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At the Edge of Perfection - 96%

HeWhoIsInTheWater, January 27th, 2011

I was very excited this past summer, when I saw that the legendary Blind Guardian would be releasing a new album, such that I even made an effort to order it prior to its release; something that rarely happens. Before getting into the music, I do recommend going through the effort to obtain a physical copy of this album, as the lyrics booklet features some cool artwork, and the bonus material is pretty sweet, as the 20 minute documentary gives a nice look at Blind Guardian. However, the demo versions of the songs are pretty useless, but I’ll talk about them later.

This album can be nicely divided up into three different categories, which shows a nice range that Blind Guardian takes with their music, something that is more apparent in their later music, while their earlier stuff was relentless speed/power metal, as they have now solidified themselves as symphonic power metal. The three sections are fairly straightforward, being symphonic-based songs, traditional speed metal songs, and the ever present power metal songs that are on every Blind Guardian album.

Let’s start with symphonic. This section is comprised of the first and last songs on the album, Sacred Worlds and Wheel of Time, respectively. At the beginning of Sacred Worlds, you get a really great idea of how awesome these guys are at writing for an orchestra. As the member of an orchestra myself, the first thought that came to my mind was “I want that sheet music”. It is a shame they don’t have it, but the music is skillfully written and the guitars play off of the orchestra and likewise. It creates an amazing atmosphere.

The guitars in these songs take a backseat to regular Blind Guardian riffing and become hyper melodic. However, this does not mean an absence of shredding, mind-blowing solos that I love Blind Guardian for. Quite the contrary, André Olbrich is on the top of his game in these songs, complementing the orchestra at certain times and taking center stage at others. Frederik Ehmke, the drummer, however, falters a little in these songs and provides a flat backdrop for the songs. However, the drum beats in the middle section of Wheel of Time add a nice flair. Hansi Kürsch however, steals the show, but we’ll get to his incredible performance later.

Also, the ballad that is present on virtually every album made by these guys, comes with a piano this time and also makes use of the full orchestra now at Blind Guardian’s disposal. War of the Thrones is a little light ditty compared to the crushing material of the rest of the album, and is a nice break. However, as such the song comes off as a little pop sounding, but not harshly so. Also in a ballad style is Curse My Name, which features some awesome vocals and nice folk elements such as the tap dance band which is explained in the documentary.

Next, let’s look at the speed metal songs on here. The ones that I found to be speed were Tanelorn, Ride into Obsession, and A Voice in the Dark. These songs feature ripping guitars that never seem to stop moving and the solo sections even more so. Riffs come and go before you get bored with them, and it all ties into the main riff that you usually hear at the beginning of the song. Even during the solo sections, Marcus Siephen, the rhythm guitarist, does a nice job of keeping the song moving and playing some interesting rhythms.

Also in these songs, Ehmke keeps up with the songs a bit more, but it is still not the same as their previous drummer. He is clearly improving, but The Omen was a very good drummer, but apparently a not very well liked one. The double bass pedal has some interesting parts, but the main drumming that you here is nothing special, but it nicely suits the music.

And saving some of the best for last, we have now come to the epic power metal, only outmatched in epic scale on the album by Wheel of Time and Sacred Worlds, which sucker me because I love orchestras. Under this category I have The Road of no Release, Valkyries, and Control the Divine. The drumming featured on these songs comes through as a lot stronger, and really drive The Road of no Release, especially during the solo section where he just goes crazy on his kit.

These songs are most recognizable by the presence of something out of the ordinary (piano on The Road of no Release, pouring rain and thunder on Valkyries), or just by their nature of highly melodic guitar melodies. The vocals make a point of being absolutely soaring on these songs, as do the guitars, and the competition that they have with each other reaps immense rewards for the listener. These songs also make a point of being much more down trodden than the rest of the album, dealing with darker themes.

The one thing that stands out the most to me on this album is the pinnacle of Hansi Kürsch’s vocals. Listening to Somewhere Far Beyond and then this, his vocals have improved drastically and carry a much better vocal range as well as still being able to belt and do the talking-style singing. In fact, they completely own a few of these songs, being by far the dominant part on Control the Divine. However, his vocal performance on Wheel of Time is some of the best I’ve ever heard from anybody. The lyrics on all the songs are also traditional Blind Guardian with fantasy stories that help the music from getting old by being something new every time.

In the end, this album is not to be missed. I gave myself a while after buying this to write a review, because I thought I might have been thinking too highly of it at the time, but that is far from it. It is every bit as awesome as I tried to describe it for you. It contains many different elements of Blind Guardian, so I would recommend this for newcomers to their music, and have loaned my copy to a few people on my own. This album also serves another purpose; and that is to hype me up for their next album which is going to be purely symphonic, and that excites me a very great deal.