Blind Guardian are pretty much the quintessential power metal band. Beyond the Red Mirror, their tenth studio album, also represents the longest gap between albums they’ve had – five years! Not only that, but the album is a concept-based one and is a sequel to what is arguably their best work, Imaginations from the Other Side. To add to all that, it’s been recorded alongside two 90-person orchestras. So it’s safe to say that there is quite a bit riding on this album. And while it more than delivers musically, there’s a huge catch.
Unfortunately, there’s a rather large elephant in this concert hall. The mix of the album is quite odd. Vocalist Hansi Kürsch and the orchestral elements are very prominent in the mix. To the point that everything else suffers. The guitars lack punch, the power chords laid down by rhythm guitarist Marcus Sieben feel like they’re not even there at times, and the drumming is also significantly weak in terms of sound. Riffs that would have been serious headbangers are reduced to making the listener nod gently. The drums sound like they were recorded somewhere far beyond the actual studio, they sound distant and muted. This twist in the mix is quite a shame, because the riffing is actually quite good. Perhaps the only saving grace of the extremely disappointing mix is that the vocals and orchestral elements are really good, so listening to them is a joy. Nothing is bad in an objective sense in the production, everything is audible, nothing is clipping, but it just emphasizes the wrong things and reduces the impact of the entire band’s sound.
Really, the production is so frustrating that it precludes any fair analysis of the rest of the music. Beyond the Red Mirror features some of Blind Guardian’s best writing. The album feels like a blend of Imaginations from the Other Side and A Night at the Opera in terms of composition. The sprawling, grandiose orchestral and choral sections set to galloping drums hearken back to their ambitious efforts in the latter; and the snappy vocal lines accompanied by ominous riffing bring back fond memories from the former. In fact, Blind Guardian haven’t been this good in more than a decade. Beyond the Red Mirror could easily stand alongside their greatest albums, but the frankly baffling choice of production holds it back. Hansi’s vocal lines are better than ever, the songs are all top notch. The album actually succeeds in the impossible task of living up to one of the best power metal releases of all time, musically. All of which makes the lackluster nature of the production cut that much deeper, it takes out all the energy from a band that is adept at delivering powerful moments. This could have been a timeless classic on par with their best.
There really isn’t much else to be said about Beyond the Red Mirror. It’s an incredible album, full of classic Blind Guardian moments, an exquisite vocal performance, masterfully written songs and overall an album that definitely fits the “epic” expectations of the genre. But the mix is so confusing, so insulting to the rest of the music. It’s heartbreaking how a masterpiece of an album is essentially almost ruined by production that takes the “power” out of “power metal”. In the end, the album is still amazing, but it could have been one of the best ever, which just hurts.
Blind Guardian’s Beyond the Red Mirror gets…