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Anyone who wants to talk about “humble beginnings” with respect to this album had better be prepared to receive a slap to the face from me. Blind Guardian’s debut finds the young (at the time) German band fully in command of its musical capabilities right out of the gate. Certainly not as mature as more fleshed out albums from later on in the group’s career, when they fully embraced their love of classical and folk music traditions, Battalions of Fear is still a rollicking, invigorating excursion that’s remained at the pinnacle of the speed metal genre ever since.
For those of you who are only familiar with the band's most popular releases from the early-to-mid 90s, this isn't the Blind Guardian you know. At the time, this German ensemble was a group devoid of symphonic elements (except in the writing of parts they borrowed from Dvorak's 9th Symphony in 'By the Gates of Moria'), layers and layers of vocal tracks, and medieval troubadour flavoring. Battalions of Fear is an ass-kicking assault occupying a space somewhere between thrash and speed metal, rendered in that deliciously rough production style that epitomizes German 80s metal. Despite its simplicity, though, nothing seems to be missing, not even if you're intimately familiar with later Blardian masterworks. You don't miss any of those trappings because with just the bare bones of the genre, the group lays down one of the most exciting full-length albums in the metal canon.
The one clear advantage this has over later releases is that it reeks of passion and excitement, the kind that sad elderly people say you only have when you're young. This is perhaps most obvious in Hansi Kürsch's performance. No, I'm not mistaken. That's Hansi Kürsch singing. His voice is nowhere near as rich as it would eventually be on later releases and he can't hold notes for very long but his style fits perfectly with the stripped-down, super-charged music. He doesn't sing his lines so much as spit them like a far more coherent Tasmanian Devil. His voice is always aggressive, never varying much in tone but going up and down unexpectedly in intensity. On the instrumental front, these krauts turn in equally spirited performances. Guitarists André Olbrich and Marcus Siepen churn out invigorating rhythm sections, the opening of 'Run for the Night' being especially strong, and amazing solo tradeoffs, particularly in the title track where the solos feeds seamlessly into what might be the album's most memorable lead. The bass is noticeable for the most part too, filling out this album's low end wonderfully as it bounces along with an odd sense of menace like an evil clown on a pogo stick. Drummer Thomen Stauch doesn't stand out all that much but he always seems to be on target, doing what's needed for the good of the song. While the production makes things a bit muddy and the performances are rough-hewn, clearly marking them as newcomers to the world of making full-length albums, the sheer enthusiasm on display here is enough to make this album soar to the top of the heap.
Despite this album's rambunctious, even amateurish, appearance, Battalions of Fear is written and constructed with quite a lot of skill. Throughout this album, there isn’t a riff that fails to be captivating or that fails to brilliantly set up the riff or solo that comes after it. The whole thing is just a goddamn rager all the way through, with a new verse or solo bursting into existence but never throwing off a logical flow. You won't even have a chance to get bored with the speed-based playing because the riffs change frequently but never seem to just be shades of the same idea.
The album only slows down about one and a half times and, despite its peregrine falcon-esque speed, never sacrifices memorability. From the anthemic introductions to the choruses of 'Run for the Night' and 'Majesty' to the catchy verses that permeate 'Martyr', Kürsch and Co. have an ear for material that, if not exactly catchy, is difficult to forget. Shit, I even like the stupid waltz being played on a pipe organ that opens the album, clearly thrown in for the hell of it but somehow capturing a weird but perfectly appropriate sense of confusion and unease that makes the musical onslaught to come all the more powerful.
If anything after Tales from the Twilight World was your introduction to Blind Guardian, it can be tempting to skip out on their first few albums, those primitive speed metal ones you’ve heard about. Don’t fall into that trap. Battalions of Fear is just as vital as anything else power metal’s favorite bards have ever released even if it's not nearly as complex, varied, or layered.
Power metal is a genre that has had a lot of success over the years and it has spawned many amazing bands, some of which even growing to the point of being household names. One of those bands is Blind Guardian, easily one of the best in the genre. I have often seen them being put only at second to Helloween. However, during their early years, they had yet to become this amazing power metal band. In fact, they had yet to become a power metal band at all. They were actually originally called, "Lucifer's Heritage", until they decided to change their name, due to the misconceptions of them being a black metal band. This was their first album under their new name. It is a speed metal album, strongly influenced by the debut album of Helloween, "Walls of Jericho", only just a bit thrashier. It also sounded a bit more epic, sort of like Riot's "ThunderSteel". With some lyrics that are messed up from time-to-time, due to the fact that these Germans still had a bit to learn, as well has some soaring lead guitar work, this album is total epic and melodic speed metal at its absolute finest. Even better then "Walls of Jericho", in my opinion, just as well as the first Keeper album (but not as good as the second Keeper album, of course).
