Album Review – Blind Guardian / The God Machine (2022)

Seven years after the release of Beyond The Red Mirror, the most respect German Power Metal bards of all time make a brilliant return with their breathtaking twelfth studio album.

Seven years after the release of Beyond The Red Mirror, the multi-talented German Power Metal bards Blind Guardian make a brilliant return and compensate for the waiting time with their new studio album, entitled The God Machine, the twelfth in their undisputed career. Produced, recorded and engineered by Charlie Bauerfeind and Thomas Geiger, mixed by Joost van den Broek and Jos Driessen, mastered by Jaakko Viitalähde, and displaying a classy artwork by Peter Mohrbacher, The God Machine brings everything we learned to love and more in the music by frontman Hansi Kürsch and his henchmen André Olbrich and Marcus Siepen on the guitars, Frederik Ehmke on drums, and session musicians Barend Courbois on bass and Thomas Geiger on keyboards, with each song having its lyrics based on a specific novel, play, series or milestone in their personal lives, such as The Kingkiller Chronicle, Battlestar Galactica and American Gods. “We didn’t want to rehash our style from 1995, but on the other hand we didn’t want to have to continue on our current path forever. The God Machine is a new beginning for us. We’re putting everything back to square one and return to certain patterns that we neglected a bit on previous releases. Look forward to an album that is straighter, more aggressive, but always blessed with highly infectious melodies and hooks,” commented Hansi about the band’s new opus.

The rhythmic riffs by André and Marcus set the stage for the epic Deliver Us From Evil, with Hansi distilling his trademark, powerful vocals from the very first second in a pure Blind Guardian sound with no shenanigans, or in other words, this will be a fantastic opener for their upcoming concerts. In Damnation we’re treated to cryptic words darkly declaimed by Hansi (“They’re like ghosts / The ancient ones / Burning blue’s their sign / It’s all true / Hush don’t cry / Better hide”) while his bandmates deliver first-class Power and Heavy Metal nonstop in a journey back in time to the band’s early days; followed by Secrets Of The American Gods, which starts in a beyond epic, majestic manner before exploding into another headbanging, symphonic Power Metal aria, being therefore tailored for their live setlists. And it’s then time for another explosion of visceral Power Metal by the bards entitled Violent Shadows, where Barend and Frederik’s kitchen offers the band’s guitar duo the perfect atmosphere for their wicked riffs and solos.

Life Beyond The Spheres displays solid instrumental and vocals, albeit it lacks the same punch as its predecessors. The keys by guest Joost van den Broek are spot-on, though, enhancing the song’s kick. Then speeding things up and delivering a beautiful fusion of heaviness, epicness and violence the band brings forward Architects Of Doom, where Frederik dictates the pace while Hansi continues to stun us all with his unparalleled vocals; and Hansi mesmerizes us once again in Let It Be No More, starting in a serene, pensive manner and evolving into a bold and beautiful sonority where André pierces our souls with his guitar solo. The fantastic Blood Of The Elves brings to us listeners powerful lyrics (“Honor, it’s easy to dispose / In this darkest hour we’re alone / From behind closed doors it aims for her / Magic’s reaching out to draw her in / To the eye of the storm / The storm”) spiced up by a traditional, straightforward sound that will please all fans of the band, whereas just like a sinister, climatic ending of a fantasy movie we’re treated to the hammering Destiny, a great way to conclude another sensational work by Blind Guardian showcasing their characteristic vocals and riffs enfolded by gorgeous background elements.

Blind Guardian The God Machine Nuclear Blast Mailorder Vinyl Boxset

Such masterpiece of German Power and Heavy Metal can be appreciated in all of its glory on YouTube and on Spotify, but if I were you I would certainly click HERE or HERE to purchase the physical edition of the album, including the superb Nuclear Blast Mailorder Vinyl Boxset, limited to 1,700 copies, which comes with a crystal-clear double LP with red inkspot and black splatter in a gatefold with 24-page booklet, a digipack CD, a board game, a slipmat, a signed card, a sticker and a postcard set. Don’t forget to also follow the band on Facebook and on Instagram for news and tour dates, and to stream all of their amazing videos and albums on YouTube and on Spotify. In summary, seven years between two albums feels like an eternity for us fans when the band in question is as amazing as Blind Guardian, but the wait was certainly worth it as The God Machine proves why such German metal machine is so respected and admired in the world of heavy music.

