Blind Guardian – Basking in TwilightSunday, 17th November 2019
Given the high quality and nature of the material that Blind Guardian has been delivering to fans across the globe for over 30 years now, to have had a project in the works for over 20 years means it has to be something special. In fact, Blind Guardian’s Twilight Orchestra is exactly as magical and momentous as those would believe it to be. Removing the metallic elements of the ‘band’ and replacing it with an orchestra is an intriguing take to their already storybook-ready material, and Legacy of the Dark Lands carries the spirit of the band while going into a new direction. We were given the chance to talk to vocalist Hansi Kürsch close to the album’s release to get a first-hand perspective on what it’s like for the long-discussed album to see the light of day and many of the details behind it, as well as discussing the link between metal and fantasy.
Dead Rhetoric: This was done for over a 20 year span – what sort of feeling does it finally coming out give you?
Hansi Kürsch: I’m relieved, and I’m just happy that we have come to the point where everyone involved – it’s ready for people to listen to it. I’m overwhelmed still by the amount of work, but I’m more than just proud to have accomplished it and having the chance to give it to the people. That people will have a chance to listen to it – that’s a relief! Over the years, we’ve been talking about that so many times. We’ve had to describe what it would sound like, and what it would be about, musically. I could literally see the question marks over the heads of people who never really understood what we were trying to say. If you haven’t listened to it, it’s very difficult to get an idea of what we are talking about. But once you have listened to it, you just figure, “It makes sense, what the guys have spoken about for twenty years now.”
Dead Rhetoric: Given the time involved, do you feel that you were able to go back and tweak things from a technological aspect as you progressed?
Kürsch: Actually, it’s been the opposite. We’ve really paid tribute to every original intention. That was very important to us. If you could listen to what we did to “This Storm” or “Dark Cloud’s Rising” in the beginning, you would figure that the original idea is very much present nowadays in the final recording. But of course, we used the technology over the years to maintain the artificial keyboard quality of the orchestra first, and then improved it much further when working with a real orchestra. Again, if you really listen back to the beginning, you can hear how close it is still to what the final recording is like.
The only difference is that everything feels more on-spot with this album, and we improved the orchestra as much we could to use it as a substitute for the metal band. I would say “mission accomplished.” We did pre-productions ten years ago, and they were almost identical to what you are listening to now. The curse of the pre-production like this is that you have to top it when recording. That’s one of the reasons the production took so long at the very end.
Dead Rhetoric: It’s interesting that you could envision something that is so very complex from early on and find a way to create it.
Kürsch: It is interesting, but for us, it was always a natural progression. It never felt weird to not have the band involved. Again, that might create questions for the listener in the beginning, but I’m pretty sure that after two or three listens, everyone will understand that there was no need for the metal band. I really have to say that it also goes for A Twist in the Myth, At the Edge of Time, or whatever album Blind Guardian was working on. When we work on this stuff, we never feel that there are any barriers or limits where we cannot succeed. We want to explore new territory, but we have very clear vision from the beginning. That’s part of the privilege of having 35 years’ experience in music, but on the other hand, having the privilege of using musical facilities all the time. It gives us a very good idea of what we are working on.
The problem on this one, was that my voice may have changed over the year, but that was not the case. I was really able to maintain and get into the moods and settings of what I did in say, the Nightfall sessions, in doing a song like “This Storm” or “Dark Cloud’s Rising.” That goes back to some of my route in preparing myself for a song. But in general, the revisit was done really quickly. I was even able to capture the characters in the same way that I did it 22 years ago.
Dead Rhetoric: There’s obviously no metal band in the background but how do you feel that the Twilight Orchestra differs from the traditional Blind Guardian experience outside of that?
Kürsch: It does a lot of storytelling, and I believe that is what Blind Guardian is standing for as well. Now we have a combined conceptual album, but even if each Blind Guardian album isn’t always a concept album, you still have these narrative aspects on each of them. This might be defined a little bit stronger on this album, but it shouldn’t be different than what we have been doing since Nightfall in Middle Earth, at least.
I believe the exploration of musical territories, not just because of using the classical instruments, but also in the way that we treated them – and sometimes abused them. They were supposed to do things that they would not normally do in a traditional orchestral arrangement. Some of them go into a metal direction, some go into a more jazzy direction and the orchestra had to play this in a classical way and capture these elements as well. That differs from what we do in Blind Guardian. Also, my singing might be a bit more elaborated in terms of dynamics and the way that I express myself. Other than that, it’s certainly in the tradition of Blind Guardian.
Dead Rhetoric: So do you feel that some of the songs could be translated in such a way that you could play them live with Blind Guardian?
Kürsch: Yes [laughs] that is very likely and very possible. We’ve had a few discussions about this during the creation process and production process. At the very end, we decided that the original intention was to be without using a metal band, but of course, we discussed using a metal band to make it more understandable for people to see what the album was about. But we didn’t feel the necessity. The second step, after everyone had an idea about the original intention – it could be doable, but what we realized is that once we go into such a direction, the whole thing needs to be rearranged. We need to create space for the band, which means the orchestra as to take a step back. It also means that the orchestra has to be recorded again and rearranged. It would be very difficult, though it is doable. Though it’s very unlikely that we are going to do this within the next two years.
I’d rather see this as the beginning of another Blind Guardian experience, and we will bring this to the stage at a later time. For now, we have just released the album and we will immediately start he production for a new heavy metal Blind Guardian album, for which we have already composed most of the songs. That’s our mission for the next year and after that we will for sure come up with at least a few shows featuring Legacy of the Dark Lands in the classical orchestration garment in the way that it was originally intended to be performed.