The first track is pretty much everybody's favorite and for good reason. "Majesty" is an epic speed metal track that isn't quite a happy song, though it does provoke feelings of joy. The melodic twin guitar work comes together with galloping drumming and melodic, yet forceful vocals. It is a rather fine example of a great speed metal song with a chorus that you can sing along to, without it being too cheesy. Other tracks under this category do include "Run For The Night", which has some pretty damn catchy vocal lines in the verses and it has a chorus that cause listeners galore pump their fists in the air. "The Martyr" also falls somewhat under this category, but it is pretty much the least aggressive song on the album. Needless to state, however, this is a pretty epic track. It is somewhat broken up into different sections and then they all come together. It is a bit similar to Helloween's lengthy and epic track at the end of their sophomore album, "Halloween" (though once again, not as good). I would definitely feel safe in saying that this is the most prominent side of the album However, I would also say that there is definitely a decent bit of an alter-ego, which is darker and more aggressive.
One of these tracks is the second one, "Guardian of the Blind". This is the definitely thrashiest track on the album and quite possibly the simplest as well. With lyrics about Killjoy, this song has a dark underbelly that could scare away fans of uplifting music only. The music itself isn't always all too dark, but the lyrics just give it that atmosphere. I would say that it works. The last/title track is also this way and it focuses a little more on melody. A fantasy song, this one has some dark and haunting guitar work, forceful drums and hard bass work. Sure, it gets a little boring during a couple of moments, but overall, I find it to be rather enjoyable, just not as much as "Guardian of the Blind". A bit of the instrumental work on the album also falls under this category, but not as much on the instrumental tracks. It's a bit strange. I'm not saying that it counts against this album, but it's just a bit peculiar. I felt an urge to point it out in this review.
I have to talk about the vocals. Hansi definitely sounds different here. Sure, he's still good at singing, but he isn't the operatic powerhouse that he is today, but rather a melodic, yet raw vocalist that actually pulls off a bit of screaming every now and then. This adds to the rawer nature of the album and it doesn't hurt at all. While I do prefer his later voice over this, I would say that he was great in his own realm at the time. I also want to talk a bit about the fact that there is strong prominence within the bass guitar here. This was during the band's years when Hansi took to singing, as well as playing the bass. He wanted to make his instrumental work known as well, I'm assuming. This actually works for the epic speed metal that they were playing at the time. Helloween was doing the same thing and it never hurt a thing for them. Sure, Hansi wasn't the best bassist at the time. However, you can hear know what he's doing pretty well and because it works so well, you can feel satisfied during the time that you take to listen to this album.
This was an album that Blind Guardian focused harder on aggression than they do now and while it isn't quite as much so as "Follow the Blind", which was their next release from a year later, it still feels amazing. Not that I'm saying that aggression is the most important thing in heavy metal, but this focused more on it for sure. It's brought down a little by some of the boring moments during some of the instrumental work, but there are very few of them. This album was quite the joy ride for listeners galore and it definitely possesses the power to show listeners that even in their early days, Blind Guardian was definitely an absolutely fantastic band to listen to.
On the one hand, we have the Blind Guardian fans who think things only started to get worthwhile circa Tales from the Twilight World, or even Somewhere Far Beyond. Stranger still; on the other hand, we've got the trve metal purists who turn their noses at anything past their speed metal work. The first two albums offer a much different experience than the meticulous arrangements the band are known for, but so what? As incomparable as Battalions of Fear is to, say, Nightfall in Middle-Earth, Blind Guardian's evolution has felt incredibly natural, consistent and steady throughout their decades-spanning career. Even as a speed metal band, they managed to set themselves a block above the average; although they wouldn't begin to find a truly unique personality until their third album, Battalions of Fear already demonstrated traces of Blind Guardian's exceptional scope and intelligence.
For good and bad points alike, there is the inevitable urge that comes with listening to Battalions of Fear; to compare it with latter albums. Although their steady development from speed to prog-tinged epic power was brought about by conscious steps forward with every album (they didn't make the leap from primitive to progressive overnight, after all!) I imagine it would be as unfair and misleading as to compare a professional baseball player to a fresh-faced tween in little league. Or, for the sake of another arbitrary example, as perverse as judging a speed metal album by a prog rock rubric. Genres represent different sets of ingredients; the best sushi cannot be compared to the best burgers, even if most days I'd prefer an Alaska Roll to a Baconator™. It does feel hypocritical to be stressing a point I am trying to stress should not need to be stressed, but needless to say Blind Guardian were operating within a different style earlier on, and direct comparisons only work to a certain point, although there's no helping the feeling of the band's bombastic future hanging in one's head while listening to the debut.
