Blind Guardian

Blind Guardian
Jun 4, 2015
Interview with Blind Guardian - Blind Guardian's Nightfall in Middle Earth was the fourth Heavy Metal album I ever bought. Coming home from a 12 hour day at school, and pulling together all the funds at my disposal, I made a purchase that prompted a paradigm shift in my musical trajectory. The discovery of Blind Guardian's enormous orchestras, intense vocal layering and breakneck speed was for me as a metalhead what the discovery of Richard Wagner was to me as a classical musician. You can imagine my ecstatic eruption of excitement when I found an e-mail inviting me to speak with to Hansi Kürsch or Andre Olbrich. After two forays with the foibles of internet connectivity and three interminable weeks, the internet won out and I was afforded the opportunity to speak with Hansi, the unmistakable voice behind Blind Guardian. The inner fangirl screams "Tell him his latest album was awesome!" the inner ethnomusicologist screams "Ask him questions for your thesis!", the very real guitarist from my band sits on facebook: "Plug our band dickhead." After sorting out formalities with Skype (mainly my lack of webcam), I sat down to chat with Hansi Kürsch, veteran of ten albums and near thirty years as singer of the titanic Blind Guardian about their latest album Beyond the Red Mirror and the art of storytelling, politics and the nature of good and evil.

Metal-Roos: So Beyond the Red Mirror is very much a concept album which was the continuation of a previous story which was left unfinished in an earlier album. I wanted to ask you: Blind Guardian is a band which very much is about storytelling – from my perspective – I wondered, why is storytelling so central in Blind Guardian and the kinds of songs which Blind Guardian makes?
I believe it's mostly based on the music itself which is very narrative. It's very colourful and therefore these types of lyrics definitely make sense from my point of view. But I also think you can mingle a lot of stuff in there by being not straightforward but mentioning things in an indirect way and therefore have a nice tool to deliver personal perspectives on life, for example, or on society without being too straight.


Metal-Roos: Huh, is being straightforward and up front kind of problematic in metal: do you find that a bit preachy?
No, I just feel as though it's sometimes it's difficult to combine that with Blind Guardian music when I look at songs like Battalions of Fear where we have done it, or where we have tried it - there are some more examples over the years - I feel a slightly different approach in the music and then I could go this way, but in general I just feel I would love to leave as much imagination to the listener as possible and I don't want to waste that by being too straightforward or too policy-inspired - whatever.


Metal-Roos: No I get you. So I wanted to follow up that - there's definitely in your mind a link between stories existing in music and stories as you tell them?
Yeah


Metal-Roos: So what makes a story a good story?
Well, going back to my favourite story - the Lord of the Rings or the Tolkein-ish Middle-Earth world-universe in general, it has to be compact, it has to be logical in itself: like, for instance, Game of Thrones is so successful with people who are not into fantasy in general because the world described in there is pretty much like our world, so you have a relation. It does not necessarily have to be that closely connected to our world for me personally but the core of the story needs to feature the same qualities and once this is the case, be it in literature or in my own imaginations then I start to think about this as a valuable item for Blind Guardian lyrics.


Metal-Roos: Okay, so I did want to ask, you did briefly mention that these stories exist in your imagination and very much Blind Guardian is a very musical and lyrical journey which does look through the imagination: do you feel that you are connecting people with their own imaginations?
I hope so. Some of them start interpreting some of the songs and when I go to our homepage for example I see people discussing the lyrics and the stories in general and I feel that for a good amount of people listening to Blind Guardian the music and the lyrics have a sort of inspiring effect, and therefore I would say that it worked out fine, yes.


Metal-Roos: Fantastic. Do you ever feel as though people read too much into it?
Sometimes they do, sometimes they misinterpret for example, and sometimes they believe there is more of a realistic aspect to it than there might be but in general I feel that they have the right attitude and the right idea about the music. I mean it's part of their life and I know a few fans who consider Blind Guardian to be their religion and this is fine by me, you know?


