Blind Guardian – The God Machine Review

Blind Guardian - The God Machine Cover

Blind Guardian is a brilliant, iconic band. And while I still worship their mid-career output—particularly Imaginations from the Other Side and Nightfall in Middle-Earth—I’ve started to appreciate their later material more and more. While I was steadfastly unimpressed with At the Edge of Time when it was released, I have grown to love that album.1 So, too, has 2015’s Beyond the Red Mirror grown to be an approach to orchestral metal that I dearly love. As the band has transformed from thrash metal to something much more orchestral, their vision has become increasingly unique. The band still bears the marks of being a late-80s German thrash band. However, their execution and sound—made up of both thrash metal and orchestrations—genuinely stands alone. It’s this tension their heritage and their orchestral pretenses, however, that has been at the center of their career missteps. So, if 2019’s Twilight Orchestra was an album that fell short because its aspirations were too lofty, one potential risk has always been that The God Machine would be an over-correction; a regression to the mean. But, could Blind Guardian really ever stagnate?

The God Machine leaves no doubt that it’s a traditional Blind Guardian affair. When comparing it with its immediate predecessor, The God Machine is stripped down, direct, and it slots nicely into the band’s discography. Rather than focusing on how many orchestras they’re using or a grand concept, The God Machine just feels like classic Blind Guardian. It’s thrashy power metal with solid riffs that require headbanging, Hansi’s rasping vocals and harmonies and majestic, but hooky, choruses laden with harmonies that would make Greg Graffin green with envy. Each song is chock full of the band’s brilliant excesses: harmonized guitar leads rise and fall with a guitar tone that hasn’t changed since Nightfall in Middle-Earth (“Destiny” has a lick that evokes Nightfall every time) while the songs feature choirs that never truly translate live (for example, “Life Beyond the Spheres”). But rather than the pretense of world-shaking concepts, The God Machine is The Hansi Kürsch Fantasy Book Club’s revenge. The band regales us with their reading list since 2015 with tracks like “Secrets of the American Gods,” referencing everyone’s favorite Wisconsin-based Neil Gaiman book, while the album’s best track (“Violent Shadows”) references Brandon Sanderson’s epic fantasy series.2

Blind Guardian 2022

If there’s any kind of letdown, it’s actually precisely that The God Machine ends up being so straightforward and direct. This is a record that lives and dies with its songs. The God Machine gives me space to think about how I don’t like the drum sound (“Deliver Us from Evil” has especially compressed and weird kicks) and they even managed to keep themselves under an hour.3 There’s something vaguely anticlimactic about not having to grapple with the band’s penchant for excess and over-stretching their bounds. There’s no epic to lambast for being aggressively long and unnecessarily complex. There’s no high concept that makes the story unfathomable. No, instead, The God Machine finds the bards in their most comfortable of comfort zones and as a result, the album is just really good. The songs are fun and heavy, but sometimes they can lull into a mid-paced drive that makes the listener a bit listless (“Life beyond the Spheres”). Still, after bolting out the gate, the record settles into a Blind Guardian flavored Goldilocks Zone that will reward old and new fans alike.

The God Machine may be the album that we all needed after Twilight Orchestra. While I laud Blind Guardian for their desire to grow and progress, I also love hearing an album that reminds me that they can just write great songs; with “Violent Shadows” easily being my favorite song of theirs since “Battlefield.” And while Blind Guardian isn’t a perfect band that’s always put out material that I immediately identify with, I find myself appreciating their unique vision more and more with time. And when you weigh the total balance of what they have accomplished, The God Machine feels like a worthy addition to their grand discography.

Rating: Very Good!
DR: 7 | Format reviewed: v0 mp3
Label: Nuclear Blast
Websites: |
Released Worldwide: September 2nd, 2022

Written by: Twelve

It’s hard to believe, but it’s been nearly forty years since Blind Guardian began regaling the masses with their tales. These song-slinging Germans started their quest to take over power metal in 1984, and what’s even more remarkable than that is that they’re still actively doing it. Most everyone invested in modern metal has at least heard of them, and when they unleash their music unto the masses, the masses pay attention. Now, as they’re releasing The God Machine, their eleventh4 full-length studio album (and their first in seven years5!), it’s amazing to think how many people are still paying attention to how well the bards are holding up since Beyond the Red Mirror.