If there's anything that all (read: most) genres hold dear in any case, it is fundamentally strong and memorable composition. Even from their time as Lucifer's Heritage (from which many of the songs on BoF derive), Blind Guardian were working with more ambitious song structures than many of their speed metal ilk. Quality-era Megadeth notwithstanding, it's incredibly rare to see a song in this genre extend past conventional song lengths. In contrast, Battalions of Fear's centrepiece "Majesty" clocks in at seven-and-a-half minutes, and two songs off the second side (including the title track) outreach the six minute mark. While this no doubt stands as a foreshadowing of Blind Guardian's future exploits, what's more impressive is the fact that the songs manage to span these lengths without any loss to speed or excitement. "Majesty" bites just as hard as your average sleazeball metal song, but manages to take the excitement further with surprising hints of sophistication. Just listen to the opening riffs of "The Martyr" and it's pretty obvious that Blind Guardian weren't going to sit in their cradle for long.
The lyrics already demonstrated Blind Guardian's fierce love for Tolkien's Middle-Earth and its derivative fantasies, but the lyrics are arguably the least polished thing about the album. "A burning fire's in my brain / I could feel the deadly flame"-- Hansi didn't exactly stand a chance at winning a Hugo award for his contributions to imaginative fantasy for his lyrics here, but his minor struggles with English don't hinder his vocal performance. Hansi's voice is the only part of Battalions of Fear that is directly recognizable from their latter work, and it's also undoubtedly the thing that made them stand out early on. There aren't the overdubbed choral arrangements yet, but there don't need to be; he's got an aggressive, Teutonic bark to his vocals here that already sounded distinctive.
It is unfair to call Battalions of Fear one of Blind Guardian's weakest albums; even if it's true, it is replete with great riffs, biting energy, good songwriting and a hint of beyond-the-call intelligence. Even if I go against my own advice and give in to the temptation of comparison between eras, I don't necessarily think the comparison is totally unfavourable. There was a gripping, instantly gratifying speed and punch on the debut that was drowned out by the orchestrations by the time of Somewhere Far Beyond a few years later. It was a strong first step for Blind Guardian to make, and even if it doesn't carry the monumental artistic weight of their later achievements, it is woefully underrated, and undeservedly so.
Despite being one of the bigger bands around today, Blind Guardian’s first two albums are rather overlooked or, worse still, underrated by a lot of their fans (and even by the band themselves). Indeed, it seems that a lot of people forget that Blind Guardian were actually an 80s metal band, although they might as well be considered the “younger brothers” of the likes of Running Wild and Helloween not coming from the first great wave of German heavy metal. Although they may lack the scope or the finesse of their later works, Battalions of Fear and Follow the Blind are probably the Blind Guardian albums I find myself spinning the most nowadays. What they lacked in budget and, on this album in particular, polish they made up for in raw energy and pimply teenage velocity.
It’s that spotty lust for fantasy and speed that fuels BG’s earlier efforts and although they won’t have won any prizes for English at this point (“sheeps”, “meanless”, the dreaded Teutonic “dess” and “wictim” all rear their gorky, Germanic heads on this album) the lyrics in general are well done and one really gets an immersion in the pulpy, fantasy world Blind Guardian live in. It’s interesting because each of the band’s first three albums had a different flavour to it in terms of influence. Follow the Blind has more thrash and then Tales from the Twilight World shows the band at their most sing-songy with more European power metal influences. Here, however, we have more NWOBHM-y take on Blind Guardian’s sound. ‘Trial by the Archon’ which is basically Maiden’s ‘The Ides of March’ re-imagined with André Olbrich doing his best Dave Murray impression and ‘Run for the Night’ wouldn’t have been out-of-place in any speedy NWOBHM band's repertoire (if only it were a bit more girthy; as if it only drank lukewarm bitter instead of crisp, German pilsner). Furthermore, there’s a few instrumental moments where I’m reminded of Satan’s legendary Court in the Act and, indeed, I think that Mr. Olbrich’s lead sound is strongly reminiscent of Satan’s. Still, there’s some ambitious compositions here, too, which I suspect are the more recent tracks. ‘The Martyr’ for instance, kicks off with a riff lifted straight from Fates Warning’s The Spectre Within and is by far the most progressive sounding track on the album. Similarly to the old Fates stuff it’s a twisty, turny number and it really goes to show that USPM did have a noticeable influence on European power metal.
There’s only really one track here that the band give any serious time to nowadays and that’s ‘Majesty’. It’s easy to see why, though, it’s just an iconic speed/power hybrid. Even the album’s detractors tend to admit that it’s bloody good. The classic ‘record switch’ intro ala Accept’s ‘Fast as a Shark’ (good way to display your German heritage, boys), the urgent riffing and dramatic tension in the track… it’s all ripping stuff. It’s got a great combination of epic tautness and speed metal intensity. It’s just an incredibly memorable song and Hansi’s delivery is just fantastic (sure, he would mature into a better singer, but I’d say he’s still excellent here even if his voice is a bit more, well, pubescent). The fact that his voice breaks a little adds urgency to the song… when he’s insisting that you better run, run, ruuunnnn you feel like those goblins could well be on your trail.