Metal-Roos: Awesome sorry... I wanted to ask - I was looking over a couple of your interviews and you talked a lot about Blind Guardian music coming in two different styles, and in one style there's sort of the futuristic aspect and in another the organic, ancient aspect of it. If I were to be quite hasty in one's conclusions, one might assume that the futurism might be reflected in the metal aspects and the organic could be reflected in the classical influences of Blind Guardian music. Is that an accurate conclusion to make?
Depending on - sometimes there's even a bit of a mingling so it's difficult to answer. I would rather say that the disturbing elements that we have woven in no matter whether it's classical inspired song or whether it's a Blind Guardian let your hair down song has made me think about the futuristic aspects of the story. In general it was just like, we had these two pairs of songs whenever we started doing songwriting in a particular season, it turned out to be the case and this made me think about two different universes. But in general our songwriting is so straightforward and doesn't leave a lot of space to reflect what we are actually doing in the moment: more like, is this something that we may not have done before: this is the key question we have in our minds during the musical part of songwriting.


Metal-Roos: It's more about doing something we haven't done before rather than reflecting on the notions of the divisions in your music?
Right


Metal-Roos: I did notice in some of the interviews that I watched that this idea of the future is quite pessimistic insofar as a lot of it is about the dystopian in the future. Is this kind of a warning or is it a reflection do you think?
Well it's something happening in both universes with regard to the story [of Beyond the Red Mirror] and this definitely is related to the present; to the way medias and politicians behave these days. There's hardly any honesty and what we call the treasure of democracy is departing in many ways and this is what has been reflected in the two universes in Beyond the Red Mirror and I also put my attention on the aspect of failing. I believe that nowadays the politicians and the people in the story of Beyond the Red Mirror they have good motives - at least some of them - and they are ambitious and they try to change things for the better and they just fail because they fail to realise that their perspective has to be adjusted and they stick to what they believe is right for too long and they simply oversee some of the points and at a certain point as in nowadays society it might be too late to adjust.


Metal-Roos: That has opened up to me an aspect of the Red Mirror which I hadn't previously considered insofar as the political ramifications.
Well, one point: there is not really an evil guy. Some are selfish, some are ambitious and it just turns out for the other side - for the people looking in from the other side - that this might be a malicious person, this might be a total control freak but it basically is not the case: they are simply following their own aims.


Metal-Roos: So... if I can throw a broader question on you on that point - do evil people exist?
Yeah, but I don't think they are born evil.


Metal-Roos: Sorry for the heavy question
Most of them are - no-one is really evil, it's just, you know, the way they have to behave or the way they feel they have to behave which makes them evil, and of course, you can be driven over to the dark side.


Metal-Roos: Sorry, I'm scrawling with a pencil as well just in case I lose all my data. So you've already touched on this previously when we talked about when you're writing you're looking for something new, and looking for something different, I did want to ask - when you're writing in the studio, how do you deal with the massive legacy of Blind Guardian behind you? Is that something which hangs heavy when you're thinking of new material or is that something which allows you further ground to explore different ideas?
Depending on the season, and depending on personal moods. It's different. For example, when we did the whole songwriting for the new album, I didn't feel any pressure and I was enjoying the simple fact of creating music, but I know from Andre's side that he has felt this pressure this time. And I can recall periods, for example after Nightfall in Middle Earth where I felt a certain pressure due to the legacy of Blind Guardian and especially of Nightfall in Middle Earth so there are definitely periods where this occurs.


Metal-Roos: Do you find - I mean some people that I've spoken to have talked about that pressure being a good motivator to try new things rather than something which closes of entrances to you. Do you find that your musical past allows you to go to new places?
How I look at it is that the legacy is something fine in general, it's more a pressure due to quality, which I am personally afraid of. In terms of what we have accomplished before it gives us a certain space. With the each new album this is something which became obvious over the years: we were able to explore a little more of new dimensions and new territories, and we ourselves allowed us to, and the fans luckily accepted that, so from that point of view the legacy in terms of creativity has given us a sort of safety feeling when we do songwriting and we know we can try a lot of things and people will still be fine with it. Of course, you cannot please everyone with everything you're doing. But I also think we are very careful when it comes to weaving in new elements because we ourselves have a certain taste with regard to Blind Guardian and we might know what could find and what could not, and of course it's a bit of trial and error, but when we finish a songwriting period in terms of preproduction we all have a very good idea and we skip some of the ideas which we feel are too odd. Creativity, not pressure; it's more the success which might be kind of, difficult to handle.


