Blind Guardian // At the Edge of Time
Rating: 2.5/5.0 —Some shimmers of glory, but not a total return
Label: Nuclear Blast (EU | US)
Websites: blind-guardian.com | myspace.com/blindguardian
Release Dates: EU: 30.07.2010 | US: 08.24.2010
Blind Guardian is easily one of the most unique bands that modern metal has ever encountered. I really do think that they are one of the most original acts to ever come out of any scene, sub-genre or crevace within the greater history of metal. Combining bay area thrash influence with a German power/thrash legacy and sprinkling liberally with Queen, this German act has been at the forefront of power metal and progressive metal since Imaginations from the Other Side (for sure, and probably even before that). Few bands in metal command the kind of insane loyalty from their fanbase and few bands ever deserve that kind of loyalty, frankly. Even for me, personally, Blind Guardian was one of the bands that really got me exploring modern power metal. I picked up Nightfall in Middle-Earth and my life was forever changed. That record still ranks in my top 10 of all time, easily.
But, while the universe has few laws (Kepler, Newton, Joule, you know the drill), Angry Metal Guy’s Law of Diminishing Recordings is definitely in full effect with this majestic guardian of the blind. This law is pretty simple. No matter how good your favorite band is, eventually they will start to suck for one of two reasons: 1) They run with the same sound for long enough that it begins to get tired and every song becomes interchangeable and/or uninspired or 2) They change, and it pisses you off. I cannot think of a single band who has not produced some crap, and even if they get better again, eventually they produce a whopper (or two) and it never lives up to those early records that you love so much and that made them unique at the time. The scientific foundation for this is, of course, quite simple: prove me wrong. Unfortunately, A Twist in the Myth, the previous Blind Guardian offering from 2006 was utterly disappointing and that was as a follow up to an at least marginally disappointing A Night at the Opera. So, the question coming into this is “Can Blind Guardian produce a record in their current formation with the same kind of breadth and complexity as Nightfall in Middle-Earth while maintaining the memorability and honesty of Imaginations from the Other Side?”
At the Edge of Time opens on a pretty good note, actually. The track “Sacred Worlds” starts in and really illustrates the sound of modern Blind Guardian than almost any other track on the album: it’s subtle to begin with, violins fluttering on one side and then the other and a slow build putting the instruments into the whole thing nice and slow before starting into what is a pretty good mid-paced track with a fantastic chorus that is really classic Blind Guardian. But as the album creeps forward from this epic start (9 minutes for the first track) the quality of the first track isn’t really maintained. “Tanelorn” is a fantastic look back in time to when the band actually produced tracks that weren’t ridiculously overdubbed, but the chorus is a bit throwaway and feels pasted onto what is otherwise a fantastic thrash metal track (not that it’s a bad chorus, mind you). But aside from “Ride into Obsession” (which also sounds a lot like it could be on Imaginations from the Other Side), “Curse My Name” and the last two tracks on the album, everything else just seemed to be lacking that x factor that these guys had in spades before.
What stands out for me about this record more than anything else, is how the most successful material on here is the stuff that’s really stripped down and old school Blind Guardian. Everyone knows that they’ve got their own studio and spend tons and tons of time on arrangements and choirs, but what I find to be the most incredibly motivating and undeniably good aspects of this record are the ones that harken back to a time before they became addicted to multitracking. To when their music was honest and simple but catchy and awesome. “A Voice in the Dark” does this for me, as does “Ride Into Obsession” and “Tanelorn”. However, as I already mentioned “Sacred Worlds”, which is very heavy on orchestrations, is also a fantastic song, as is “Wheel of Time” which (while those books are fucking horrendous) shows that the band can really blend their thrashy power metal into over the top orchestrations and pull it off. The melodies in both of these and the orchestrations as well, are perfect. “Wheel of Time” probably walks away from this record as the finest track on the album. It’s epic, with amazing feel, groove and guitar solos that scream “Blind Guardian is awesome!!” while they’re playing.
But while the album has 5 awesome tracks that I’m totally smitten with, the whole thing actually has 10 tracks. Among the disappointing tracks are just some really ridiculously uncatchy music as though the muse of inspiration was only hitting it home 50% of the time. “War of the Thrones”, for example, (great books, btw) is a banal track with a chorus that doesn’t fit the mood of the books at all (so. fucking. happy.). “Valkyries” is another one that just lacks awesome and lags behind the other more excellent tracks on the album. And it’s a shame, because this record is clearly better than A Twist in the Myth but it still seems to this Angry Metal Guy that Blind Guardian isn’t firing on all cylinders and that the Law of Diminishing Recordings is full in force for them. And that’s a shame, because I want this album to be amazing. I want to be awed like I was in the past and I’m not. But I would suggest that fans of the band check this record out, because there will be things on here that you appreciateâ€”just don’t expect it to be Nightfall, Imaginations or Somewhere Far Beyond.