre can offer, which is admittedly very limited by its very nature. In spite of this, and contrary to personal preference complaints (the overdubbing of the vocals this guy always does is beyond irritating), I have to say that if you absolutely have to listen to this sort of music, then listen to Blind Guardian.4 Comments