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Blind Guardian: The spirit of Tolkien

We used the opportunity at Wacken Open Air to talk to Andre Olbrich, guitar player and songwriter of Germany`s finest, Blind Guardian. Despite an interview marathon of 3 days, Mr. Olbrich seems to be really relaxed and answers my questions really polite and extensively. Is this due to the conciousness to know that they have released a real smash hit album?

Andre, now you finally released your new album ``At the Edge of Time``. Since your last album 4 years have gone by. A really long period, which seems to be your time needed to produce a new record. Tell me what takes so much time?
´´We meanwhile found our rhythm. Since we are making quite complex music, it is no longer possible for us to write songs on tour. I just need a special surrounding to relax and to get some ideas and this is only at home. We play 120 shows every tour, so there are the first 18 months going by. Then it takes some time until I come down to earth and until I can focus on songwriting.

We are a band whoch tries not to reproduce the stuff our fans like. Instead we are beginning every album at point 0 and try to find something that sounds new. So we first try to find a new way of approaching the songs. At this time it was `Sacred Worlds`. It was this soundtrack like, what we loved. But until reach this point, it takes some time. And we simply take ourself this time. Until we have 10 good songs it will certainly take 18 more months.
So we have already 3 years. Then we have recordings, production and mixdown, which take more than half a year. Then, finally, we have the time until the release and the 4 years are complete.``

And then we have the next soccer world cup…
``…what is totally practical because we all like to watch soccer. So we hurry up to finish right in time, haha!``

The heart of ``At the Edge of Time`` are the opening song `Sacred Worlds` and the closing song `Wheel of Time`, which are spreading the soundtrack like atmosphere you have mentioned. How do you create those tracks with such complex orchestral arrangements?
``We write them part by part. I try to write one very good part and integrate the orchestral arrangements already. I play all instruments and use keyboard sounds for the orchestral sounds. Finally we get a regular demo tape, which already shows how the final result we sound. It is more difficult to create and arrange a real song out of this demo material. Hansi and me are practicing some sort of Ping Pong game to achieve this. At least once a day we send each other our ideas. Through the feedback we get what the other one has in mind. All in all it is a long oad until we have one song, with all ist transitions complete. And this ist he real art: you have a nice intro and also a beautiful chorus, but the verse is still a bit light. Then you have to erase all the weak stuff and beginn songwriting once again.``

It is really hard to imagine that all those complex orchestral arrangements are written by you?
``No, but all the ideas and basics are written by me because we are really focused not to change the original spirit of the song. As I said, I record the orchestral ideas with keyboards. I do of course not record 90 tracks, just because the orchestra has 90 members. I basically use combination sounds and sometimes also single sounds like a whistle or a cello. So we do have all orchestra parts already on the demos, but not splitted to the separate sections. This is done by Matthias Uhlmann. He is a studied, as well as our producer Charly Bauerfeind. Both are correcting my compostions and split them to the sections and write the partitions. But he basic spirit allways remains, as you can hear on the demo tracks we have put on the limited edition.``

Would you agree when I say that ``At the Edge of Time`` rocks more than your last records?
``No, I would not agree. Especially ``Twist in the Myth`` has many rock elements, for example 70s rock. Both, the rhythm section and the grooves are really rock orientated. In my opinion ``At the Edge of Time`` has much more classic Hevay Metal elements and is actually kind of a mixture of modern, dynamic arrangements, as we used them already on ``Twist…`` and also the Blind Guardian trademarks we used likewise on ``Imaginations…`` or ``Nightfall…``. On this combination is, as I think, the clue of the new album.``

That is right. But nevertheless I think that the songwriting is much straighter as it was before…
``Straight? I don`t know how you can call tracks like `Wheel of Time` straight. Also `Curse my Name` is really complex. Actually the faster songs like `Tanelorn` and `Voice in the Dark` are more straight. That is right.
But I always see an album as a whole. And this time we do have many songs with such complex structures that it is even difficult for us to find a scheme for it. This is something that I would not call straight either. I think, that what you mean is, that it is much easier to listen to the album from the first to the last track. When you listen to the album you have the feeling that those songs a flow, just lika a concept album. This is it how I see this.``

In my opinion your new compositions go back to ``Somewhere…`` times. In those songs it was quite easy to identify a verse-chorus-verse-scheme. In contrast to your last releases…
``Well, maybe concerning our fast tracks. But also ``Somewhere…`` was not written like verse-chorus-verse. We did not work that way. If you listen carefully to it, you will recognize that there are some songs where nothing is repeated, where the structure is really chaotic. Especially the song `Somewhere far beyond` is really chaotically arranged, so that it is quite difficult form to play it live because some shit allways changes. (laughs)
We were allways a band that did not follow any scheme. We just follow our imagination, the melody, the suspense and our feeling, wherever the journey may go. Sometimes we build up some suspense, just to go down in the next moment. It is the unexpectable what makes music interesting.``

Okay, give me another try: The choruses on ``Edge`` are much more singalong made than before.
``I will be happy if it is like this. I think that the choruses on our last albums are quite good, but I also like the new ones really much. I think it is also due to the sound. On ``Twist…`` and ``Opera`` we did not get the maximum out of the sound. We were building our new studio in those days and there was a process of becoming mature.