Best moments of the album: Deliver Us From Evil, Damnation, Violent Shadows and Blood Of The Elves.

Worst moments of the album: Life Beyond The Spheres.

Released in 2022 Nuclear Blast

Track listing
1. Deliver Us From Evil 5:21
2. Damnation 5:20
3. Secrets Of The American Gods 7:28
4. Violent Shadows 4:17
5. Life Beyond The Spheres 6:02
6. Architects Of Doom 6:20
7. Let It Be No More 4:48
8. Blood Of The Elves 4:37
9. Destiny 6:46

Nuclear Blast Mailorder Edition, Vinyl Boxset bonus tracks
10. Life Beyond the Spheres (Cyber Mix) 6:07
11. Destiny (Lead Guitar Version) 6:42
12. Let It Be No More (Heavy Vocals) 4:49

Band members
Hansi Kürsch – vocals
André Olbrich – lead, rhythm and acoustic guitars
Marcus Siepen – rhythm and acoustic guitars
Frederik Ehmke – drums

Guest musicians
Barend Courbois – bass (session)
Thomas Geiger – keyboards, effects (session)
Joost van den Broek – keyboards on “Life Beyond The Spheres”
Marcela Bovio, Marjan Welman, Olaf Senkbeil, Hacky Hackmann & John “Jaycee” Cuijpers – backing vocals

Album Review – Epica / The Quantum Enigma (2014)

The new album from Epica just corroborates how good Symphonic Metal from the Netherlands has been in recent years.

Rating4

coverIt definitely looks like whenever a Heavy Metal band from the Netherlands releases a new album, especially if it has female vocals, we can purchase their new material without even listening to it. All releases from bands from the “Land of Windmills” in the past few years have been simply amazing, with no exception, and that’s also valid for the excellent The Quantum Enigma, the sixth studio album by Dutch Symphonic Metal band Epica.

Although it’s the first with new bassist Rob van der Loo, who replaced Yves Huts in 2012, that didn’t hurt the overall quality of the album. Quite the contrary, the other members of the band have been together for some good years, which translates into cohesiveness and an outstanding flow of the music. Not only that, the addition of a chamber choir and some strings (violins, viola and celli), along with the excellent guest musicians Marcela Bovio (Stream of Passion) on backing vocals and Daniël de Jongh (Textures) as additional male vocals were extremely positive from a quality standpoint.

The Quantum Enigma starts with the beautiful symphonic intro Originem, tailored to create a special atmosphere for everything else to come and already introducing to us the choir, which will be a constant throughout the whole album. Also, I don’t need to say this track will be used as an intro to their upcoming live concerts, right? But it’s when the first actual song begins that we’re able to notice how grandiose the band wants its music to be in this album: The Second Stone is a great song with lots of Power Metal elements, Simone Simons’ unique voice sounding superb as usual, and the fast solos and harsh vocals complementing what might be considered the best track of the album by many fans.

The next track, The Essence of Silence, has that characteristic sonority from some old Epica songs without sounding repetitive, a beautiful chorus (“Retrieve your balance / Use your senses to observe / The essence of silence / Search for essence / Find the silence within you / The essence is…”), and all the extra strings fit perfectly with the musicality not only of this track but of the whole album. It’s a very good track but not really awesome, though, which is the case for the amazing Victims of Contingency, where its heavy riffs balance really well with the keyboards and orchestral parts. Moreover, the Death Metal punch found in this song blended with Simone’s lyrical voice is above the average, and add to that Mark Jansen and Isaac Delahaye doing an excellent job with their guitars and you have another memorable track in the album.

