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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.