Really, this is a cracking speedy little album. Sure, it’s less mature than their later works – but if you need music to be mature then I suggest you try another genre altogether, like knitting – but that’s really to be expected from a debut album. It’s part of the fun, too, as here they try things that they’d never do again like the politically-minded title track and the noodly Maiden-esque instrumentals. Also, what does a wizard’s crown have to with Halloween? Answers on a postcard, please.
It's always fun to listen back to the early years of a band like Blind Guardian, because there is such a distinct sense of evolution from their roots to the behemoth they've become. After changing their name from Lucifer's Heritage, they maintained that rugged but melodic speed metal style for their debut Battalions of Fear. There is an honest charm to this album, because let's face it, while their recent material is well written, the albums are massively overdubbed and overproduced to the point where they sound like they too much like an effects processor.
Not so with Battalions of Fear, a speed metal record with a polished grit that places it alongside its then-peers Risk, Rage and Scanner. Some of the tracks here are culled from their previous demos as Lucifer's Heritage, but there is no backwards feel to any of them. The entire album flows together well, from the anthemic "Majesty" and its flurries of chorus melody to the excellent closing instrumental, "By the Gates of Moria". The most memorable, standout tracks include the band's namesake "Guardian of the Blind", the excellent "Wizard's Crown" and the title track, which has a nice, heavy bridge and some excellent leads.
Most of the lyrics here involve fantasy, mythology and religion, so they haven't changed much in that aspect. They're not very good on Battalions of Fear, but this is understandable since a lot of the songs are from the mid 80s when such things were not so important for metal music. The production is pretty good for 1988, the rhythm guitars churn and the leads slice straight through. I actually prefer this sound to the massively overtracked Night at the Opera or A Twist in the Myth. Hansi's might not be as catchy with his vocals as on later albums, but not for a lack of trying, and he sounded wild, young and free on this record. Blind Guardian was far from the titan of power metal it has become in the 21st century, and this album came out in a year in which it was surpassed by so many (there was very little buzz over this band when they started, I would only see them mentioned on longer lists of German power/speed metal). But Battalions of Fear holds up well, it's a fun listen.
Blind Guardian arrived fashionably late to the speed metal party. By 1988 almost everything that can be done in speed metal has been immortalized in vinyl and enjoyed by merry speedfreaks from California to Kathmandu. So yes, Blind Guardian treads familiar ground but with a much better grip at songwriting than uhh...Running Wild
*dodges bottles of piss and Lord-knows-what-else*
But seriously folks, even though the songs are simple when compared to their Imaginations or Somewhere Far Beyond stuff they're heads-and-shoulders above other speed metal bands. Particularly the song "Majesty," one of the best songs they've ever done (a list that mostly includes the first real song on their albums e.g. "Banish from Sanctuary," "Traveler in Time," etc.) It goes on forever but never gets old or boring.
Other highlights include "Guardian of the Blind," "Wizard's Crown," and "Battalions of Fear." "Guardian of the Blind" is frickin' nuts drumming-wise, just listen to the intro! Thomen is a force-a-nature!
There really isn't any filler, just songs of lesser quality. "The Martyr" and "Run for the Night" is sorta average, the latter is a NWOBHM inspired number. The instrumentals aren't particularly interesting either. If Hansi n Pals worked on "By the Gates of Moria" that would've been an awesome song. "Gandalf's Rebirth" is OK, some nice leads and good harmonies in the beginning but yeah, it's kinda like a warm-up instead of a serious effort.
The one element that clearly stands out is the guitar. The fusion of melody and riffs are quite different from typical power metal, there aren't a lot of dual leads other guitarist Marcus never/rarely plays a solo. Harmonized leads are rare as well, one that I recall is the pre-chorus harmony in "Majesty" and not much else. Not that it's a bad thing, some would say harmonies are over-used (not I, I just believe in "if it works, it works.") Speaking of riffs, boy do they know how to make 'em. Kinda like Helloween after a few rounds with Destruction, then Iron Maiden comes around and whips them all into slight gallops. Wait that don't make sense...alright so what I'm trying to say is that they're kind of NWOBHM-y but thrash tinged. That's better.
Drumming is also a total high-point, Thomen Stauch not only deviates from the usual double bass abuse, he sets a standard on how to drum in power fuckin' metal. Yes he uses double bass as well, but never does it feel aggravating or monotonous. See kids, it's not what you play, it's HOW you play! Bass? What bass, Hansi was never really one to come up with interesting basslines and I think he even buries it more in the remaster. Vocals...well we all know how fantastic Mr. Kursch is at singing, and we all know how annoying those googolplex overdubs are so it's nice to hear Hansi and Hansi only. Though there might have been some overdubs (or maybe it's gang vocals, not sure) they are not as gratuitous as A Night at the Opera or A Twist in the Myth.
