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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!