Blind Guardian (Germany)

The name Blind Guardian has been at the forefront of epically bombastic and intricate power metal for decades. They have been pushing musical boundaries their entire career and now they are ready to unleash their most ambitious work yet. Legacy of The Dark Lands has been a work in progress for no less than 23 years. This album is something that must be experienced to understand its grand scale. Blind Guardian have produced something fantastically different, and just maybe have re-invented the entire genre.

Metal-Roos: Thank you so much for giving me time today!

Thank you for your time! I’m happy that I get to speak about Legacy of the Dark Lands for a while…

M-R: 23 years working on a single album is an insane amount of time. But it’s so much more than an album, it’s an event, something that has never been done before. Can you describe the feeling of finally finishing and releasing this masterpiece?

You are right, we always treated like something special and something different. So, time was not that much of an issue for us from the beginning. It developed into an issue because at least 10 years ago we thought that we would be ready to go and would be able to release this piece of music within a short amount of time. Obviously, we’ve been proven wrong because the music and the production demanded so much time as well as Blind Guardian demanding so much time in between. In the situation where we’re touring with Blind Guardian or on the production cycle of a new album, we put that piece of music aside. We had a lot of dedication to the songs that we composed but we never pushed the project, this is one of the reasons why this is such a special album.

From the beginning, it had a very obvious atmosphere, from the very start the first songs that we composed made us want to come up with similar songs but in the Blind Guardian way so they can be different. We also thought that they would come when they come, we never pushed it, but they eventually came up when they needed to come up; they were talking to us at a certain point during the band’s career, over the last 20 years. Having said that, the dedication and passion has been there from the beginning, but over the last 5 years or so I have been thinking that we need to be finished with this one. I started really pushing myself and everyone that was involved in the whole thing we put our full concentration to that one and by doing so I realised there is no chance to push anything because the music demanded the time it demanded and so we gave time to it.

There were periods in the production where I was really exhausted by giving it the time it needed. As you can imagine when it was finished by a certain point, I was blown away by the result and totally happy that we stuck to our guns from the beginning. It’s a relief and absolute pride that I feel by finally releasing this album. You are right, I agree, it delivers something new, we really can’t say where we will end up with this one. There are so many different opportunities, we of course over the years have continued writing songs like this, so we would be able to release a second album going in that direction. Not in 5 years, but it wouldn’t take another 22 years. We’ve learned a lot during production, so this is also something that was beneficial to us by paying so much attention to the music, we learned a lot. I really believe that once people dig into it. Yes, you can’t listen to it on the go or just to one song and say whether you like it or not, you have to really spend a lot of time with it, just listening for 70 minutes, and it will be worth it. You might enjoy it or not, I can’t say, but you have to dedicate a little bit of your time to it to embrace its full beauty. Once you have done you will discover that this is completely new universe end it might even change the whole music scene because it might be an inspiration to new bands do a similar thing.

M-R: I keep wanting to say that this is a huge departure from the usual sound of Blind Guardian, but that’s not necessarily true, The sound of Blind Guardian is grand and bombastic, epic and powerful, and Legacy of The Dark Lands is definitely all of those things, but it’s also different than, basically anything out there…With such a long writing process you would have been able to scrutinize every note, how much has the music evolved from when the project first began? Were there many re-writes? Has it ever been scrapped and re-started?

It’s not so easy to answer this because all the songs captured the original intentions. All the melody lines and vocal lines have been designed very early in the creation period of the songs. If you had a chance to re-visit our first arrangements of a song like This Storm which is 22 years old, then you would figure there’s not a lot of change. On the other hand, of course, we’ve gained skills and have revisited the songs here and there, so they have made progress, but we tried to capture the original intentions of each era of the band. Each era, if you ask me, can be realised in the songs. Dark Cloud’s Rising, In The Underworld, This Storm these are the first songs that we were working on and that have a little bit of Nightfall in Middle Earth or A Night at the Opera spirit and so on and on and on. I could continue until we finish all the songs, you always find is a little Beyond the Red Mirror, a little bit of At the Edge of Time, whatever it is. We, of course, improved the way the orchestration would sound and we had to adjust as well. When André who’s not an educated score writer composed the arrangements for this project, he sometimes used instruments in a range where they are not supposed to play, so we kept the melodies, but we had to find an orchestral instruments that played in that range. Things like that happened which needed to be fixed. Plus, once we got more familiar with the organic sound of an orchestra, we calmed some things down and put more emphasis on others. These things were being adjusted into the very last moment but as far as the basic song we haven’t changed anything.

M-R: André Olbrich said that a lot of things you learned for this album were used on the last BLIND GUARDIAN records. A song like And Then There Was Silence, for example, would never have been possible without this project. Can you expand on this?

