As one of the most influential, successful, and important bands in the power and speed metal genre, Blind Guardian have recently reissued their first ten albums. They have gathered, over the years, a large fan base which affectionately call them “The Bards.” Blind Guardian was formed in the mid-1980’s in Krefeld, West Germany by Hansi Kursch (vocals, bass) and Andre Olbrich (guitar) under the name Lucifer’s Heritage, with Markus Dörk (guitar) and Thomas Stauch (drums). The band is mostly inspired by fantasy and horror authors such as Stephen King, J.R.R. Tolkien, Michael Moorcock, and Robert Jordan as well as by traditional legends and epics. They changed their name to Blind Guardian, inspired by Fate’s Warning seminal album Awaken the Guardian. Let’s briefly look through these album.
Battalions of Fear (1988)Their debut album is raw speed metal with thrash elements. Fans of their later output might be put off by the aggression and lack of bombastic elements in this record. Highly influenced by early Helloween (Walls of Jericho era), Battalions of Fear is a band playing their hearts out and as fast as they can. As someone who loves this type of aggressive speed metal, I highly recommend this album. As a matter of fact, this early era was where I first fell in love with Blind Guardian as I was initially put off by their later stuff (eventually warming to it later). Those who dismiss later Blind Guardian might find something really special here with this classic speed metal record. Majesty (opens with a barrel organ version of Johann Strauss II’s waltz The Blue Danube) is a Blind Guardian staple and played at almost all of their shows. Battalions of Fear and Guardian of the Blind are two favorites of mine. Even at this early stage though, the catchy choruses begin. The remastering opens up the tracks and they sound so much better than the originals.
Follow the Blind (1989)The 2nd album follows the same formula as their debut and the two are kind of a pair for their first era of thrash/speed metal. I find the pacing and the songs on this album a bit better than their first as the Bards get their footing. Inquisition introduces the album with latin chanting and then hits you over the head with the ultra speed songs, Banish From Sanctuary and Damned for All Time. They slow things down for a bit for Follow the Blind. Valhalla (the song is about a wizard who deplores the loss of his people’s mythology, hinting at the historical shift from the Norse pagan religion to Christianity) also features Kai Hansen (ex-Helloween and Gamma Ray) on vocals. As with the first album, I recommend this to thrash/speed metal lovers. The remaster on these first two are probably the best as these albums needed it the most.
Tales From the Twilight World (1990)
The third album starts a shift in the band as they get more experimental. The power metal part of their formula begins to show while at the same time the speed and aggression is still present. This album also introduces their first acoustic ballad, Lord of the Rings (a fan favorite), and starts the bard theme they will run with in later albums. I feel this album is a perfect combination of all the elements that make Blind Guardian great. It also contains my all time favorite Blind Guardian track (at least today it is); the very dynamic song (and featuring Kai Hansen again) Lost in the Twilight Hall (it is about the time spent between worlds by the wizard Gandalf after defeating the Balrog). Some other essential Blind Guardian songs are here as well: Goodbye my Friend (inspired by the film E.T.), Welcome to Dying, Traveler in Time ( based on Frank Herbert’s Dune) and the Last Candle (starts with one of their best intros and ends with one of their best endings and has one of their best choruses in all their discography.)
Somewhere Far Beyond (1992)This is a very special album as the band really begins to find their signature sound and is one of the best power metal albums of all time. It starts with a two-hit-combo, Time What is Time (uses the perspective of a Replicant from the Blade Runner film) and Journey Through The Dark, both of which are Blind Guardian staples. When I first heard this album, some of the stranger experimental elements (synthesizers) turned me off, but more listens have made this one of my favorites. Some of the songs take time to reveal themselves such as the intricate The Quest for Tanelorn and Ashes to Ashes (about Hansi’s father’s death). An acoustic ballad, The Bard’s Song, makes an appearance. It closes with their most epic song at this point Somewhere Far Beyond (inspired by Stephen King’s The Dark Tower) introduced by The Piper’s Calling (in which highland bagpipes play the first 3 parts of the The 79th’s Farewell to Gibraltar march). I have to mention some of the bonus songs on this edition. The Queen and Satan cover songs are excellent.
Tokyo Tales (1993)As someone who has seen Blind Guardian live a number of times, any chance I get when they come over to North America, I can truly say seeing them is quite an experience. The first time I saw them, their act changed me from a casual fan to a hardcore fan. The thing I was most impressed with was how the crowd reacts and sings along to their songs, creating an intermingling I’ve never heard with other live acts. This early live album captures that experience. The song selection is excellent and is chosen from off their first four albums.