Perhaps the weakest track of all is the next one, Sense Without Sanity (The Impervious Code), which despite having a nice and smooth vocal intro, strong keyboard notes and a good balance of harsh and female vocals, ends up being a bit tiring, especially after the 4th minute,  losing all momentum gained. Unchain Utopia might not be a brilliant song, but it’s indeed better than the previous track and Simone’s performance once again gives it some extra energy; while The Fifth Guardian (Interlude), despite being just an instrumental bridge, is really well-crafted and perfect for energizing the listener for the following track, the excellent Chemical Insomnia. What an awesome Symphonic Metal tune! The music keeps growing and growing until it reaches a truly climatic ending, with all band members playing their parts beautifully, and also proving to us all a song doesn’t need to be absurdly long to be epic.

epicaReverence (Living in the Heart) seems to be the song chosen by Ariën van Weesenbeek to mercilessly smash his drums, with some excellent riffs, choir, and especially the quick but awesome keyboard solo adding a special touch to this sonic massacre. On the other hand, Omen (The Ghoulish Malady), with its piano intro and all orchestral parts, sounds too bland for an album so full of intense music and do not keep up with the other tracks.

The final part of The Quantum Enigma starts with the beautiful ballad Canvas of Life, where we can savor a great performance by Simone one more time. She simply steals the show here, mainly due to all the poetry in the lyrics (“The stains come alive where the paint has gone dry / You float above looking down reaching out to me / Depicting a beautiful scene that shapes divinity”) enhancing the emotion in her voice. Then comes Natural Corruption, another good track with all those Epica elements fans learned to enjoy, and The Quantum Enigma (Kingdom of Heaven Part II), an epic song with over 11 minutes with the orchestra and choir dominating the first part of the song. However, it then becomes a bit generic and, although it maintains a good rhythm, unfortunately it’s not enough for such a long song, making it a little tiresome in the end. The bottom line is, if you’re going to compose a long song make sure it has different “songs” inside of it, as for example the classics “Rime of the Ancient Mariner”, from Iron Maiden, and “Halloween”, from Helloween, otherwise just keep it simple. As previously mentioned, a band can be epic without extending the length of a song too much, which Epica themselves did in this same album. It’s not that the song is not good, let’s say it’s exaggeratedly ambitious.

Anyway, add to this very good album some interesting bonus tracks (each version of the album has a different one) and its beautiful album art done by visual artist Stefan Heilemann, who has already worked with Epica in other opportunities and with many other famous artists and bands, and you have another high quality album worth buying and, of course, worth listening to many times. Because as I said, if it’s Symphonic Metal from the Netherlands, especially if it’s an album from Epica, just go for it without thinking twice.

Best moments of the album: The Second Stone, Victims of Contingency, Chemical Insomnia and Canvas of Life.

Worst moments of the album: Sense Without Sanity (The Impervious Code), Omen (The Ghoulish Malady) and The Quantum Enigma (Kingdom of Heaven Part II).

Released in 2014 Nuclear Blast

Track listing
1. Originem 2:11
2. The Second Stone 5:00
3. The Essence of Silence 4:47
4. Victims of Contingency 3:31
5. Sense Without Sanity (The Impervious Code) 7:42
6. Unchain Utopia 4:45
7. The Fifth Guardian (Interlude) 3:04
8. Chemical Insomnia 5:12
9. Reverence (Living in the Heart) 5:02
10. Omen (The Ghoulish Malady) 5:28
11. Canvas of Life 5:28
12. Natural Corruption 5:24
13. The Quantum Enigma (Kingdom of Heaven Part II) 11:53

Bonus tracks
14. In All Conscience (Digipack additional track) 5:04
15. Dreamscape (Earbook additional track) 4:59
16. Memento (Vinyl additional track)
17. Banish Your Illusion (iTunes additional track) 6:11
18. Mirage of Verity (Japanese additional track) 5:59

Band members
Simone Simons – lead vocals
Mark Jansen – rhythm guitar, harsh vocals
Isaac Delahaye – lead guitar, acoustic guitar, backing vocals
Rob van der Loo – bass guitar
Coen Janssen – keyboards, piano
Ariën van Weesenbeek – drums, harsh vocals

Guest musicians
Marcela Bovio – backing vocals
Daniël de Jongh – additional male vocals