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Blind Guardian - Battalions Of Fear CD (album) cover


Blind Guardian


Progressive Metal

3.20 | 99 ratings

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Conor Fynes
Prog Reviewer
4 stars 'Battalions of Fear' - Blind Guardian (71/100)

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's 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.

Conor Fynes | 4/5 |


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