BLIND GUARDIAN Wheel of Time

Few years ago, even before there were any words and rumors about the new Blind Guardian’s album, I was wondering how Blind Guardian would sound with full orchestra and finally I got this answer. They sound majestic! Since we are speaking here about one, more or less, fantasy-based band the orchestrations are very welcomed. Of course, ”At the Edge of Time”, their upcoming full-length has some other qualities to offer, from great mid-tempo tracks to really speed/power metal hymns. In a few songs Guardians have even returned to their primordial roots, covering once more Elric’s saga, but yet you can find inspirations from other fantasy authors as well. ”At the Edge of Time” is a masterpiece for itself and this particular album has proved that mighty Guardians still have many things to offer! At one evening I had a chance to talk with one of the nicest persons on the metal scene Marcus Siepen, and here you can find this chat. We’re speaking obviously little more about upcoming issue but there were also other things from the past that we touched.
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Well, I would like to start this interview with my compliments for the new Blind Guardian’s album, especially for these two orchestral tracks ’’Sacred Worlds’’ and ’’Wheel of Time’’.
Great to hear, thanks so much!

’’Sacred Worlds’’ and ’’Wheel of Time’’ are definitely, if not the best, then surely among the most complex tracks when it comes to Blind Guardian. How did you get this idea to record these two particular song with full orchestra?
Actually orchestrations are not so new in the Blind Guardian songs. I mean, we had also orchestral songs in the past, too, but what was brand new for us is that we finally got a chance to work with the real orchestra which makes a lot of difference because you can program orchestra on the computers, keyboard or whatever, and that’s what we always did in the past, when we didn’t have a chance to used real orchestras and that came very good if it’s well done, but it just cannot match the song of the real 90 people orchestra. And we were so happy that we finally had a chance to do some like this, because for this album we had a vision about that song. We wanted to have this song to be very warm and very natural. Of course, what can sounds better and more natural then the song recorded with full orchestra. Of course, it was like dream come true for us. Those two songs – they just demanded something like this. You know, ’’Sacred Worlds’’ is a kind of updated version of track ’’Sacred’’ that we originaly wrote for the computer-game ’’Sacred II’’ and the version that is in the game still have computer/keyboard orchestra. It’s a shorter version in the game, the intro isn’t there, outro isn’t there, and as I just said we used only keyboard orchestra that we programmed but know when we have a chance to do something with the real orchestra, of course it was very obvious to re-do something like this, you know, to do this updated version, and this clearly shows the difference between computer programed song or keyboard played song and the real thing. It couldn’t be bigger, this difference. So we’re so happy about it. Also, the track ’’Wheel of Time’’… Actually the basic idea for ’’Wheel of Time’’ was to make it part of our orchestral project that is supposed to be released one day, so it wasn’t supposed to be a metal song. But, it turned more and more into a metal song: hard guitars came in and everything other and also there was so many oriental scales and melodies going on that we could feature with the real orchestra and it was just awesome to see how the song grew into this direction. I think that those two songs are among the most epic and the most complex tracks that we ever did thanks to the orchestra and we couldn’t be more happy with them! The sound result, I mean not just sounding, but also the result of those two songs is exactly what we wanted to do with them and that was perfect!

Could you tell us something about these orchestral recording sessions? Where did these session take place? Was it hard actually to compose, record and produce those two particular tracks since those songs are definitely more complex comparing to other ones on the last album?
The orchestra is the orchestra from Prague and it was also recorded in Prague. I think that the most difficult thing was obviously when the songs were composed. For the composing we used usually keyboard songs that we have here that you can do in your pro-tool system, with keyboards, plug ins and stuff and that’s how we compose the orchestra lines. But obviously you cannot record audio track with just this keyboard-orchestra and give it to the orchestra, to the real one and just say: ’’ok this is what we want from you guys to play, please can you record it now?’’ Of course you have to write down everything in those partitures, and that’s something that we couldn’t do. You know, we can program some keyboard orchestras but, of course, we cannot write a partiture for 90 people orchestra, so we had to rely on some people to help us with this, that could turn our keyboard-orchestra compositions into a written music for a real orchestra. This of course is a hell of the work and a lot of job. But this should be given to the real guys then so they could know what to play. Of course, it was our producer Charlie who had to keep an eye on everything so that everything could work in the mix, later when we combine the orchestra with the metal band, but in the end he did a great job, it works perfectly!