In short, this is a fantastic debut. While it's not as consistently awesome as Follow the Blind or as varied as Imaginations From the Other Side, it's still better than its competitors. Hell, I listen to this album more often than Gates to Purgatory or Walls of Jericho combined. It's just that awesometastic(tm)
NOTE: Remaster comes with one of the Lucifer's Heritage demo, will review that 'un as well.
“Battalions of Fear”, Blind Guardian's debut is also, together with their second opus, “Follow the Blind”, the rawest and most aggressive album they ever put out. You're very wrong if you think that their first album also contains the symphonic/progressive elements that fill their latest offerings. This album is pure speed metal, quite thrashy at times, but very melodic at the same time.
The most important characteristic of the album is the kick-ass guitar work... Really amazing! It's a shame how they now bury Olbrich in the mix, his riffs are very catchy (see the main one of “The Martyr”) and his solos are absolutely godly! See the little instrumentals that are present on the album, they will comprove everything I've already said. “Trial by the Archon”, which also serves as a little introdutory piece to “Wizard's Crown”, is the perfect example. Just hear the solos... Gosh! Amazing stuff here, they are so fast yet melodic, it's amazing, I tell you. I know I sound like a Blind Guardian fanboy but I assure you I'm not, Olbrich is THAT good on this record.
Hansi's vocal performance is very good too and it shows that he sounds even better without all those choirs and vocal layers surrounding him (I'm looking at you, “A Night at the Opera”). During most of the time, he is singing in a very aggressive way and, as i've already said, his work is top notch on this album. The drumming is simple, with lots of double-bass and thrashy beats. Nothing that special. The bass playing is also very generic even though it is very audible (yay!) on some songs.
So, highlights? There are lots of great songs to be found here, friends. “Majesty”, the longest and more ambitious tune of the album, immediately get things going, with some kick-ass metal riffs and a really catchy chorus. Yeah, all the choruses are pretty damn strong, Blind Guardian always knew how to write good choruses and they don't need to add 3567423 vocal layers to make them catchy (again, I'm looking at you, ANATO). “Guardian of the Blind” begins with some drum riffs, leading us to an authentic riff onslaught. Ah, and the chorus of this tune possibly is the best of the whole album, I'm sure you'll remember Hansi screaming “Guardian, guardian, guardian of the bliind!” forever. “Wizard's Crown” is, again, very catchy and almost borderline thrash: the riffs are fast and very raw, I just love them. “Run for the Night” is quite strong, but not as strong as the other tracks though. “The Martyr” is another strong piece, leading us to the title track, which is another highlight. The instrumental little songs aren't very memorable but still are work well and add something to the whole listening experience.
So, a very good Blind Guardian album, all in all. This is MANDATORY if you enjoy speed/early power metal and, why not, thrash (if you like it melodic and catchy). Ah, and don't forget to check out “Follow the Blind” if you enjoyed this piece; basically, it's the same thing with better production.
Best Moments of the CD:
-the choruses of “Guardian of the Blind”, “Majesty” and “Run for the Night”.
Yeah, I'm weird. Weird in the fact that I can claim this as perhaps my all time favorite Blind Guardian release, with Somewhere Far Beyond possibly having a little edge over it. It's certainly different compared to what they're usually known for, Tolkien and those epic elements aren't nearly as prominent here as they would be later in their career (moreso lyrically on this one over the instruments) and some might even say "Whoa where's Hansi? Is that him singing?" Indeed, there was a time when he once sang without an overload of effects and multiple layers, it's purely Hansi alone on a pedestral here with all the vocals. This album does what it wants to do flawlessly and doesn't try to be flashy or overdone. As many often say (though maybe it's just me repeating myself), there were the three big German speed metal releases back then, the obvious Wall of Jericho from Helloween, Running Wild's more Venom-ish Gates to Purgatory, and then this - Blind Guardian's Battalions of Fear. This album is probably closer to Helloween's debut than anything else out there while still managing to take the spotlight for itself more than enough times, so it'd be totally unfair to call this a blatant rip off or whatnot. This is just what was going down in German in the mid 80's! There were many other worthy acts at the time like Warrant, Iron Angel, Not Fragile, Angel Dust, Stranger, and probably several still undiscovered, but Blind Guardian were one of the very few that managed to really shake the grounds with an unblockable impact, near perfect consistency. If you want to talk German speed metal, this is an obvious classic.
A lot of this material was more than likely written during the mid 80's, as a handful of these tracks appeared on their 86' demo under their previous name Lucifer's Heritage. So they were pretty much on par with Helloween and some others with the written material here, though I guess it took them a few extra years to get a full release out. Either way this probably helped with a lot of polishing on the production. New fans might not like it, but against most other German speed metal releases back then this is easily among the best in terms of production. However this is also where I see a slight flaw, the general "sound" of the guitars. When compared to the likes of Warrant and some other thrashier acts, you could probably note that the guitars on this one sound a little thin (especially compared to their tone on upcoming albums like Somewhere Far Beyond, etc), though I guess everything actually sounds a bit condensed here. Either way the production still gives off this odd nostalgic aura that I really enjoy ... and the mix is always consistent through the whole thing, with an incredible balance. The production is grade A stuff for its time, but if it had just a "little" more punch to it it would've been invincible.