Metal-Roos: I did notice that in a lot of interviews you talked about you discard a lot of material that you don't feel is up to scratch.
Yeah. There is stuff which we do not even talk about. I mean, I skip, like, I would guess about 70% of what I create in a day, I just delete it and what I know of how Andre works it's pretty much the same and I'm sure it's also the same with Marcus and Frederik.


Metal-Roos: So, a lot of bands sort have this hauntingly large back-catalogue of unreleased music that they sort of pack into an album to fill up some space. I presume that's not happening with Blind Guardian.
We could not. We have some good ideas stuck... somewhere in any of our computers. I doubt that this would become a whole album because most of the parts are really just directly skipped away or deleted and we do not even discuss them anymore, later on.


Metal-Roos: Of course - it's a forward facing band rather than a backward one.
I would say so, yes.


Metal-Roos: So I did have a question about working with the orchestras on your latest album Beyond the Red Mirror. Andre when he talks about writing for orchestra says the orchestra needs a lot of space. Do you ever feel claustrophobic working within all that space of the orchestra.
Yes. I'm sometimes not aware of it luckily: how fully occupied the stuff is. For instance in parts of The Throne but at the very end when we do the recordings and I see it coming, all things coming connected to each other and needing a space to breathe or whatever, I just recognise with the vocal layerings I sometimes do, how many things have to be adjusted just for the simple reason that there's so much going on and things have been overseen before by me or Andre and this creates a mess at the very last moment of the production process usually, and it's burden that I have to carry on my shoulders since I'm the lead vocalist and I'm always the last in line, and I figure how much there is. While during songwriting, it is also something which I have to recognise and delivers quite big problems to find something to go on top of this you know? You just feel the music is beautiful, but at that point, it still needs vocals, but it feels like, no, you don't have to put vocals on that, but you have to: it is a dilemma and our pieces sometimes start complaining. And I'm happy we have people like Charlie Bauerfeind who is giving me a hand at these pieces and encourages me during production to continue songwriting and to try to connect things because you feel that this just can't stay instrumental even though it's fully occupied already.


Metal-Roos: And sort of, fully developed as a thing.
Yeah it is. You could take a song like, At the Edge of Time if you play it instrumentally it works as a song but at the very end that if you looked at it you would just say 'it's a nice song but where is this going to lead me?' or 'who will be attracted by it?'. Yes of course, if people know it's Blind Guardian and they know the whole story they will be attracted, but if you just see the song for itself you would say 'well there's a not-known Heavy Metal band called Blind Guardian or whoever coming up with instrumental songs just like this' and it would probably not work out.


Metal-Roos: It's funny, my brother and I work in a bookshop and whenever we walk past the Wheel of Time series one of us will yell out the chorus of Wheel of Time to the other.
This was more enjoyable, and coming from a different aspect, this was a song composed for the orchestral album and when I started my vocals I just felt that even with the vocals the music was not completed and I encouraged Andre back then to weave in the band performance, and this was good for the song because in comparison to some of the other songs on the orchestral album it was lacking something and we could adjust that by adapting it into a Heavy Metal song.


Metal-Roos: Now I'm sorry to say that I have been told that I have to stick to a strict 15 minutes, so we might have to end it there if that's okay.
That's okay, because I just saw the schedule that I've been provided with and it is all 15-20 minutes, another interview, so if you have your answers then I'm perfectly happy and I see the guy calling right now! Check out Blind Guardian's latest album Beyond the Red Mirror, a sublime mix of prismatic chiaroscuro, a primal shifting roar of forgotten space and time, the cry of brilliant defiance in a well of darkness, the shifting orbits of immense planetary worlds. Come join me and the Metal-Roos crew at Blind Guardian's Sydney show on the 20th of June,19th if you're in Melbourne - it promises to be an event as colossal as the latest album. Tickets - Sydney (I believe the Melbourne show is sold out): tickets.thehifi.com.au



Interviewed by Duncan Therkildsen Jones
Ever since Duncan Therkildsen Jones discovered metal at the age of 14 he's been obsessed with putting it under the scalpel. His twin passions of Heavy Metal and classical music saw him found a Sydney Speed metal band, and complete an honours degree in music studies at the Sydney Conservatorium of music. He is currently studying a Masters degree in Musicology at the Con, specialising in ethnomusicology/ethnography of Heavy Metal.