At The Edge Of Time
posted on 8/2010 By:
At the Edge of Time, Blind Guardian's ninth studio album in over twenty years of existence, has effectively hamstrung me for the better part of the last two weeks. On the surface it's a seamless mix of old and new and strikes a perfect balance between adventurous and straightforward -- a record that finally bridges the elusive gap between all warring factions of their fans. But something's been stuck in my craw that's resulted in three re-writes and at least a week's worth of delay getting this review to the front page. Following a brief listening hiatus and a nice dose of palate cleansing I've come to the realization that, in a nutshell, At the Edge of Time contains a boldness and finesse that's undoubtedly deserving of celebration, but also extends two primary concerns that stand in the way of my giving it any sort of fiery "top album of their career" recommendation.
First: Blind Guardian need to revamp that home studio of theirs...
I'd love to see these guys take a break from the "dynamically compressing" production technique in favor of introducing someone into the fold who's better suited for bringing a more organic feel to their sound. I can't possibly be the only one who feels it's unbelievably unnecessary for long-time "session" bass player Oliver Holzwarth to remain an essentially non-existent element to the band's sound. And Frederick Ehmke's full-on charges behind the kit are grossly "ticky-tacky" and clipped so badly one hardly even notices him when he's pushing full-speed ahead throughout At the Edge of Time. In short, when there's a lot going on, which happens fairly often here, things don't sound particularly "lively." And as a result of this, much of the aggression I assumed would be a welcome return on the record is castrated by the lack of dynamic range that forces all the instruments to elbow the shit out of each other for a fleeting moment in the spotlight behind the multi-multi-multi layered voice of Kürsch and Olbrich's weedly-weedly-weedling lead break-outs. Luckily, the calmer measures found throughout aren't as obscenely afflicted.
Second: The band's more metal moments sound increasingly "paint by numbers" from one album to the next...
I realize that's as rude as a whipped-out-wang at a wedding reception, but I've noticed something I'd call a "passionless passion" snaking its way into this band over the last handful of years, and it's concerning. I'll admit this infection is certainly not helped by point #1 above when it comes to their recordings, but it's also exacerbated by the fact that I finally witnessed the band on stage in San Fran for the Twist in the Myth tour and they seemed far less than enthused to take the stage. Not that I expected them to collectively charge out with the last unicorn in tow and swinging Elric of Melniboné's blackened Stormbringer or anything, but Hansi honestly looked as if he'd just been forklifted off a couch after having spent the last 6hrs watching Top Chef reruns with a bag of chips on his lap.
The same sort of lackadaisicality also seems to be working its way into their recordings of late. Tunes such as "Ride into Obsession", "Control the Divine" and "A Voice in the Dark" do admittedly find the band striking the iron with youthful intention (those who greatly prefer the band's more angry output are apt to shit their faces off), but those key Blind Guardian elements -- sharp riffing, panicky leads and gang choruses -- just sound so very familiar at this point, and I expect more from a band I consider to be dignitaries of the European power metal scene. Complacency is the enemy and I'd like to hear Blind Guardian push their boundaries more.
And this is exactly the point where I've battled myself the last couple weeks. For as often as I've struggled with the idea of holding this band to what I feel is an entitled higher expectation level, given their impressive tenure, the more intrepid moments of At the Edge of Time leap out and cause me to second-guess my grievances. There are moments on this record where I completely rekindle my love of Blind Guardian, and those instances make up for approximately half of this hour-long endeavor -- "Sacred Worlds", the rousing "Tanelorn (Into the Void)", "Road of No Release", "Curse My Name" and "Wheel of Time".
Hands down my favorite arrow amongst the quiver is "Curse My Name" -- a tune that's easily the most metal sounding without actually being metal; it's minstrelized to the tenth degree, so it'll march seamlessly alongside any extracurricular activities involving wizardry or swordplay of any nature. And damn your eyes if you're not moved by that fantastic military snare accompaniment of Hansi's insanely catchy chorus. I also quite enjoy the band's inclusion of true orchestration this time around. Beginning and closing the story are two lengthy tunes that rely heavily on very soundtrack-inspired compositions that infuse strings, horns and rousing choirs with the trademark Blind Guardian charge, and the results are really quite good. The 10-minute "Sacred Worlds" starts things off on a truly epic note, and the Middle Eastern flare painted all over the closing "Wheel of Time" brings the album to quite the satisfying end; as I said, there are certainly moments that give great pause to feelings of the record falling short.
I suppose one thing I've clearly learned over these years as a Blind Guardian fan is that there's simply no chance of pleasing everyone. The relatively weird little adventure of 2006's A Twist in the Myth seemed to polarize folks almost as much as its predecessor, 2002's A Night at the Opera (an album I still consider to be nothing short of a hot mess). Yet despite these powers of polarization, these long-standing Deutscher's persevere as a powerhouse of the genre who remain quite capable of casting a wide enough net that ensnares even those fans who'd otherwise never even consider touching a metal record with the "power" tag associated with it. I suppose they've simply figured out the right formula for balancing the often eschewed fantasy themes with a suitable amount of aggression and general "unfruitiness" that makes it easier for outsiders to feel fuzzy about their inner dungeon master -- something many of Blind Guardian's peers either don't care about or have yet to match themselves. In the end, what's most interesting to me is that while the band certainly seems to have figured out how to craft an album capable of appeasing their entire fan-base, this same benevolent approach results in a record that's equal parts enjoyable as hell and pedestrian.
Register to post comments.
A Twist In The Myth
9/5/2006 Blind Guardian
4/18/2006 Blind Guardian
Imaginations Through the Looking Glass (DVD)
10/5/2004 Blind Guardian
11/9/2003 Blind Guardian
A Night at the Opera