These two orchestral composed and recored tracks are definitely something really new when it comes to Blind Guardian’s style of playing and composing. Ok, in the past you have already many tracks with orchestra but this was obviously just a keyboard-play orchestra. So, do you plan in the future, for upcoming releases, to continue to compose tracks in this more complex way with full orchestra?
I have mentioned before that we are already working of a kind of orchestra project since 10-15 years already which will be completed just on the classical music. You know, it’s just typical sort of Blind Guardian music, but just there’s no metal band there. Blind Guardian’s music would be played entirely by an orchestra and Hansi will be singing but there will not be heavy guitars, no drums… just an orchestra plus Hansi singing with all typical Blind Guardian’s melody-lines, harmonies and everything. So, this is already in the working process. We already recorded, I think, five songs with that same orchestra, but obviously there are going to be more songs, because 5 tracks don’t make an album. We plan to record some more stuff early next year but then we have to tour. So, we are actively working on this orchestra project. But talking about the future and normal Blind Guardian album, there’s no plans for anything in the moment because the new one isn’t realeased yet and in next one and half year we will be touring so that’s what we are focusing on in the moment. We don’t even think about the new songs. But, I seriously doubt that we would do that, we will do the whole album only with songs like ’’Wheel of Time’’ and ’’Sacred Worlds’’ because that will be too limiting and what is really special about this album is the mix of styles, variations and the dynamics in the songs. That’s very important for us because we don’t want ten times ’’Wheel of Time’’ on the album just as we don’t want ten songs just as ’’A Voice in The Dark’’ for example. We want dynamics, we want ups and downs, and the changes in the music. That’s very important for us. So, I’m pretty sure that in the future we will continue to work with the real orchestra if the song demands orchestration but the fact that we are very happy with those two songs doesn’t mean that in the future all our songs will be like that definitely would be too much.

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Also, when I was observing ’’At the Edge of Time’’ I’ve noticed that you have placed the tracks very carefully. Album starts and finishes with spectacular two tracks with more epic and vast approach, then you have some more speed and aggressive titles and finally, mostly in the middle of record ,there are few more mid-tempo tracks. These mid-tempo titles are more like a calm before the storm, before speedy compositions arrive.
When you start song writing, there’s no plan for anything like this. In the beginning of the writing sessions of the songs we don’t sit down and say „we need two fast, two ballad or two mid-tempo or epic tracks“. When we start writing, we just wait and see what will come out of us. And those 10 songs happens to be songs that we wrote during last one and half year and, as I said it was not planned to be like that, but we’re perfectly happy with the result because that was the dynamics that we were aiming for. Of course, at the end of the song-writing, when we see that we already have two epic songs with the orchestra we just notice that we don’t need to work on the third track like these two. And, as I said, when we finally have those 10 songs it was very important for us to talk about the running order on the album because this definitely changes the impression that the people have on the album. If you choose the wrong running, for example if we put two epic songs right after the another and the start album like this, the effect will be completely different then that is now, with opening with ’’Sacred Worlds’’ and the closing with ’’Wheel of Time’’. Same is with the position where the fast songs are, where the ballads are or the mid-tempo tracks are. So, we work a lot on this. We talk about this, we try different versions and finally find right thing and that is very important for us. This is not only about the running order of the tracks. Also, when we are in song-writing process we work on the little details beacuse that is something that make songs different between each others in our opinion. If you take care of all small details the result will be fine.

