It was indeed a never ending story, but after almost two decades of preparation, it has now become reality: The Blind Guardian orchestra album finally saw its release in November this year. The perfect excuse to ring one of the two band masterminds, Hansi Kürsch.
„Hey, Hans Kürsch of Blind Guardian here!“ says a happy voice in my cell phone speaker.
Hansi, thank you for calling and congratulations for your new album. I really like it.
„That makes me glad!“
I guess that „Legacy of the Dark Lands“ is the longest anticipated album in Blind Guardian history.
„I think that there are not many more albums that were anticipated as long as this one. At least I don’t know a band that needed such a long time. It was indeed a long time, which was not our intention.“
When we talked in the interview back then concerning the „A Twist in the Myth“ album, I heard of the project for the first time.
„Back then I really thought that we were finished recording the album shortly and putting everything to an end soon. We had been already working for ten years on this album. But then we decided to record a regular studio album first and to compose more songs for the orchestra album. Four years later ‘At the Edge of Time’ was released. At this point of time we had finally found the orchestra we would like to work with. When we talked in the interview in 2006, we were felt close to the end of the project, but much more extra time was necessary.“
Which emotions do you have regarding the final product?
„There are two. I am very satisfied because we reached our goals. It took a lot of blood and sweat, but I am very happy with the result. We were able to fulfill our visions in a professional way. And I am also relieved that we could find an end to the tale. For me, it felt like a never ending story.“
Please describe which songs were written in which period!
„I can tell you a rough timeline, but many songs were developed over a longer period of time. The first composition was created at times of ‘Nightfall in Middle-Earth’. It must have been 1996 or 1997, André and me still argue but that. André composed an orchestra-only track for which he wanted to have musical-style vocals. I liked that idea because I like ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’ very much. My first vocal idea sounded like Pink Floyd’s ‘The Wall’, but André wanted to have something different. I re-worked it and afterwards it sounded more like Fantasy-style. It was ‘This Storm’, which was entitled ‘Gondor’ back then. I was much into Tolkien in those days. The song, which is now on the album, is 90% identical with the original version. The song was completely finished in 2009, at least with a programmed orchestra. The song was recorded in 2009 when we were recording the orchestral parts of ‘At the Edge of Time’ in Prague. At the same time ‘Dark Clouds Rising’ was composed. The song was actually finished at the time of ‘Nightfall…’, but we decided not to put it on the album, because we wanted to leave the band out of it. So the idea of the orchestra-album was born.
Next there was the songwriting for ‘A Night at the Opera’. In those days, we told other people for the first time that we will produce an orchestra album. The next song, which took a a lot of time, was ‘In the Underworld’.
Between ‘A Night at the Opera’ and ‘A Twist in the Myth’, a couple of songs were composed. There also some songs we did not put on the album. We will certainly publish them in the future. The songs we wrote in those days and which we put on the album are ‘The Great Ordeal’, ‘In the Red Dwarf’s Tower’, ‘Treason’ and ‘Point of No Return’. Most of them were finished much later. Between ‘At the Edge of Time’ and ‘Beyond the Red Mirror’, all other orchestra songs were composed. I do not remember the order, but I can tell you that ‘Beyond the Wall’ was the last one. It was written during the recordings, as well as ‘Overture 1618’.
The spoken word parts were recorded in March this year. As a result of our collaboration with Markus Heitz we had quite detailed ideas about the story. We knew what should happen to Nicolas and also that the Four Horseman of the Apocalypse should play a role. The spoken word parts are used to link the separate songs in terms of the story. We hired the same speakers as we did for „Nightfall…“, Douglas Fielding and Normen Eshley. There were a couple of more speakers, but those two did most parts.“
Why did you decide not to stick to Tolkien and to work instead together with Markus Heitz?
„At the end of the songwriting I decided to leave Tolkien behind. One reason was that we did not do much about Tolkien in those days as this topic was very much present in the media due to the movies. Originally we had wanted to make a soundtrack for a Tolkien movie that does not exist. But then those movies were actually made with their own score, therefore we reconsidered our work.
We chose Markus Heitz because I like his ‘Dwarves’ universe. When we talked about it, however, we finally decided not to go in this direction. Instead, we decided to chose the 30-Year-War as a theme frame. Another idea was to integrate the Four Horseman of the Apocalypse.
Markus is one of my most favorite authors and was therefore my first choice. When I contacted him, it turned out that he has been a Blind Guardian fan for years. So there was nothing to stop us from a collaboration.“
The songs were written over a longer period of time, but the topic was set at a very late point. How did you fit the songs to the story line?
