Although I’m familiar with Blind Guardian’s work from the last decade or so, their early work has sadly escaped my attention. As such, these re-releases of their first four albums are very well received by your truly.
Each of these albums has been remixed and remastered, and some of them have some extra tracks thrown in too. I don’t know what the originals sound like, but these sound great. I’ve spent a very pleasurable amount of hours listening to and digesting these albums, and I can safely say that they’re all well worth your time. However, they might not be quite what you were expecting from the band if you only know their newer stuff.
One of my favourite things about Blind Guardian is their singer Hansi Kürsch, and the way his voice is used in their songs. Playing to his considerable strengths, the band seem to have knack for writing infectious melodies and anthemic choruses, and the interplay between his vocals and the rest of the music is frequently a strong feature. On these four albums, his voice is still very individual, yet initially rawer and less rich than he would become. He’s largely not the singer of his later years, but you can hear how his voice develops over the recordings quite nicely.
Battalions of Fear is the band’s debut album. Originally released 30 years ago in 1988, it’s a far cry from the polished and epic power metal band that Blind Guardian would later turn into. Far more focused on speed metal, Battalions of Fear is raw and enthusiastic, but still contains seedling elements of what the band would later become renowned for.
Lacking most of their ostentation, and with the charismatic Kürsch putting on a good performance despite his voice not being as rich and full as I’m used to, this album is still well-formed in its own right.
This is proto-Blind Guardian, merely hinting at the potential the band had to become the decade-sprawling power metal monster that they are today. It’s still a damn good listen though, and has a certain honesty to it that’s compelling. This is where their legacy began.
Released only a year later in 1989, Follow the Blind follows on, (ahem), pretty much from where the band’s debut album left off. Fantasy-themed speed metal is what we get once more, but with the thrash metal element increased; you can detect the Bay Area influence quite strongly. You can occasionally hear the band starting to flesh out their sound a bit more however, especially on the title track.
Faster, more aggressive, and with more spiky riffs, this is unadorned, frills-free metal. It’s the heaviest, thrashiest it gets for Blind Guardian, and very good it is too for the most part.
The band go all-out in their quest to deliver quality metal anthems, and largely succeed. Although undeniably infused with catchy songs and a youthful aggression, this is probably the weakest of the reissues in my opinion. Having said that though, it’s still one I’ve enjoyed and will undoubtedly return to again in the future.
Surfacing in 1990, Tales from the Twilight World is the band’s third album. This release sees Blind Guardian’s early speed metal incarnation continuing apace, but with some increasing elements being included that would be further expanded upon in later years.
There’s overall more of a power metal feeling to the tracks, despite healthy amounts of speed and thrash still being included in the music. “Lord of the Rings” was the band’s first attempt at a ballad of sorts, and mostly does the job; the band later refined it in the live arena even further.
Kürsch’s voice is more along the lines of what it would later become, too. At this stage in his career it wasn’t quite there fully, but the progression from the band’s first two albums is noticeable.
I’ve come to characterise this album as Blind Guardian’s first real transitional release. Speed metal is still firmly embedded in their style, but they also started to really develop the more power metal qualities that we associate them with today.
The final of these reissues is 1992’s Somewhere Far Beyond. This was the album that marked the band’s increasing transition into ambitious, ostentatious power metal. Although restrained in comparison to some of their later efforts, and still replete with speed metal influences, Somewhere Far Beyond is still arguably Blind Guardian’s first power metal album of their more modern era.
This album sees the band progress their sound in a variety of ways; Kürsch’s voice can now be heard on this album truly coming into its own; symphonic, acoustic, epic, and folk elements are used with more confidence and verve; a host of guest musicians enhance the album; and the songs are of an overall more sophisticated style. Yes, Blind Guardian in 1992 were pushing out the boat. Although ultimately still in a speed-metal-to-power-metal transition stage, this was the album that really saw the band hitting their stride.
Damn there are some fine songs on this album. Words like catchy and memorable were design for music like this.
All four of these albums are very enjoyable, but my favourite is Somewhere Far Beyond. Widely regarded as a classic of the genre, it’s hard to ague with that assessment.
If, like me, you were shamefully ignorant of Blind Guardian’s early years, then I heartily recommend you pick these reissues up.