’’A Voice in the Dark’’ is the first single from ’’At the Edge of Time’’ album so this particular track is a kind of representation of the new full-length. So, was there any aim to choose right this song because ’’A Voice in the Dark’’ is one of the fastest tracks on the entire material, I would say typical power/speed metal title?
Yes, it is! I think that choice of this song has surprised people quite a lot because most of the people would expect something like a ballad to be chosen. But we choose that song on purpose because we think that it is one of the strongest tracks on the album and we want to show everybody that we are back with the new album, with the strong album and its also a nice opportunity to make some people shut up that were just complaining in the past like: ’’ah, you lost your power, you are not heavy anymore blah, blah…’’ Yes, we are still heavy, we are still fast, we have still thrash and speed metal roots that we always have! And ’’A Voice in the Dark’’ is a nice song to show these people thing like this. You release this song as a single and everybody can see: ’’oh, yes they’re back!’’.

Cover artworks for both of the new releases: ’’A Voice in The Dark’’ and ’’At the Edge of Time’’ are those so called computer designed covers and they are completely different from some covers of Blind Guardian which were done for previous records. So, are you satisfied by these two covers? Also, why did you choose computer way of designing this time instead of classical paintings?
Hm…it’s not that we choose computer designed covers on purpose, you know, that was not our goal, we didn’t sit down and say that we need computer kind of design in contrast to Marshal’s airbrush style or whatever. We were actually looking for the new artists, fresh artist that didn’t do ten million covers already and Andre found this guy on the Internet and he shows us some of his works and we were really impressed. We then connected and asked him if he would be interested in doing a cover for us and at this point we found that this guy is a die-hard Blind Guardian fan since ages and he was very happy with our offer and the working with him was the most uncomplicated thing that we ever did because we told him what we have in mind for the front cover, for example, and he started working and at some point send us exemplars of his work so we could see how he interpreted our ideas. And whenever we had a corrections to make, we said ok, this is great but can you please change this or that or whatever, he was so incredibly fast with his reactions. Whenever we said „can you please change this or that“ in a half of hour we had already updated version! And this is of course something that I think is a benefit of this ’’computer-work’’ because on the computer you can do this changes much faster comparing when you have to work with paint and brushes an everything. But as I said, we were not aiming for computer graphics in general, we just wanted to work with fresh guy who will work for us and we are very happy with the result. I think that its a very nice cover. Both covers, also for the single!

Do you agree with me if I say that cover artworks are very important when it comes to Blind Guardian and actually the covers play a big role in the art which BG try to express?
Definitely, if you don’t know the band, and if you just go to the record store and go through whatever records are there, the first thing that you see is the cover. In the record store the first thing that you hear is not the song, if you just what to check out CDs, it is the cover artwork. So this should be attractive to people if you want to check you out. And, of course, that’s one point. Also, the cover should fit to the music. It doesn’t make any sense if the band like Blind Guardian would have airplanes or whatever in the cover because it doesn’t have to do anything with the music. Our music demands a kind of fantasy artwork. And, of course, we are perfectionists with the music, and we are also perfectionists to anything else which is related with a new album. The song has to be perfect in our opinion and the cover artwork has to be perfect in our opinion! The whole package should be as good as it could possibly get. So, obviously cover artworks are definitely very important part.

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You don’t write lyrics for the band, this is Hansi’s duty, but also you’re pretty into fantasy things, as well. So, do you have any influence on the lyrics in the writing process?
We can have some influences, obviously Hansi is the guy who writes all the lyrics, nobody else ever in the band wrote the lyrics for Blind Guardian. We didn’t talk about this, it s not like Hansi said: ’’I am the singer, I write the stuff’’.So, nobody ever tried. We just love Hansi’s way of writing the lyrics, we are perfectly happy with this, so there’s no need to interfere at all. But, of course, we can have our influences. For example: if I read the book that I really love and that could be great source for lyrical inspiration I can say to Hansi: ’’Hey, check out that book, you can write something about it’’. So, if he read it and like it that I have inspirited him to write the lyrics, so this is form on influence. Then also, sometimes when we do songwriting, first we write the music and then Hansi just sings anything that comes to his mind, it doesn’t need to make any sense, he just follow the melody-lines, and the rhythmics of the words. And only when the full song is composed then he writes the entire lyrics and sometimes, during the time when he works on lyrics, there are phrases that we really like, and sometimes we come to him and say: ’’Can you please keep this phrase because it fits perfectly’’. Those are kind of some influences that we usualy have but in general we think that this is Hansi’s business and that he’s doing a great job.