I don't want to put this up against "what Blind Guardian became", but I am honestly a little disappointed they aren't the -fast- band these used to be thesedays, because both AndrÃ© Olbrich and Marcus Siepen could really tear things up with some incredible guitar work with quite some speed. As fun as the riffs and rhythms on this album are, it's the leads that really stand out and they're riddled everywhere. It sounds like more than a half of some of these tracks are completely driven by constant leads and melodies. It really keeps things interesting. On top of this it's pretty amazing Hansi KÃ¼rsch keeps up with some impressive bass work while delivering a grand performance on vocals, a huge thing I've always liked about this guy is that there's really nobody out there that sounds like him at all. As I said earlier, Hansi is pretty dang young here and sings his heart out with his natural voice, so don't expect any overdone vocals or anything. Finally, a lot of us know drummer Thomas Stauch pretty well thesedays and the fact that calling him a simple amateur would be an enormous mistake.
Through and through this album is straight up German speed metal with the occasional Walls of Jericho-esque epic touches from time to time, mainly with the melodic focus. When you listen to this album and then something like A Twist in the Myth later in their career, you'll think you're listening to two entirely different bands (guess that's the case for most long running bands though). Because of this I have to say there's pretty much no guarantee all Blind Guardian fans will enjoy this (and well vice versa). But if you've got a wide range of tastes or a thing for classic speed/thrash with a ton of melodic structures, this should be right up your alley. All of the tracks stand out on their own with a handful of unforgettable classics like their incredibly infamous Majesty (seems to be a fan favorite live and probably my top favorite song from them), the self-titled and aggressive Battalions Of Fear, the relentless Guardian Of The Blind, and even the instrumentals on here stand out a -lot-. The remaster bonus tracks are absolutely essential and fit in with the whole album perfectly. Overall, this is a definite speed metal classic and for 1988 out of Germany, I'd actually take this over the Keepers any day of the week!
Blind Guardian began their career as the modern heavy metal proponents of J.R.R. Tolkein in the mid 80s, when speed/power metal and thrash metal were only made distinct by a slight tendency towards more melodic choruses in the case of the former. The Helloween influences jump right out at the listener from the very onset, although one should also take note that BG mostly focused on the pre-Kiske era, even though they were likely exposed to both the Keeper albums at around the time this was released. Hansi Kursch mostly stays within the tenor range with his snarling approach to singing, although he makes time for the occasional Halford inspired scream. Likewise the instrumentation is heavily influenced by both the respective German thrash and speed metal outfits, although obviously there are some instances where bits and pieces of Kill Em’ All are at play.
The songs found on “Battalions of Fear” basically fall into three categories: the longer speed metal tracks that draw heavily from Helloween’s first LP, the shorter ones that are closer to what can be heard on the “Death Metal” compilation (not only Helloween), and the instrumentals which are somewhat primitive versions of what would be heard out of the band in the mid-90s. Although the quality of the mix on here is slightly inferior to “Follow the Blind”, the entire album is a much more consistent listen, although the end result is an almost one-dimensional product.
“Majesty” kicks the album off with a somewhat comical sounding waltzing keyboard that is actually a bit similar to the one found on Helloween’s “Time of the Oath”, but the rest is pure blazing speed metal, but with a very catchy chorus, though one you have to wait almost 3 minutes to get to. “Guardian of the Blind” is the most accessible out of the bunch, lacking any drastic changes in feel and featuring a hook-laden chorus chant that can also be heard on the intro of “The Last Candle” off the 3rd LP. “The Martyr” and the title track are aggressive enough to almost be thrash, featuring some solid back and forth lead playing and plenty of consistent speed drumming.
“Run for the Night” and “Wizard’s Crown” are both shorter yet still plenty fast and furious. The former is quite similar to the spirit of the Helloween LP, minus the nasal vocals and over-the-top high end screeches. The latter was originally titled “Halloween” (they probably changed the title to avoid confusion with the 13 minutes plus extravaganza found toward the end of the first Keeper of the Seven Keys album) and was taken off the first Lucifer’s Heritage demo. It would not sound out of place at all alongside the other songs found on the “Death Metal” compilation that Helloween, Running Wild and company.
The instrumentals on here are basically more of the same great speed metal minus the vocals, clocking in a bit shorter, and featuring a lot of great lead playing. “Gandalf’s Rebirth” is a bonus track on here, following another short instrumental Tolkein homage, but gets my pick for best out of the instrumentals on here. It features a somewhat repetitive rhythm section, but the lead guitar theme is quite striking and is somewhat of an early indication of Olbrich’s later direction as a melodic lead player rather than a pentatonic shredder.
