Review Summary: Gazing back to the past to find new drive for the future, Blind Guardian stays strong as ever.
One of the hardest tasks for any long-running heavy metal band is maintaining that burning sense of passion and fiery delivery that comes with being young and full of confidence. While also maintaining that careful balance of staying loyal your established style while also finding the right amount of progression to not become stale or self-repeating. German power metal master Blind Guardian have been walking this tightrope for more than 30 years now which is not only impressive on its own right but multiplied by the consistency and high quality they retained throughout the decades. From the early days of raw, 80’s speed metal and the glorious mid 90’s (which in general can been seen as the high-water mark of the Europower genre), all the way to the new millennium. Impressive to say the least.
Nevertheless, the last 20 years marked a clear, noticeable shift in the band’s musical dynamic, where the songwriting focus moved away from the straightforward, aggressive, guitar-driven material and give bigger and bigger space to the cinematic side of Blind Guardian. The long, sweeping epics full of symphonic elements, orchestras, and multi-layered soundscapes, where the runtime has no problem closing to the ten-minute mark. Huge musical ambition and technical proficiency which at times came at the expense of the six-string instruments and the powerful riffs (but the occasional bangers were always present to remind us that they not turned into a folk band). These tendencies reached their culmination point with 2019’s “Legacy of the Dark Lands”, a 75-minute concept album with no metal, no other band members beside singer Hansi Kürsch performing and only orchestras. Certainly an achievement, but for most fans a self-indulgent misfire that served no real purpose. And it seems even Blind Guardian realized that reaching for more heights can make you fall to the pits.
But where to take the next step? How about to the past? Seemed to have worked out quite well for some other famous metal bands. Their even cheesier German counterparts Helloween just pulled off their biggest success in decades thanks to a reunion and a self-titled album. Or you could mention Judas Priest with “Firepower”, Accept with “Blood of the Nations” or the recent run of Stratovarius. One thing that connects all these albums together is a return to the aggressive, old-school, riff-heavy element of heavy metal, but maintaining the sonic variety to not sound like a cheap nostalgia gimmick. Channel the strengths of the past through the sound of the present, and this is what “The God Machine” represents. A powerful, revitalized Blind Guardian shedding away its excesses, more focused, inspired, creating a kick-ass album that can easily be seen as the best thing they made in a long time.
Right in the first song “Deliver Us From Evil” the pendulum swing is evident: The soaring, galloping guitars in front and center, the bass is thick, the drums are crisp, the fast paced verse section leading into the heroic choruses with chilling effectiveness, just a perfect song to start off the album (and use it as the first single). And the album manages to retain that level of energy, despite being the usual mixture of faster, power/speed metal-esque songs and the deliberate paced, longer songs which is the usual structure for a Blind Guardian songs. The key in that is just how refreshingly simple it sounds: As great they are in creating bombastic, huge, organic with a hundred different instrumental and vocal tracks layered on each other, it can most certainly sound overwhelming and muddled for many fans (even for me who has been loving nearly ever album they made). Here its just two guitars, a bass, drums, vocals, with the occasional atmosphere building elements and chorals. Just listen to songs like “Secret of the American Gods” or “Life Beyond the Spheres” and how much more direct and not overcomplicated they sound. Its dark, heavy and brooding without being overkill.
If anybody missed the “metal” side of BG, you can get the best dose of it, especially with tracks like “Violent Shadows” or “Blood of the Elves”. Full frontal bombardment of fast, flowing, almost thrashy riffs, blistering solos, punchy drumwork with Hansi Kürsch’s shouty vocals and screams making them sound they just took a time machine back to 1991. All while sounding rightfully modern. And if I mentioned Hansi’s work here, I just must marvel how at the age 56, he is still able to carry that fire and power in his voice, that made him and Blind Guardian a major force in the power metal genre. Not to slam his partner though, the proficiency and musicianship in this band remains elite, with every swirling riff and bridge section interconnecting with the melodies effortlessly, beautiful twin guitar sections and leads sprinkled throughout. The production (always a controversial point with some fans with every new BG album) also feels more organic, less sterile, giving the instruments the right punch.
To top it all off, “The God Machine” doesn’t overstay its welcome. With only nine songs and 51 minutes, it’s the shortest album the band made since 2006’s “A Twist in the Myth”, all killer, no filler, less is more as they use to say. This a clockwork precise, roaring display of power metal, a matured, focused display everything Blind Guardian stands for, reenergized and ready to douse the world in flames like a slumbering dragon being awakened. If a band can still drop a highlight reel like this into nearly 40 years in their careers, than its safe to say, the future is very bright-looking for the Teutonic pioneers.