For a country associated – correctly or not – with philosophical asceticism and "efficiency first" social engagement, Germany has sure produced a lot of peppy ass heavy metal over the years. From the bouncy cheer of Helloween to the beauty-free glam of Scorpions and the party-obsessed thrash of Tankard, the Teutonic metal scene has been known to thumb its nose at the grim perception of their country by outside forces. Blind Guardian has been answering this call since the late 1980's, having over time established themselves as not only one of the most innovative power metal bands in the world, but arguably the most popular as well.
Particularly beginning with 1992's Somewhere Far Beyond, Blind Guardian have been heralded as the "go to" group used to introduce neophytes to power metal. The production values and epic scope of the band's material sets the standard for the genre, a bar that other groups have spent entire careers attempting to top (ie, Rhapsody of Fire). To their credit, Blind Guardian have been content to just lay back in the cut and perfect their craft one album at a time; and yet, over the course of 20 years their sheer longevity has lent itself to a certain "taken for granted" quality among casual fans, to the point where the band's first album in five years has been met with an almost blasphemous lack of anticipation, at least in the United States, where Blind Guardian has long been one of the few European power metal bands with any degree of major success.
Fortunately that needn't translate into public indifference upon the album's actual release. American metal fans listen to the shit out of Mark Tornillo-era Accept but they're not exactly considered blog darlings. I'm sure being a trending topic endears newer bands to their struggling record label, but when you've got a 30-year tenure under your belt and the weight of Nuclear Blast tossing the dice on your future, it's not imperative to shift tens of thousands of units right out of the gate.
Which is not to say that Beyond the Red Mirror is a grower. It's as immediate as anything the band have released to date, with first single "Twilight of the Gods" (not to be confused with the Helloween song of the same name) offering but a fairly restrained sampling of the album's charms. "The Ninth Wave" boasts a more epic, expansive take on that song's hyper-melodic, AOR-driven chorus to kick off the album, which is bookended at the finale by the equally lengthy, flamboyant pageantry of "Grand Parade".
In between is a concept-themed (naturally) update on the protagonist from 1995's Imaginations from the Other Side. It's a pretty boilerplate story even by Blind Guardian – after being tempted by a magic door on Imaginations he now takes the plunge beyond a portal encased in the titular red mirror – but this is a band that earns their supper by the strength of their songwriting and musicianship, and Beyond the Red Mirror demonstrates utter mastery of both proficiencies in spades.