So far there was only one Blind Guardian’s festival. From my point of view it was a great and successful event. Do you plan to organize second festival?
Hm…yes, there are some plans even through that there are not any concrete plans in the moment. When we did the first one, it was something completely new for us. We never did something like this before: two days, both nights headlining, but we loved it. It was running so great, everything was perfectly done, and we have the chance to film DVD which turned out to be exactly how we wanted and everything was perfect for us. So, obviously we want to do something like this again, but we also said in the beginning, that in the case we do it again it should be also something special. So, it was never the plan to do something on year-basis. You know, to have BG’s festival each year. We would do something like this again for sure, but as I say there are not concrete plans in this moment, so we will not definitely have it this year or next year, this has to be prepared carefully. If we do this once again it doesn’t need to happen in the same way, on the same place, it doesn’t mean that we are going to have two shows again, with us headlining both nights, we don’t know about all those things yet. We only know that we want to do something like this once again and that we will do something like this once again. And as I said, everybody has to stay patient about this because we only think that at the moment we should focus on the upcoming tour and that festival will be not the part of this tour for sure that will happened whenever later.

Also, so far you have published just one DVD, obviously with the videos taken from the festival, but do you plan to film and publish another one?
Yes, I am pretty sure that we will do something like this one day, but also, there’s no concrete plan at the moment because we are very careful when it comes to live recordings. In our opinion, it does not have any sense to record or release live album every year because, we recorded four studio albums before we recorded „Tokyo Tales“ because we wanted to have a proper back catalog to choose from when we do a live album. You know, it doesn’t make any sense to record one album and then to release same ten songs as the live album. It doesn’t make any sense for us. Then we released another four albums before we once again record the 2nd live album which was perfectly fine because there were enough new songs that have not been covered so we could have a completely different set up and that’s how we like it. So, we might record something during the next tour, we were thinking about this so we will take our record equipment with us on the tour, so that we can record the shows, but I doubt that there will be another live album next year because I think its too early. So, if we publish live album, there will be two albums in the same time at the market, together with ’’At the Edge of Time’’ so I think it will take just one or two studio albums before we think about the releasing another live album or live DVD but as I said, I think that there will be also some more live stuff in the future.

I was actually thinking that you could maybe release DVD as a kind of bonus with CD – like a double package.
That is possible, of course. As I said, we talked about maybe taking our recording equipment with us on the tour. We are now preparing for a very long tour. I guess that we’re going to be on the tour for a one and half year so there will be many shows that can be recorded and if the result is fine then, of course, there is possibility to release this as bonus, live EP or something, but there’s nothing concrete. As I said, we are thinking to take our equipment on the road which will give us opportunity to record every night and then we’ll see.

Blind Guardian is somehow very interesting band when it comes to doing cover tracks from the other bands. I mean, once again on actual single ’’A Voice in the Dark’’ we can find one cover: ’’You’re the voice’’ (John Farmham), but also there were many other various covers like: Trial by Fire, To France, Beyond the Realms of Death and many other as well.
Uuuuh, tricky question…actually I like pretty much all of them. What I like is that we didn’t pick the same stuff. I mean, we are metal band and it will be obvious thing to cover other metal bands, as we did in the past. I mean, we did the cover ’’Trial by Fire’’ from Satan, as you mentioned, we did ’’Don’t Break the Circle’’ by Demon and we really love those covers. But then we decide to do somethign different that people don’t expect like the Beach Boys’ stuff or like ’’You’re the Voice’’. All those songs, what matters to us, have to be the songs that we like. Then we can have fun and we enjoy playing them. So, what’s my favorite cover that we did? Hm… uh, I don’t know, I really have to say that this is the hard question – I think that if I need to pick something right now that I will choose ’’Don’t Talk to Strangers’’ from Dio. It was something very spontanious for us that we did back then, we were asked if we will be interested to be part of a tribute to Dio, and since we were always a huge Dio fans, so it was a pleasure for us to do something. The whole thing was very spontaneous. We just met in the rehearsal room and jammed some Dio’s songs and at the end we picked that one. And after one week later we start the recording and we finished in a couple of days including the mixing and that was really a fun! Really fast and spontaneous thing and the result is very good. So, yet today I’ll pick that particular song!

