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The all-inclusive, ever-changing, and uncomfortably flexible guide to all things music in the 2010's.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Blind Guardian - At the Edge of Time: A-

Well this came as a bit of a surprise. Have you ever encountered an album so good it makes you rethink your opinion of the band that made it, entirely? Up to hearing At the Edge of Time, I had thought that Blind Guardian were nothing more than a sickeningly bland power metal band. Admittedly, At the Edge of Time features the elements of power metal that make characteristics from band to band sound indecipherable: significant Celtic influence, superfluous orchestration, and a singer so characteristic of the genre, it sounds like the same guy fronting every band that plays it. However, Blind Guardian pull a hat trick in incorporating all those elements to make an album that all other power metal bands should aspire to.

It's probably a surprise to few that At the Edge of Time begins with a fanfare. But, as I will justify any familiar aspect of the album in its defense, "Sacred Words" utilizes expansive orchestration within the throes of double-bass onslaught to create less of a revision of the genre, but of how the genre should sound. "It's now or never / We shall stand together /One by one, this world is sacred" sounds like any eye-roll-inducing line that could take you out of any epic metal song. But I always thought such a brazenly unrepentant characteristic of power metal could be overcome with just some good songwriting craft, and, by doing just that, Blind Guardian doubles down on that line, which turns the first track's chorus into a bona fide battle cry. Amidst the militaristic chugging and conversational axioms, it feels like you're actually being engaged by a band who play a genre of music that arguably does it, best.

And this is how At the Edge of Time circumvents my biggest criticism of power metal. From my surveillance of the genre, it appears that most of its artists have gotten caught up in the distinctions that make them unique and forgotten to play anything resembling metal. In a way, it's become performance art, relying on a bloated complexity that can only truly be realized with some sort of visual component. Some people really enjoy epic metal, but my guess is that those who do see "epic" as more of a noun than an adjective. Blind Guardian never forget they're a metal band at heart on At the Edge of Time, and are wonderfully effective as a result. The oppressively operatic dynamic only brings more sophistication to the table, expanding a music pallet that only works in the band's favor.

At the Edge of Time does have its flaws, though, and they lie in its two songs that utilize that Celtic influence I mentioned, before. It's not so much that "Curse My Name" and "War of the Thrones" are particularly bad songs, but their relatively hushed tone majorly disrupt the flow of the album. If a little too far on the wrong side of camp, the two songs as individual tracks are still quite good, but their inclusion is nevertheless off-putting. Still, that my only complaint of At the Edge of Time is in some sequencing should be a testament to how highly I regard it as not only the biggest surprise of the year, but one of the year's general best.


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