Dead Rhetoric: How did the collaboration with Markus Heitz come about?
Kürsch: At one point, we decided it was going to be a conceptual album and we needed a suitable frame for it. I just felt in coming up for a story I invented myself, or inspired by something that exists, it would not give 100% tribute to the orchestral recordings. I suggested working together with an author. Markus Heitz was my first choice, because he is my favorite German fantasy author, and I’m really in love with his series of the dwarves.
I contacted him and explained the situation with him. It turned out that he was very familiar with Blind Guardian and that he, in his role playing game era, he had listened to a lot of Blind Guardian. He was absolutely interested in working together. We met a couple of times and listened to the songs, and created a frame for the whole album. From that point, we both went freestyle for a while, and then got together and brought the storytelling elements together one more time. We matched everything up, and he in the end designed a story called Dark Lands, which could be seen as the prequel to what you are listening to in The Legacy of the Dark Lands.
Dead Rhetoric: This is an album that really demands your attention, do you feel it’s tougher to present that today than when you first conceived of it twenty years ago, considering it seems the type of thing you should really sit down and listen in one sitting?
Kürsch: Maybe it’s the exact right album for this moment. Sometimes I get tired of the repetition of things, and that everything is so customized and plastic. I believe that the album will speak for itself and it will find the attention of the people that it has been created for. That’s the good part. I know that a lot of people have been waiting for this album, and I believe it matches with what people would like Blind Guardian to do, given the choice and direction. I’m pretty sure it will create impulses in those who will be listening to it and those who have an ear for the beauty and creativity in it.
But to answer your question completely, I believe if we were releasing this ten years earlier, it would be easier to find the attention of a lot of people. The habits and the attitudes of the listeners have changed in the last few years due to streaming and other things. But as an artist, you have to create counterpoints. We cannot consider the way people are listening to music nowadays important when we are creating music. Most of the music has been created ten years ago, and it was much different then. Maybe, if we did the album in the 1970s, we probably would have gained world fame with it, because everyone was open to listening to innovative, new things. One can say whatever they want about the album, but something like this has never been released before. There has never been a metal band presenting classical music in an almost metal arrangement, with a metal vocalist alone. That has not been the case.
That was something that bands did a lot of in the ‘70s [innovation] and that was highly appreciated by the audience. Nowadays, people want to listen to the same stuff over and over again – I can’t judge that but it makes it maybe a little more difficult for the album. But we are open for discussions and it will find listeners, that’s for sure.
Dead Rhetoric: As someone who has quite a bit of experience with this, what do you think makes heavy metal and fantasy go together so well?
Kürsch: I don’t know, it just works. I really have to be honest – when I was more a fan than a musician in the early ‘80s and listening to my favorite bands. I’m not a native speaker, so I had a lot of guessing as to what they were singing about. I was relating the motifs and everything to fantasy back then. It later turned out that in a lot of cases, it was not dealing with fantasy at all, but for me it was always related to fantasy. When Blind Guardian started doing our first songs, everyone in the band not only had a passion for Tolkien, but thought it would complement the music a lot. That’s the reason we did a song like “Majesty” and did a lyrical inspiration for Lord of the Rings. That has never changed.
I always felt it was a very good match, the same with the connection to classical music and heavy metal. It felt totally natural to involve a classical choir, and it felt natural for André [Olbrich] to come up the ideas for orchestrations for “Theater of Pain” for example. It was just something we did not think about, but needed it to be tied together. That’s the same with fantasy lyrics and metal music. Sometimes you just want to entertain people, and you want to give them something to enjoy without being completely picky with the problems of today. One of our first goals was to entertain the people. We felt the blend of fantasy and heavy metal was very accurate for that. Even though I always try to put in some individual thoughts and feelings from myself – I didn’t hide it, and it felt natural to do it that way.
Dead Rhetoric: Are there still outside the box ideas that you’d like to explore musically considering what Blind Guardian has done in the past, or even with this album?
Kürsch: There are a lot of musical universes that we have traveled through already, but there is always something new to find and something that can be defined in a different way. That is what we are working on for the next Blind Guardian and the future. I have learned a lot about dynamics on the orchestral album, and I think it will be useful for the next Blind Guardian. Even if the rest of the stuff will stay the same, it would make a significant difference. The rollercoaster ride can be even stronger with the intensity of dynamics. For this, The Legacy of the Dark Lands has been very important for the upcoming Blind Guardian album. Everything benefits from each other.
Dead Rhetoric: What do you have planned for 2020? You’ve already mentioned the new Blind Guardian album.
Kürsch: There’s a lot of production for Blind Guardian that’s for sure. I would think this will occupy most of the year. My ideal schedule looks like we will end up handing in the next Blind Guardian album to the record label in September or October at the very latest. What I have on the agenda for 2020 is the release of the next Demons & Wizards album. We did some touring over the summer and it was quite an impressive experience to bring Demons & Wizards to the stage in a real touring format for the first time and see how the people reacted. It was a very pleasant surprise.
At the same time, when we had some off-time we finished the successor for Touched by the Crimson King, and it’s a very intense metal album. It will be released in the beginning of next year. Jon [Schaffer] and I discussed if that there is a chance for us to free up a few spots to add Demons & Wizards shows but that is up in the air. The album will be released in the first half of 2020 and this is something that people can really look out for. It’s a very vivid, entertaining, and classy album.