With an incredible career and impressive discography, Blind Guardian is well known to all metal fans around the world. Whether you like power metal or not, you can at least respect the talent and hard work these guys put into every album. From the beginning, Blind Guardian was characterized as a groundbreaking group that sets the standards for this genre and with each release takes it to another level. Their latest masterpiece, “A Night at the Opera”, sports remarkable orchestral harmonies, fantastic melodies, and unlimited musicianship that only strengthens their position as a leader in power/epic metal world. How do they remain true to themselves and stay on top enjoying worldwide success? Recently I spoke with famed Blind Guardian vocalist Hansi Kürsch (vocals/bass) and here’s what he had to say...
One of Blind Guardian’s goals was to record a metal opera. Did this album fulfill your aspirations?
No. [laughs] People are maybe mislead because of the title but that’s not the opera. I wouldn’t even say that we envisioned writing a straight opera I mean, we work on the stuff that we don’t usually do but that’s not the stuff on the album. This album because of the orchestration of the songs and the vocal harmonies is somehow related to the classical music but it’s more of a raw, energetic and aggressive metal album.
Since one of the main components of the opera is orchestra did you think of using one during the recording of this album?
At one point we did, especially during the recording of ‘And Then There Was Silence’ because there is so much orchestration there but we used a program to record those parts. During the production we really considered having that part played by a real orchestra and we already started writing tabs but at the end we didn’t feel too comfortable with it. And you really need a proper orchestra to work out that shit and that would be too expensive.
Then I won’t be mistaken if I say that there are plans to use a real orchestra on albums in the future?
Yeah, but not with the metal band. That would be something for our musical, operatic stuff we are working on because there would be nothing else but vocals and orchestra.
What is it? Are we talking about your new side project?
We’re not even sure if that’s a side project or we’re willing to record it under the Blind Guardian name because it’s Blind Guardian music but it doesn’t contain the metal part. Vocals are kind of story telling, very characteristic and the music is kind of classical but it’s very entertaining and very melodic. We started working on it years back during the “Nightfall in Middle-Earth” and we’ve composed 8 songs so far but that has been a second priority because we always consider Blind Guardian as more important. We feel that it’s almost the right time to release it but we need at least 4 more songs and then we have to record it and that will take a hell of a lot of time.
If ‘And Then There Was Silence’ took you four months to record how much time did you spend on this album all together and can you give us a glimpse of how Blind Guardian works in the studio?
We spent a whole year producing and mixing this album. How does that work? Well, we’ve started with a production in October of 2000 but haven’t done anything but pre-production up until January, that’s when we finally started with real production. The whole drumming session took about 4 weeks and then we’ve worked on single pieces where each piece usually has 60 to 150 tracks and that takes a lot of time. For example, I’ve done 32 tracks of vocals with almost each song including choir and each single voice that can be heard on the album and then afterwards on top of it we brought to the studio 3 or 4 good backing vocalist and they do this same shit as well. We spent 3 or 4 months just on the vocals!
When you enter the studio do you have at least skeletons of the tracks or everything is developed in the studio?
Theoretically they’re done. You would be surprised how much is done already. [laughs]
So, let me get this straight. You’re done with composing the songs and then you spend a year in the studio recording them?
Yeah, exactly. I mean there is a bunch of stuff, bunch of problems that you are not aware of before you enter the studio. Let’s say you have 60 guitars, 8 vocals, 3 counter vocals and counter melodies... when they all get together you don’t have a chance to figure out what is going on before you actually enter the studio.
Writing so complex and multi-layered songs raises a question; how do you prepare for live shows? How close are your live reproductions of your material? Do you prepare different arrangements for them?
They are really close. We focus on main key elements first and then we check what other elements we can bring or we have to bring to make it as close as original track. That strategy usually works extremely well but of course there are differences on few songs between studio and live version but you’ll still listen to this same song and you’ll feel it this same way because we have the talent not only to present the song but we also have the talent to present them slightly different and still with this same way of attraction.
Can you tell us the story behind the “Night at the Opera”? Is it based on some real events or is it complete fiction?
It is complete fiction and it’s not a concept like “Nightfall in Middle-Earth” has been. The title is more connected to the album cover that presents an orchestra pit occupied with fantasy creatures playing in a band and trying to get through a song. There is kind of an autobiographical aspect in the cover as well [laughs] because it reminds me of Blind Guardian.
The cover looks like bunch of guys playing pretty chaotic music and you don’t sound like it...
