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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.