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This old dragon definitely isn't dead yet. - 84%

hells_unicorn, January 15th, 2011

There has been this ongoing question of when being predictable becomes either a good or bad thing, and naturally it has been a slave to the subjectivity of whoever is making the claim. But from where I stand, predictability generally tends to be a good thing, particularly insofar as power metal goes as most of the experiments that tend to veer away from the established formula usually don’t turn out very well. Blind Guardian has generally been more akin to a band that came face to face with the same problem that haunted Iced Earth in the mid 90s, which ended in them putting out an album that was too slowed down and anti-climactic in “A Twist In The Myth”. It wasn’t necessarily a bad album, but definitely inferior when put up against every album that preceded it, as well as that of Thomen Stauch’s lone effort with Savage Circus “Dreamland Manor”.

Nailing down the needed revisions that have taken place on this, the band’s 9th studio offering in “At The Edge Of Time” is essentially an exercise in recognizing familiar elements from the band’s past. Most of these are drawn from the transitional era of “Somewhere Far Beyond” and “Imaginations From The Other Side” when the symphonic and folksy elements really started to take precedence, but where blistering speed/thrash riffs are still the general order of the day. Most of this album is a solid exercise in head banging goodness, which is something that could literally describe none of the songs on their previous album, but there is time for melody made between the furious power chords and primal shouts. It’s tight, mathematically timed, yet manages to put across enough emotion to avoid sounding mechanical or overly intellectual.

The old familiar formulas are all back in full force, making little room for subtlety and a lot for anyone who likes it fast and heavy. A quick trip down the memory lane of fist pounding goodness circa 1992 leaps out in “Tanelorn (Into The Void)”, but with a crisp production that really brings out the haze of harmonic leads that coexist with the bone-rattling rhythm section and crunchy riffing. “A Voice In The Dark” punches out a few mean thrash riffs and blazes with the best of them, while a somewhat interesting mix of slower thudding and folk oriented guitar work sneaks in on “Control The Divine”. And, of course, what BG album would be complete without a return to the woodland acoustics of “A Past And Future Secret” and any other ballad such as the really sweet and catchy one here in “Curse My Name”.

If there’s any weakness to be found amongst this triumphant collection of heroic tales and mystical exploits, it is when the band regresses back into the “A Night At The Opera” stage where they get a little too ambitious and start to sounding like they want to one up Rhapsody Of Fire. This is particularly apparent on the album’s longer works in “Sacred Worlds” and “Wheel Of Time” where the band goes a little overboard on the orchestral presence and samples. There are plenty of good ideas mixed in with the overdose of pomp, but ultimately these songs both come off as lighter versions of “And Then There Was Silence”, going a bit harder on perfecting the production but lacking the continuous flow that made said 14 minute epic work as well as it did 8 years ago.

While definitely not the best thing that this seasoned German mainstay has offered up, it trumps what has been heard since the turn of the millennium. Blind Guardian fans of every stripe and age should really be able to sink their teeth into this one, barring perhaps the really old school holdouts who haven’t liked anything since “Somewhere Far Beyond”, but even they have to acknowledge some elements from that era being present here. If nothing else, it proves that either with or without Stauch behind the kit, this band is purely capable of keeping all of closeted dorks with a secret obsession of Tolkien behind the politics and evil.

Originally submitted to (www.metal-observer.com) on January 15, 2011.