That was a win-win situation for us how when starting this whole thing it started influencing Blind Guardian material. For example, with And When There Was Silence the regular Blind Guardian composing profited from the orchestra album which happened a couple of times. Another example is The Wheel of Time from the album On the Edge of Time. It was originally composed for the orchestral album so it was planned without the band but I just felt it lacked a little bit in comparison to the other songs that we composed just for the orchestral album. So, I said, I don’t see that as a song for the orchestral album, but I believe if we add the band to it it’s going to be a great song for Blind Guardian, so we did. We have one hybrid, Harvester of Souls which is At the Edge of Time on Beyond the Red Mirror here we also have the classical arrangements first. Now, André and I had a little bit of argument how this song actually got on Beyond the Red Mirror but as far as I recall he came to me and said ‘I dreamed of this song with the band, so, here is the orchestral and a metal arrangements, do with it what you want to’. So, I had a new song to sing to and that ended up on Beyond the Red Mirror which, is I think one of the most essential songs on the album. Of course, there’s a little bit of beneficial effect on these Blind Guardian albums. At first, we kept it little separate, after A Night at the Opera when we did A Twist in the Myth, we were driven a different direction with regards to the Blind Guardian songwriting. Ever since that moment we just said ‘well, let’s give a hint to people about what they may expect on the orchestral album’ when working on songs like Sacred Worlds or Wheel of Time. We can’t separate the whole thing in terms of the creation process completely so they will be always an effect if we work on such songs, but I really believed the Blind Guardian universe, in general, has become richer because of this. On the other hand, you have to say that without an album like Nightfall on Middle Earth for sure there wouldn’t be an album like the orchestral album because that was perhaps the origins of it all.

M-R: I know that Blind Guardian is usually quite intense and involved musically, but a full orchestra adds so many more layers. Was the melody of the lyrics more challenging than a usual release? How did you approach the process of building your harmonies to work with everything else?

It was at points. We did plan everything quite accurately. When going into the Orchestral Hall to record the orchestra we had defined all the vocal harmonies already. I’d say we were protecting ourselves with regard to any future accidents. There were some occasions though where my harmonies in the 2nd or 3rd row were colliding with the 2nd or 3rd row instruments in the orchestra and we just had to adjust it, which was very difficult. Some of the stuff on the last two Blind Guardian albums and especially on this album they are not based on normal chord structures anymore. My singing and the music define the chord and so they were interferences, which at the very end – once the orchestra was recorded – needed to be fixed by me. I spent a lot of time, at least 24 months singing alone. I wasn’t constantly doing it obviously we did adjustments, we had breaks in between, but it was more than just one run of everything. Not just the lead voices but also the vocal harmonies and stuff like that, we went back and forth. If there was something popping out to us too much we would change it.

Of course, the more you listen to it and the more you examine stuff the more you find so that kept us busy for a while. Still, it was not as difficult as one would imagine, the most difficult thing was keeping the balance between the orchestra and my singing. If there’s a weird structure in terms of chords with regard to the orchestra and my vocal melodies had to go along with it that sometimes was very difficult. Also capturing the organic dimensions of the orchestra, I mean, it’s a living organic being and I’m (as the vocalist) are the only alien thing fighting against it and bringing in the metal. The orchestra is very intense but even the most intense moment it has a more soundtrack effect, not a real metal impact. We had to bring that in by using the vocals and the backing vocals to really match the size and momentum of the orchestra that was the real challenge for me.

When we’re doing a Blind Guardian production, I can choose what I want to hear, so I can sing along to either just lead guitar or guitar and drums or just drums. Usually, I minimise the information, I just take the necessary information to be able to make a performance of mine the easiest that you know don’t waste yourself. With this, the orchestra performs all together in the live situation, so you have this monster, but you have to somehow pacify it which was quite challenging. There was a lot of swearing, I curse the day when we decided to record the whole thing with a real orchestra. In the pre-production I did a lot of stuff with decent programming which almost sounded as good as an orchestra, so we could have just used that one. Of course, in the pre-production orchestra I can hear what I want, so I could just have the flute, everything else is annoying me at the moment, so before so I could sing along with just the flute. I got to a result which you would say sounds brilliant, but this is just like ‘Oh man that’s just so dimensional, they demand all the space, is there a way we can turn them down?’. But then my producer would turn them down they would be too quiet and I was overwhelming the orchestra. It went for every single piece on that album. It was a real challenging way of trial and error and exploring new regions but at the end of the day I’ve bled a lot, but I succeeded a lot as well.

M-R: I read that you have far more ideas than time, this project is begging for some sort of live spectacle, can you shed any light on the future plans of Blind Guardian?

I’ll start with Blind Guardian because it’s so much easier. We’re about to hit the studio again for the next regular Blind Guardian release. When I was doing my vocals here, André was preparing songs with the other guys. So, we have a full album of songs at least for the initial starting point of production. It should be around January 2020 hopefully. We will finish all the production in the year 2020 to release the album in 2021 then hitting the road again. The band haven’t been on stage for more than three years, so when we finally do get back to the stage will be 4 or 5 years after last live appearance, that are really the major plans for 2021. For the orchestral project apart from the release which is November, I believe the best and smartest way to do a live appearance is carefully. We’re discussing a possible show in 2021, to give us a preparation period of almost 2 years. I believe it’s what this album would demand because there are so many decisions to be made. Do we do it in a big festival environment and then make it a once in your lifetime experience? Or do we actually take it on the road to orchestral venues? There are many options.

Interview Date: 2019-11-01

Interviewer: Jonathan Hurley