Although this is a bit more stripped down than what you’ve heard in recent years, “Battalions of Fear” hasn’t faded at all with the passage of nearly 20 years. It’s not quite the groundbreaking classic that Helloween’s “Walls of Jericho” was, but it is a solid album cut from the same style with voice that is easier to sing along with. Bands like BG are never content to stay in one place and play the same thing, they are compelled to continue expanding their array of ideas, and whether or not you like the direction they’ve taken since “Imaginations from the Other Side”, this album is definitely worth looking into.
Recorded two and a half years after the legendary Helloween EP, Blind Guardian truly proved themselves with this invincible speed metal attack. It takes all of the standard elements set by the latter and blends them into a unique form of brute, yet melodious, mind-blowing Metal. Everything is perfect on this LP. Hansi does an excellent job. His voice is really clean and euphonic, and is nowhere near as rough as Kai’s. And what about ferocious shrieks? There’s plenty to find. The rhythm section is nice and tight, featuring solid bass work that is actually audible, precise drumming, and ear-blistering double bass. Yet the guitars are without a doubt the highlight of the album. Marcus und André deal out deadly riffs that’ll slice you to bits before you can fathom a thought. And their leads are absolutely the best. They have an unparalleled style that takes the brilliance of Glenn Tipton and Kai Hansen, and then takes it up a level or two.
After a short intro (don’t be alarmed, it’s a requirement for a Speed Metal release) it kicks off with Majesty, a fierce 7 and a half minute track that greatly shows how Metal euphoria sounds. Catchiness is an understatement. You can’t help but singing along, even if you don’t know the lyrics. Along with Hansi’s melodic vocals, there are many vicious riffs to headbang to, solos, and FUCKING SOLOS! Holy Shit! There’s enough trills to suffocate a domesticated horse! You can’t start an album with a better song. It’s simply not possible. A short burst of drumming and then Guardian Of The Blind continues with more of those speedy, skull-crushing riffs. It has a very nice chorus, which is followed by an extraordinary solo. Man, that’s how Metal ought to sound.
Trial By The Archon is an excellent instrumental. A couple of grade-A quality riffs with outstanding solos enhance this short one. It accurately shows the intense excellence of Blind Guardian’s lead work. Plus, it serves as an opener to the next song…Halloween, er Wizard's Crown. This is just as incredibly catchy as Majesty. Everyone does a godly performance. The riffs are real harmonious and bone-crushingly heavy. It’s so damn simple, but it definitely stands out among this LP of classics. The last minute is from Trial By The Archon, which makes repetition extremely better. More breath-taking trills end this hell-of-a-track. Pure bliss!
Run For The Night has great verses and chorus. Memorable riffs and a flashy solo uphold this streak of unadulterated Speed Metal.
Martyr! We’re following you. Bless us for eternity. This is unquestionably one of the choice cuts; it’s raw, evil, and shreds immensely. The savage riffs will devastate you to no end. And of course more impressive solos, you can never have too much of that. Tons of aggressive passages really display Hansi’s distinct vocals to his best. Even just judging by the lyrics, Martyr is a superior gem. Much like the previous, the title track is furious and raw. Just check out that verse riff, pure headbanging fury. The rest of it doesn’t let down a bit. Sonic drum pounding is much more dominant here, and there’s classic riffs up the ass. The bridge and chorus are among the best of all time. And you must pay homage to that ethereal solo. Damn! Is that a mortal playing that, ‘cause it could give God a worthy challenge.
By The Gates Of Moria has tight riffs that accompany the superb lead work. It’s unbelievable how they pull it off with such precision. Sloppy Kerry King wanking bullshit this is far from. The album ends with yet another instrumental, Gandalf’s Rebirth. This actually has a great solo with lots of technical skill. If you love predominant guitar excellence, then you shouldn’t give a shit about all the instrumentals.
There you have it, the perfect Speed Metal album of all time. This baby is carved in stone, right above the Helloween EP. Every single second is memorable. You can’t be left unsatisfied. It’s decked out with a typical Speed Metal rhythm section (which means exceedingly excellent) and guitar work that even smother the Gods themselves, Glenn Tipton and K.K. Downing. Stellar music with outstanding fantasy-tinged lyrics and a unique set of vocals really sets this far from the rest of Metal bands. It’s odd song patterns make it never old. If you’re a fan of Metal (which of course you are. Why else would you be reading this and this site?) then you absolutely NEED this album.
Every band has a beginning and this was Blind Guardian’s. Almost a complete 180 from their complex, over-the-top, progressive arrangements of late, Battalions Of Fear is crushing, melodic Speed Metal. Despite the fact that all members would improve as musicians and song writers this release still provides a lot of appeal to me, simply because I love Speed Metal; and this is really well played Speed Metal!
