Blind Guardian at 25

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On May 18, Blind Guardian’s Battalions of Fear turned 25. It’s a charming but fairly inauspicious debut, mostly worth revisiting for the brilliant opening track “Majesty” and the song that lends the band its namesake, “Guardian of the Blind”. Its head-scratcher of an album cover that somehow channels Ingmar Bergman while simultaneously predicting Yu-Gi-Oh! doesn’t help its case as a touchstone of European metal, either. And yet it launched the career of the most important band in German metal history.

Now, that is a claim worth examining — after all, metal is a prized German export, and plenty of excellent bands have called Deutschland home over the years. But none has had the staying power nor the wide-reaching influence of Blind Guardian, who after nine studio albums continue to spawn new imitators and summarily make their music sound trite. Accept created speed metal then disappeared for two decades. Helloween made three great records then stopped trying. Kreator, Sodom and Destruction all sprung forth at the same time and made it impossible to tell who was influencing whom. By the time more extreme forms of metal came to capture the headbanger zeitgeist, Germany had fallen far behind its counterparts in Scandinavia, England, and the United States.

Blind Guardian never wavered, though. After a brief speed metal phase that overlapped with Helloween’s dominance of the nascent power metal genre, they began cranking out world-class albums every few years with impressive regularity. After Battalions and 1989’s much better Follow the Blind, the ’90s saw an incredible run of albums – Tales from the Twilight World, Somewhere Far Beyond, Imaginations from the Other Side, and 1998’s arguable creative peak, Nightfall in Middle-Earth – that created a power metal gold standard that has yet to be duplicated.

It’s tough to say exactly what’s made Blind Guardian stand alone in the field of blandness that is modern power metal. On its face, the band’s music has all the same reference points as the scores of shitty acts who’ve made careers out of ripping them off. Tolkien name-checks? Check. Yngwie Malmsteen-meets-Brian May shredding? You bet. Bombastic string arrangements? No duh. Their discography is like a completely crossed-out to-do list of things to put in your music if you don’t want the metal intelligentsia to take you seriously, and yet they’re the only power metal band I can put on with a carload of trve-kvlt warriors without having control of the stereo wrested from my hands.

Above all, I think it’s Blind Guardian’s total lack of cynicism in executing these tropes that makes them so great. Why write one cheeky song about The Silmarillion when you can base a whole concept album around it? And why wink at the source material or put yourself above it when you can make your listeners truly identify with the characters? If wide-eyed earnestness in metal is a lost art, then consider Hansi Kursch the last blacksmith in town.

Since Nightfall, Blind Guardian have only recorded three albums: 2002’s tastefulness-challenging A Night at the Opera, 2006’s oddball A Twist in the Myth and 2010’s return to their ’90s form, At the Edge of Time. Their output is slower now, but not much weaker, and their live show is still a burner unmatched by any of their genre’s acolytes. The people who get why they’re so great and the people who wield the tastemaker’s pen are rarely the same, but for some bands, that’s the way it’s meant to be. 25 years is a long time for an uncool band to keep pounding away at that rock. Here’s hoping they make it all the way to eleventy-one.

— Brad Sanders

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Blind Guardian – “Majesty”"

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Blind Guardian – “Nightfall”

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Blind Guardian – “And Then There Was Silence”

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Blind Guardian – “Lord of the Rings” (Live at Blind Guardian Festival, 2003)

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