Of course, the reason for that is simply that Blind Guardian are good at what they do; they have a well-established, unique sound, and The God Machine is instantly recognizable as such. The riffs are catchy, the choruses are epic, and the whole is heavy. Certainly it seems like the band is borrowing from their own past more than anywhere else. “Secrets of the American Gods” is an orchestra-backed killer in the vein of “At the Edge of Time”6, while “Damnation,” with its vibrant choirs, wouldn’t be so out-of-place on A Twist in the Myth. “Violent Shadows” leans into the band’s fondness for thrash metal, with a modern flair that would place it nicely on At the Edge of Time. I could go on—this album is the clear product of a confident band comfortable in their sound.

With that said, The God Machine feels like a progression more from At the Edge of Time than Beyond the Red Mirror, as the band heavily dials back on the orchestral arrangements that dominated the former. The result is a more immediate, grounded, and, frankly, better-sounding album than its predecessor. Gone are the opuses and grandiosity Blind Guardian has been exploring of late—the longest song here is only seven-and-a-half minutes long (the superb and aforementioned “Secrets of the American Gods”). Instead, faster songs like “Blood of the Elves” deliver harmonizing choirs and huge choruses in classic Blind Guardian style, while others take us someplace new—like “Life Beyond the Spheres,” a proggy, spacey tune that hints at new directions for the band. Throughout it all, guitarists Siepen and Olbrich are more prominent (and audible!) on The God Machine than on Beyond the Red Mirror, and they excel in heavy riffs and harmonized solos alike. The God Machine ultimately feels like a straightforward work of heavy power metal, which is, to my ears at least, refreshing.

If The God Machine is missing anything, it’s that huge, epic, cathartic moment that’s marked so many of Blind Guardian’s best albums since Imaginations From the Other Side. Instead of peaks and valleys, we get consistency. “Let It Be No More” is a great example—a cheesy, hokey power ballad that probably wouldn’t work half as well if any band other than Blind Guardian was performing it. But because these guys are really good at what they do, the song works just as well as any other here. I’ve mentioned that I think “Secrets of the American Gods” is a superb song, and it’s partially because it’s the closest thing this album has to an “epic,” with a gorgeous chorus, a simple-but-catchy orchestral lead,7 and a big, exciting finish. The God Machine is such a solid album, without a bad track on display—but also without that knockout, “sung-from-the-highest-mountains” moment I tend to hope for from this band.

Is that an unfair critique? The unavoidable truth is that I had high expectations for Blind Guardian after such a long hiatus, and it’s very hard to write a review of their music without considering at least the last couple of decades they’ve been contributing to the European power and symphonic metal scenes. If that is the case, it’s only because I hold this band in the highest regard. Regardless of said critique, The God Machine is a terrific album, and one of the most consistent ones Blind Guardian has made in a long time. It’s big, it’s catchy, it’s powerful, and it succeeds in what it sets out to do. Already I like it much more than I did when I first heard it, and I expect that sentiment to only grow from here.

Rating: 3.5/5.0

Show 7 footnotes

  1. As evidenced by my original review and subsequent Record(s) o’ the Year.
  2. I just wonder if Hansi son son Kürsch wore white on the day he planned to write lyrics about The Cosmere.
  3. Even the earbook doesn’t feature any extra tracks, just alternate mixes. Unusual, and it makes me think that we pretty much got what they had written this time around.
  4. Twelfth, if you count Legacy of the Dark Lands.
  5. Less, if you count Legacy of the Dark Lands.
  6. That’s the song from Beyond the Red Mirror, not the album preceding it.
  7. Incidentally, I’m also positive I’ve heard it—or something very similar—somewhere before, but can’t for the life of me place what it reminds me of. Kamelot, maybe?
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