Imaginations From the Other Sides (1995)Their fifth album is also a masterpiece and, to some, their best album. This album begins with the atmospheric dark title song and is slow but heavy and epic and contains references to The Wizard of Oz, Peter Pan, The Lord of the Rings, Alice in Wonderland, The Sword in the Stone, Chronicles of Narnia and Corum novels. This was an album that took repeated listens before I really warmed it. But each listen brings out something new and is always exciting. A Past and Future Secret is my favorite acoustic ballad they do. They use acoustic interludes in many of the songs creating a very dynamic record. Hansi Kursch’s vocals are incredible and varied. Bright Eyes was a single in Japan and is an example of the vocal experimentation they were working on. Mordred’s Song is a very dynamic track. And the Story Ends remains one of my favorite Blind Guardian songs and has an epic chorus arrangement. One of two albums I’d recommend to all newcomers to this band.
The Forgotten Tales (1996)
The compilation album The Forgotten Tales contains several cover songs, and alternate version, mostly acoustic renditions, of their songs. To be perfectly honest, this album is mainly for hardcore fans. I never really got the Beach Boys/Chordettes/the Regents cover songs. They are mildly amusing. I am guessing that the band gains a lot of inspiration from these older groups, especially their use of vocal arrangements. The acoustic versions, especially of Mordred’s Song, are very good. The orchestral version of some songs are well done but not essential. I really enjoyed the Judas Priest cover Beyond the Realms of Death. The Dio cover Don’t Talk to Strangers is awesome and gives Hansi a chance to really open up vocally. This album needs to be in every Blind Guardian fan’s collection for the sake of completion but it is not essential and, for most people, not a good place to start.
Nightfall in Middle Earth (1998)
This is the 2nd of two of Bind Guardians records I would hand to newcomers to the band. This is simply an amazing album that needs to be in every metal lovers collection. It is a concept album based upon J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Silmarillion, a book of tales from the first age of Middle Earth, recounting the War of the Jewels. It is their most well-known and critically acclaimed album. It was also my first album I bought from Blind Guardian and has a special place in my heart. Of note, this is the first album that Hansi Kursch gave up bass duties to Oliver Holzwarth in order to concentrate on vocals. And it shows. This is some of his most impressive work. Layered vocals and choirs bring Queen to mind. The fast swirling guitars lines, intermingled with the use of folk instruments (flutes, violins, etc.), ballad like numbers, operatic pieces, and spoken narration create a varied and complex album. This is an album you listen to in full and hear new things each time. It creates a very somber atmosphere that is conducive to the complex story. It’s hard to pick a favorites but Mirror Mirror has remained a live staple. Nightfall and Blood Tears and Time Stands Still are favorites of mine. A masterpiece and must own.
A Night At the Opera (2002)
Named after the Queen album of the same name, this record continues the stylistic change from power metal into a more progressive sound. This album is very layered with multiple vocals lines accompanied by choirs and orchestra. There is less emphasis on guitar riffs and heavy rhythms. This is Blind Guardian at its most over-the-top bombastic self. Because of this, it was not a favorite of mine for a long time. I had a hard time getting into this one, but at the same time, I was always impressed with how ambitious this album is. There is so much going on in any one song, it is easy to get lost. You have to listen to this album many times before things begin to click. I now hold this one up in high regard. The 14 minute epic And Then There was Silence (about Cassandra’s vision of the coming Trojan War based on Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey) leaves my jaw on the floor at how complex the song gets. This is not the album to give a newcomer to the band but is essential Blind Guardian that ages gracefully.
Live is their second live album and recorded from all over the world from their World Tour in 2002/2003. It is a double album (with an over 2 hour running time) and really showcases the energy and talent of the band. As with their other live album, I am always impressed with their live renditions, sometimes the songs being even better in the live setting than the studio album. The crowd really gets pumped and chants and sings along, creating something special between performers and audience. Just listen to Valhalla as the band can’t get the crowd to stop chanting. A great example of the live experience and almost a greatest hits package.
As you can probably tell, I am a huge Blind Guardian fan and I love these albums. I am very happy these albums are easily assessable as some have been hard to get in the past. I would say only the first few albums really benefit from the new remaster as the sound quality for the later albums were great from the start. Some of the bonus tracks are great fun. I’d recommend most of these album to most power metal fans and a few to all metal and music fans in general. I’d also suggest their early albums for any speed and thrash freaks looking for a hit. Fans of their later work who haven’t dived into their earlier albums might be surprised by how much the band has changed. But don’t stop there. Four more great albums come after this (including a three disc live album) that should not be missed. I look forward to any future projects by these bards and what mystical stories they have to tell from the “other side.”
For the fans of … Helloween, Iron maiden, Queen, Judas Priest