As one would imagine every track on this release is full speed ahead. Massive amounts of double bass and neck breaking drum runs appear with Walls Of Jericho styled riffing. A lot of comparisons have been made to Helloween’s classic debut and they are well warranted, but hey, how many CD’s do you know that sound like Walls Of Jericho? Probably not enough. The guitars are the most dynamic part of this CD, and not really for the riffs, though they’re pretty good, but more for the leads. Battalions Of Fear is just loaded with leads in every song. Some short, some long, some to back up the vocals… whatever, the point is they’re never out of place and contain a lot of melody and catchiness that remains memorable long after the CD is out of your player. The song arrangements obviously are not all that complex but with Speed Metal they don’t have to be, in fact, for Speed Metal this is relatively complex stuff as there are a lot of riff changes and stand-alone sections to each song. The opening track, “Majesty”, is over 7 minutes long and never falters for a second. Come to think of it, "Majesty" is one of my top 10 Blind Guardian songs, it’s that good!
Other stand out tracks include "Guardian Of The Blind" and "Wizard’s Crown". The former is a pure neck breaker and has a great sing-along chorus. Actually, all the choruses on here are very good; most are very simple compared to the multi-layered stuff that Blind Guardian does now, but they are nevertheless memorable and back up “gang” vocals add a nice touch and added energy to the CD. As for "Wizard’s Crown", well, that’s a perfect example of what I just mentioned. Very few choruses are so simple yet so memorable; after hearing the line “Halloween” for the first time it hasn’t left my head. Of special mention are the two (three if you have the release I have) instrumentals. I’m usually not a big fan of instrumentals as they usually just put an unnecessary break in the proceedings but this is a rare case where the instrumentals: “Trail By The Archon”, “By The Gates Of Moria”, and “Gandalf’s Rebirth” provide classic examples of how amazing fast Metal with harmonic leads can sound. Not only are they enjoyable to listen to, but “Trials By The Archon” is a suiting lead into “Wizard’s Crown” that should not be played as a single song.
Kursch doesn’t quite have his range here but his vocals are fitting to the music and it’s kind interesting to hear his raw, but melodic approach on here and how it has evolved over the years. It’s not perfect, and the music is definitely the highlight on Battalions Of Fear, but it does get the job done.
Production wise Battalions Of Fear has a classic 80’s sound: everything sounds real and the bass can be heard but of course, the sound is a little muted but the heaviness of the guitars and double bass still come through. The only low points are "Run For The Night" and "The Martyr". These are great songs, don’t get me wrong, but it’s pretty much been done before. Yes, they are well executed and cool to listen to but it’s a good example of how a touch of added diversity probably would have landed this CD a slightly higher score. Regardless this is one of my favorite CD’s from 80’s and every Speed Metal fan should own it.
Blind Guardian's later albums are all essential power metal classics (well, A Night At The Opera sure isn't essential...) but in the early days, this was a true speed metal band. The album does have its influences from epic power metal, but mainly it is speed metal played really fucking well.
The production is pretty nice. It's not as clean and polished as their later albums; it's quite raw and heavy, which suits the music and atmosphere of this album very well.
All the musicians show the great talent they possess in many ways. Most remarkable is the guitar duo of Marcus Siepen and André Olbrich. The riffwork is fast as hell throughout pretty much the entire album, and each song contains a variety of riff changes, keeping the listener interested. Each song has a few very well played guitar solos and some nice melodic leads, which is a trademark of any Blind Guardian album.
Vocally, it's rawer and less melodic than their later offerings, but Hansi Kürsch's epic voice is instantly recognizable, and the album does have it's fair share of singalong choruses, although they're not nearly as big as Blind Guardian would make them later on in their career.
The CD version has 9 songs, although two of them are short instrumentals and one is just an intro.
The six remaining songs are all killer speed metal. To name a few highlights, I'd say Guardian of the Blind, Battalions of Fear and what might be the best Blind Guardian song up to date, Majesty. It's the most epic track on here, reaching over seven minutes. But the epic feeling comes not mainly from the length, but more from the vocal lines and melodic lead guitars, which are of course accompanied by a variety of speed metal riffs.
Yes, that song owns.
But the three remaining songs are not bad at all either, in fact they all rule. Wizard's Crown rocks, Run For The Night is the shortest and catchiest of the non-instrumental songs (although the vocal lines are ripped off from Helloween - Judas) and The Martyr is a bloody great piece of quite epic speed metal.
Then we have the two instrumentals. By The Gates of Moria is pretty nice, although nothing remarkable. But Gandalf's Rebirth is pretty fucking bad. It's way too happy, uplifting and melodic for it's own good. It sounds completely out of place, and totally ruins the flow of the album. So, be careful to press the stop button just before this song starts playing, and you'll be fine.