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The lost successor to 'Nightfall in Middle-Earth' - 92%

Thiestru, August 2nd, 2010

At last, after a four-year wait following 'A Twist in the Myth', Blind Guardian's new album has arrived. The aforementioned previous album left many fans, including me, a little cold, owing to some strange and not always good ideas rearing their heads, and the general lack of truly amazing songs. It was a decent album, but 'decent' isn't want I'm used to hearing from this band. In short, it left the bards with something to come back from.

Enter 'At the Edge of Time'.

'At the Edge of Time' is BG's 9th full-length album in a 25-year career, during which we have seen them go from a full-on speed metal band to an epic, sometimes symphonic power metal band. Theirs has been a rewarding journey to follow, and I consider almost everything they've ever done to be brilliant in some way or another. The newest album continues in their fashion of gradual experimentation, and it also is their first to feature a real orchestra. This is both a point of praise and a point of contention that I have with this album. When the orchestra is just accompanying the band, it results in a really rich and powerful sound, every bit as sweeping as it's supposed to be. On the other hand, it irks me a little when the orchestra plays solo for more than ten seconds, especially at the beginning of 'Sacred Worlds'. I mean, this is the very first song on the album, so why do I have to wait for more than a minute to even hear the band I paid for? Fortunately, the orchestra does sound really good, so my complaint is a rather small one; in any case, there are only two songs in which it plays a significant role ('Sacred Worlds' and 'Wheel of Time').

But as long as I'm voicing my complaints, I'll get my other one out of the way real quick: pacing. For the first five songs, it's gold. Epic, fast, mid-paced, fast, ballad - no problems there. But then songs six, seven, and eight are mid-paced, mid-paced, and ballad, respectively, which leaves us with one last fast song for track nine and the other epic for the closer. My point is, the album's momentum slows down a lot right in the middle of the album, which is not horrible but it is distracting. I daresay it wants one more fast song at around track six or seven, or maybe just a revamp of the track-list.

And now I'm done complaining.

The songs themselves range from very good to great. The aforementioned 'Sacred Worlds', once it gets going, is epic as hell, and a good choice to open the album. 'At the Edge of Time' is a little like 'Imaginations from the Other Side' in having a song of this type get things started. 'Tanelorn (Into the Void)' is one of the best songs on the album, the kind of song that got Blind Guardian where they are now: epic speed metal. How I've missed songs like this! Following it is another outstanding song, 'Road of No Release'. This is a very sad song that delivers its emotion powerfully, and it manages to be pretty heavy at the same time. 'Ride into Obsession' is the first of two songs about Robert Jordan's terrible Wheel of Time series. Happily, it's about 6,782 times better than the hack series it concerns; also, it's another speed metal song! Yes, after 25 years, the bards can still pull out some blazing speed metal when they want to. Next is the first ballad of the album, and it's a solid song, though certainly no 'The Bard's Song - In the Forest' or 'A Past and Future Secret'. Then there's 'Valkyries', which sounds a good bit like 'The Edge' from the last album at times. Also solid. 'Control the Divine' is a little faster than 'Valkyries', though not by much, and contains some of the best melodies on the album. One of the best songs on here. The piano version of 'War of the Thrones' contained herein is better than the acoustic guitar version that was on the single, sounding a bit more somber. It's also the last ballad of the album. 'A Voice in the Dark' is exactly the same song that was on the single, and is just as much of a winner here as it was there. These guys can really do no wrong when they kick the tempo into high gear. Finally, we get to the closing epic, 'Wheel of Time'. I've already expressed my opinion of the subject, so I'll focus on the music. It showcases the orchestra quite prominently, and in its best moment is really inspiring. It has a bit of the 'faux-Eastern music' syndrome though, which has become such a nuisance in the last decade or so; maybe it's relevant to the lyrical topic, but I don't really care. Other than that, it's the obvious choice to bring the album to a close, and is a very good epic in a long line of Blind Guardian epics.

I won't take much space to discuss individual performances; I already covered all that in my 'A Voice in the Dark' review. Suffice it to say that they are all excellent. The production, too, is easily the best they've had since 'Somewhere Far Beyond'. I can't help feeling that it's the sort of production that would have best suited 'A Night at the Opera'.

Which brings me to my final thought: 'At the Edge of Time' intimates to me a strange feeling, like it could just as well have been the successor to 'Nightfall in Middle-Earth' as 'A Night at the Opera' was. There are times when this album reminds me of the atmosphere of 'Nightfall...', and it has a similar mix of aggression and pure over-the-top grandiosity. 'At the Edge of Time' stands as a proud entry in Blind Guardian's shining catalogue: bards they are, bards they will be, and bards they have always been.