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The Art of Blind Guardian

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I’ve always been fascinated by the cover art of Battalions of Fear. It seems to revolve around themes of control and judgment. Four identical men occupy the center of what appears to be a chessboard. Are they fighting each other? Doing acrobatics? I can’t say. One of the men has toppled off the board, and who knows what fate awaits him

Perhaps the hooded figures control the men and use them as game pieces, or perhaps they sit in judgment. The figure on the right has his or her hand closed, as if anticipating or waiting. The figure on the left is reaching towards the middle of the board, or perhaps making a magical gesture. When he reaches for the middle of the board, will he hurl another man off the side?

The blue demon figure in the middle of the piece adds to the sense of control and judgment. His arms are crossed, as if to tell us that he is in charge. He projects beams of light from his eyes, beams that hold the tiny men in his control. Maybe the tiny men are his flesh and blood puppets, dancing for coin they shall never see. If they fail to amuse, they are hurled from the chessboard.

A foreboding visage dominates the upper half of the artwork. The eyes glow and the features are reptilian and demonic. It watches the scene beneath it for reasons unknown. Does it merely watch, or does it control or judge? My best guess is that it’s the Guardian of the Blind referenced in the lyrics of the song of the same name. Even for a guess, it feels like grasping at straws.

Therein lies the mystery of the record. What is the link between the cover art and the lyrics? “Majesty” is about Tolkien, and the Hobbits’ quest. It references Gandalf the Grey, but why are there two grey-cloaked figures on the record’s cover? Ultimately, no one song matches the album’s cover art. “The Martyr” and the title track concern themselves respectively with Jesus and nuclear war. The themes that run through the remaining songs are a closer fit for the art. Even there, however, the link is tenuous.

The result is a classic album cover that is intrinsically linked to the music, without necessarily matching the lyrics and lyrical themes. When record collectors speak of their hobby and of the link between fan, music, plastic, and record jacket, I think that they speak of albums like Battalions of Fear.

— Richard Street-Jammer

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