’’Batallions of Fear’’ and ’’Follow the Blind’’ were very important records for Blind Guardian in the beginning, but now many people, especially those newcomers mainly forget about them (some of them are even not interested to check them out). How do you look, from this distance, on those two first full-length? Do you like to listen them sometimes?
I still love them. But, I normally don’t like to listen to our own albums. It is obviously that I love the music, otherwise I will be not a part of this band, but that’s the part of our history. If you are working in the studio for several months on the songs, and then you rehearse and prepare yourself for the tour, then you are on the tour for a year or even more and play those songs, then you really don’t need to go home, put CD and listen to same stuff yet again (laughing) . I really don’t know any musicians that are listening to their own stuff at home. You’re concentrated on that material so many times: while recording, touring, so it’s nice to have a break from it. But, obviously when we prepare ourselves for the tour, we go though the albums and try to see what song we might perform on that tour and that’s the moments when you pick up all those CDs and listen to them yet again. And that is a lot of fun! And then, as you mentioned, both albums were very important for the band, and that’s what established us on the scene, and these were the first releases that we did and that’s how people got to know us. And obviously if we would record for example ’’Batallions of Fear’’ today that will sound different beacuse we became better musicans, we became better songwriters, but still we would’t change this album beacuse that shows what Blind Guardian was in that period in the late 80’s so that’s how we have been back then. And that’s really part of that time and it belongs to that time and that’s perfectly fine in that content. The same is with ’’Follow the Blind’’ which was released in 1989 and that sounds what Blind Guardian was at that time and we are still proud of those albums because that’s what we wanted to do exactly back then and that’s perfectly fine!

And for the end I would like to ask you something about what I have noticed. I was observing many of your shows, and also DVD, and I have noticed that you actually played almost every song from ’’Imaginations from the Other Side’’. That actually leave the question: is ’’Imaginations ’’ the best album of Blind Guardian?
Hm, as far as I know, but I need to check numbers, it wasn’t the album that sold the most, but it is one of the favourite among the band’s fans, and it’s also one of the classic albums from Blind Guardian. The nice thing is that every song perfectly works in the live version! Obviously there are some tracks that are harder to be performed on the stage, some we didn’t even tried yet, but ’’Imaginations’’ works very well and it’s also a magic to play those songs beacuse people like this album. That’s why there are many songs from that CD in usual live set. Of course, we tried to avoid to play the same songs over and over again, but ’’Imaginations’’ just offers the big sourse of songs to pick from, so whenever we prepare ourselves for the tour there’s quite some ’’Imagainations’’ stuff in the set. We are preparing ourselves for the tour right now and we are rehearsing around 40 songs so far. But obviously that won’t be the set-list because we cannot play 40 songs every night and the concert would be very, very long. But, we like to have the big pool of songs from where we can choose from. And, in the end we will play around 20 songs every night, but we can change this every day, and that’s actually what we are going to do. We have some core songs that we’re going to play every night and then we have some other songs that we can exchange. It depends on whatever we wanted to play on that shows, personal mood… but the main point is that we can always change the set so we can keep it much more interesting for ourselves because it will be very boring routine if you have to play same set list every night and we also know that many of our fans come to more then just one show so that they could be pretty sure that they will see different set-list at the end. It not that we will change whole set obviously. There are some songs that we need to perform: like some new songs, some classic tracks, that we have to play, otherwise people will crucify us, but there are always 3-4 or even 5 songs that can be change and there’s great thing to do. And some some times we choose ’’Imaginations’’ songs and sometimes we pick others (laughing)…

  • Answers by Marcus Siepen
    Interview was done Marko Miranović
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