No, we don’t sound like it [laughs] but at the beginning we looked exactly like those guys. Everyone writes something then we start picking up pieces, collecting pieces, trying to match those pieces... [laughs] and final result is great but from certain point of view we can be seen as those guys. That’s how the title got in; we had the cover and we thought if there’s an album cover looking like that and we have so many orchestral and operatic elements in the music why not use something with orchestra or opera in the title. First thing that came to my mind was Queen’s album the “Night at the Opera” and because there is relation between Blind Guardian and Queen ‘cause we are big fans of their music, why not use that title again. So, we took it as a title. The songs itself deal with several topics like religion, mythology, history and pure fantasy.
Compared to your single track ‘And Then There Was Silence’ the rest of the album surprised me because I was prepared for those long epic tracks and instead you delivered tracks half the length where everything is more condensed. How did that happen? ‘And Then There Was Silence’ really stands out from the rest of the album...
That’s true. If you leave out ‘Battlefield’ that probably goes into this same direction but it’s a shorter one, that’s absolutely true. We wrote ‘And Then There Was Silence’ somewhere in between of the songwriting so, it wasn’t the first or last track we did. With the whole album we tried to make a jump away from the “Nightfall in Middle-Earth” because we felt that it was our pick point with regards to such kind of music and we didn’t see too much sense following that root again. But in certain point during the songwriting we had those ideas for ‘And Than There Was Silence’ and that was connected more to “Nightfall...” than any other song for the album. It grew naturally and after a while it was 4-5 minutes long and it didn’t have a chorus at that point so it became obvious that it would be a long song. We of course paid a lot of attention to this song during songwriting and production because we knew if we do a song connected to the “Nightfall...” music wise it must to be better. Just because of that this song got a little more attention than the rest of them. I think it simply blows away the whole “Nightfall in Middle-Earth” record.
Over the years Blind Guardian evolved from power/speed metal to a more epic style band. Was it a natural evolution or did too many clones on the music market have an influence on the direction of your compositions?
No, I would say that everything out of Blind Guardian is a natural development but we always have in our minds to create different albums compared to our previous ones. We’ve done that from album one and as you’ve said we started as more of a melodic power metal band and we just discovered new fields and there was no chance to stick to the old staff and just improving that. Every time after we finished an album we felt that we’ve accomplished something and now it’s time to go into different direction and we really work on it especially on the latest one. We really worked hard to get away from “Nightfall...”.
As a big fan of Tolkien and “Lord of The Rings” what were your reactions to the movie? Did it meet your expectations?
Honestly, it did. I was blown away. I’m a big fan and of course I was well aware of most of the changes happening there and to be honest I don’t care about the changes and I don’t care about changes in characters or how the story was developed. I think that the way he did it was made just perfect for a theater. Some things were featured exactly how I saw them in my mind and I spoke to several people and most of them agreed on it. He did do a great job and I’m anxious to see how he did the second part because from my point of view that’s the most interesting one.
You wrote some material for that movie, is it ever going to be released and how different it is compared to the movie’s soundtrack?
It is completely different from the soundtrack but it would definitely fit in, there’s no doubt about that. That’s the stuff I’ve talked about. That’s the music we’ve done over the last 5-6 years. It’s really interesting, very melodic and entertaining and story telling stuff.
Haven’t you contacted them about doing the music for the movie, what happened?
Yes, at some point after we’ve heard that we’ve won the contest on their web site we did try to contact them but at that time we weren’t able to provide them with a proper version of our ideas and we decided not to send it at all. It would not have been the quality we usually provide people with. That thing is too big just to send out a cheesy demo.
“A Night at the Opera” marks the first time that someone really took care of promotion of your band on this side of the ocean. Did you plan this move or did Century Media pick you up thinking that the American public is finally ready for that type of music?
That’s true. To be honest it was more from the Century Media’s side. We’ve been in contact with them since the beginning of 1998 and they are doing a great job on our back program especially “Nightfall in Middle-Earth” and motivated by that we both figured out that there’s a strong interest in Blind Guardian in North America. They know that we are really successful here and I guess they feel that American underground is drastically growing each year and if they’ll have right bands at the right moment they could be the upcoming company as well.
Did you at any time think of promoting your new album with Iced Earth and at this same time with Demons And Wizards?
Yeah, Jon and I have spoken about it several times but the problem is that their album was released quite some time ago and they’re about to complete their tour activities already. It would be very difficult to put those two bands together on one tour...
Is there a plan for a follow up to Demons and Wizards?
Yes, we had a discussion about it and Jon is already work on the new material and if everything goes as planned the next Demons And Wizards album should be sometime in 2003.
Thank you for this interview Hansi, and since you’re very successful in Europe and Asia I wish you the same success in North America. I hope to see you on a full tour on this side of the ocean.
Thank you, I appreciate that. It was great doing an interview with you and I hope to see you on our tour.
Entered: 5/3/2002 5:24:41 PM