„That was quite easy. Our attempt was to lead the story by the music. I, as a composer and vocalist, could change the story in any direction. There were of course some difficulties to overcome, but all in all it was quite easy. For Markus in return, it was much more difficult to work with music which was already composed. We granted him a a lot of free space and we also presented him the music a very early state. Therefore he was also up to date on the developments. At the end it was like a ping pong game between us. The result was – how could it be otherwise? – that we could not keep our schedule. The problem was that Markus had to publish his book at a certain point. At this time, the story line was already set, so Markus delivered a prequel to our story.“
Frederik and Marcus of Blind Guardian were not involved in the project. Why did you decide not to use typical Metal instruments in the songs?
„We composed without Metal instruments right from the start and we thought that the songs were fascinating and strong enough with them. So we decided to keep them like that. The second reason was that the album would not have been something special if we included Metal instruments. On our last regular studio albums we combined our Blind Guardian music with orchestral sounds. Sometimes we talked again about this decision, but we decided to keep it that way, because we liked the result.
I do not have the feeling that something is missing. It would not have been a problem to integrate the band into the songs and the result would have been a progressive Heavy Metal album. But then it would not have been much different to the music we normally create. Nevertheless, ‘Legacy of the Dark Lands’ sounds like 100% Blind Guardian, although no band is playing.“
But you cheated, there is an electric guitar in ‘Dark Cloud’s Rising’…
„Haha! Yes and no! While composing the song, we programmed a sampled guitar into the songs. When we did that, we were still contemplating about involving the whole band. Although we decided to produce this album without Metal instruments, we never removed the guitar. We simply forgot it, no joke! We recognized the guitar when we went for the mix. We decided then to leave it as it is, because it did not sound annoying and we did not even notice it first. But yes, there is a rhythm guitar. In this point we were a bit inconsistent. But I think that it should be okay.“
What is the target group for ‘Legacy of the Dark Lands’ from your point of view? Besides die hard Blind Guardian fans of course…
„I personally grew up in the 70s and 80s with a huge variety of music. I liked everything that was different, exotic or even strange, no matter if it was jazzy or classic. All experiments from well-known artists were welcome to me and I think that I am not an exception. So this album is addressed to all interested, open-minded listeners, although the music will actually not be to the likes of everybody. This mixture of sounds is brand new and I hope that many music enthusiasts will listen to it. But I know that the way of consuming music nowadays speaks against it. Many people a very narrow-minded and only focus on stuff they know already. But I think that everyone who likes soundtracks could also like this stuff.“
The final track ‘Beyond the Wall’ begins with a spoken word part. And I am not sure: Is it you?
„Yes, that’s me. The spoken word parts in ‘In the Underworld’ and ‘In the Red Dwarf’s Tower’ are done by other artists. The audio drama sequences have many whispered voices. Those are from Charly Bauerfeind, our producer, Tommy Geiger and me. Ghost voices and stuff like that.“
A last question concerning ‘Legacy…’: Do you have any plans concerning live shows?
We are thinking about that. But first of all we will do another regular studio album. We will start the production at early 2020 and I guess that it will take some time. We do it again with orchestral parts and it will be extensive work. I guess that we will finish the production by the end of 2020 and release the album in March 2021. At least, we try to keep this schedule.
Our idea is to make some orchestral shows at the end of 2021. Either we make a short tour through classic concert halls or, what is more likely, we rent a huge venue in our home region for a couple of days. Maybe we combine that with another Blind Guardian festival.
We are also thinking about bringing it to stage without our input. We could sell it as a musical to a third party. The story is good and the music is great, so it should be no problem to sell it.“
How about adapting some of the orchestral songs for your classic band setup?
Yes, but that would be a long term project, because we would have to rework the music and all the vocals. If we did it for the whole album, it would certainly need five more years. But we discussed it already. Maybe we try one song like ‘Point of No Return’ first and check how it works live. I think this could be a good approach.“
Rounding up, I have two final questions: Recently you released a live album. The set list was a bit surprising for me because you released a lot of songs which had already been released on previous live albums. It surprised me because you also played some rare songs on the tour, yet those have not been yet released as a live versions. Why?
„Yes, that is right. We did not record as many versions of the rare tracks as we did with other songs. When putting the album together, we went for quality. We chose songs that we liked as they were, because we did not want to make a „live in the studio“ album. The versions of the songs you mentioned, for example ‘Guardian of the Blind’, were not good enough. As I said, we went for quality. But you are right: There are a couple of songs that we previously released as live versions. But in addition there are 45 minutes of songs that were not released as a live versions.“
In the near past, you were involved in a song for the game „The Dwarfs“, called ‘Children of the Smith’. There are rumors about your input. Is it a regular Blind Guardian song?
„It is a song that was written with the assistance of Marcus and me. Our bandmates were not involved. I think the tag line is ‘with members of Blind Guardian’, but it is not a regular band release. We helped with composing and recording the song, but that’s it. The song will not be part of a future Blind Guardian album.“
Thank you for the interview!
„You are welcome!“
Interview: Timo Paessler, photos: Blind Guardian label promo