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What's the temperature out at the edge of time? - 79%

Empyreal, August 25th, 2010

This is more or less a Blind Guardian album without any surprises, purely hearkening back to their glory days in the early 90s and capitalizing on them. The production is similar, the choruses are similar and the riffs are similar. I would say it’s like the last ten years of their progression never happened, but it’s more like they’ve done the Megadeth Endgame thing and made an album solely to please the fans, playing it safe, since older Blind Guardian was never quite this calculated and meticulous. This was a very mathematical effort by a band that knows exactly what their fans want, and thus, have delivered wholly. I’m not decrying them for that – this is a well done album, and it kicks a fair amount of ass when it’s on target. But it’s not perfect. Let’s get started with At the Edge of Time.

First, I’d like to say that sadly I do not think Hansi Kursch’s voice is in top form here. He’s still singing technically well, with his sonorous, melodic voice still intact, but his age is showing, and he lacks the ferocity and bite of even tunes from a few years ago like “This Will Never End,” let alone classics like “I’m Alive.” He just sounds like he’s holding back a little, but then, he is getting old and we wouldn’t want him to completely throw out his voice. He does good enough, but I keep thinking he could have injected just a little more venom into some of these songs, anyway…

Second, well, the music here is pretty much what you’d expect. Pin-drop production, crunchy, layered guitars, pummeling drum-work and hooky choruses, along with a hefty helping of progressivism in the songwriting to boot. They were always a forward thinking band and this is no change in that. And the songwriting here is good, no doubt, but it’s also a little inconsistent, with some songs having a few noticeable flaws that could have been touched up. “Sacred Worlds” has some of the most complex arrangements on the album, but the chorus is way too simple and just doesn’t have any oomph to it; it’s very flat. Luckily “Tanelorn,” with its jackhammer riffing, starts up and shows us why we love this band. “Road of No Release” is one of the choice cuts here, with a slow, melodic ride through stodgy guitars and delicate keys being fronted by a really first rate, sorrowful chorus.

The rest of the album slogs through songs like “Ride into Obsession” and “Control the Divine,” which are good tunes, but just lack a certain something musically that makes them really stay with you. They both have really great verses, but then the music is kind of flat and static – see what I mean? I hate to nitpick, but these songs just have some problems. “Curse My Name” is probably the only one I don’t really like at all, as it just really is not that musically interesting, and goes on for far too long. “War of the Thrones” is a much better ballad, with a simple piano riff carrying it for a shorter and more manageable duration than its compatriot. Good tune. And “Voice in the Dark” hammers out some more tasty riffing with another catchy chorus – might be a little long, but I’ll let it go, as it does kick a fair amount of tail.

“Valkyries” is one of the best songs on here, and an oddity in that it’s a much slower, more simple song than we’re used to from them, but doesn’t lapse into the folksy kind of balladry that they usually resort to. Instead it’s kind of like “Mordred’s Song,” with a big, hymn-wide chorus and heavy, hard hitting emotive melodies. And it’s damn good – expect to get a little misty eyed at its forlorn climax. But it’s the grand finale of “Wheel of Time” that really brings home the money, with a host of vibrant, swirling riffing quickly segueing into somber folksy acoustics, and ending up as a triumphant, pounding epic for the ages. This is really the song they seem to have put most of the work into, and it works tremendously well as an album closer. It really leaves the listener with the best possible impression of the album they just heard, and that’s very important.

So yeah, you’ll hear a lot of people putting this on their top ten of the year lists, and I won’t say it’s completely undeserved, but At the Edge of Time is really only a solid album. That’s admirable coming from a veteran band like this, but that doesn’t mean we have to exalt it because of that. Still, though, half of this is really fun and there are even some truly well written and poignant songs on here, so if you’re a fan, this is a must by. If you just like some good power metal, I’d say this is well worth a listen anyway.

Originally written for http://www.metalcrypt.com