During the ``Opera…`` recording sessions we had much trouble. Some things did not work as they should and therefore we had to make some compromises. We had to use for example some drum samples. Samples are not dynamic, in comparison to a real drum. Real drums live. And this leads to the problem that we had to play at full power everytime and therefore also Hansi had to sing right on the edge at all time. This is the reason why it is so hard to listen to ``Opera…`` as a whole. But we did not see this during the recording sessions because there was more dynamic in our demos. But the completed songs become different. This was a misfortune, nobody, even Charly, our producer, could see it.
It turned better when we recorded ``Twist…``, but we still did some mistakes. Now we finally could erase those mistakes and I think that we found the best and heaviest sound on ``Edge…`` ever. This sound was allways our aim, but we had to find it first.``

Do you know already…
``The charts will be released on Monday. So we are still full of hope, haha.``
By the way: ``At the Edge of Time`` reached position #2 in German charts, the ed.

Which songs can we expect live and which are not playable live?
``All songs are possible and I think that we will, sooner or later, play all songs live. For this tour we have practiced `Sacred Worlds`, `Tanelorn`, `A Voice in the Dark` and `Wheel of Time`. I think that `Sacred Worlds` and `Wheel of Time` will both become fixed songs in our set. And `Sacred Worlds` will definately be the opener.``

In the year 2003 you made your own festival in Coburg, Germany. Do you think about a new edition of this happening?
``Yes, we do. As you know, we are working currently on an orchestra project and we are really advanced with it. We found this orchestra from Prague (which did already some recordings for ``Edge…``) and we did already some recordings. The production will actually be finished within the next two years, so the release could be in 2013. It is of course not possible to bring such a project on tour because it is to expensive and to technically difficult. But we want to show this live and why not on a featival. So on the one evening we would show this orchestra project, while on the other evening we would play all our orchestral Blind Guardian songs together with the orchestra.``

Would you give us a brief introduction in what awaits us?
``People, who like Tolkien and the Lord of the Rings will actually and who do not hate orchestral music will actually like it. I think that it is the best we ever wrote. You need just a minute and you think you were in Middle Earth. I think that we really met the spirit of Tolkien.``

So it is only the orchestra and Hansi....

So no typical Rock instruments?

Looking at the setlists of your last tours, I get the impression that you do not think that your newer songs have a great live potential. There are allways just avery few songs on the setlist.
``The problem with the songs of ``Opera…`` is, that we like to play `And then there was Silence`, which has the length of 2 or 3 other songs. We allways try not to play to much from one album, so that we have a maximum 3 or 4 songs per album. So it is allways a difficult decision which song to play. If we would only focus on our classics we could easily play 3 or 4 hours every evening. But also want to play newer songs.
The problem with new material is always that the people do not know the songs so well. This means that they do not sing so much along and that the reactions are allways quite low. Therefore we like to play songs which are a bit matured. I think that we will play some more songs from ``Opera…`` and ``Twist…`` soon, but during the last tourst he time was not right. This is also the reason why we will not play more than 3 songs of the new album every evening.``

Sometime ago Iron Maiden played their new album (``A Matter of Life and Death``) every evening in full length. Would this also be an option for Blind Guardian?
``This would be nothing for us. I don`t think that this works. What act as we would like our favourites to act: When i watch my favourites I like to hear the classics, the real hammers. Yesterday I – as an old Slayer maniac – watched Slayer and they played exactly the songs I wanted to hear. Perfect! When they would have played only new songs, I actually would have left the concert after 2 songs or so.``

Are you planing any live releases this time?
``At this time we have planned nothing exactly. We will actually record some songs on tour and see if there will be something great. You never know before. We are not a band that releases any shit.
But it would be nice to release something because our new drummer Frederik is really good live drummer and we have to conservate this. In addition we also have 2 new albums out. So we will see. First we collect some recordings, then we check them and then we will see.``

By the way when we are taking about drummers: Some years ago Thomen Stauch left your band. How is your contact?
``He sometimes visits us in the studio. Our relationship is good and I hardly hope that we rise again with a new great project.``

Shortly you will have your 25th band anniversary…
``oh, do you have to mention that!`` (laughing)

…are there any special plans for it?
``No, nothing at all. Perhaps I will have a beer in my bedroom or so, haha! No, bullshit! The problem ist hat we do not know when exactly or anniversary is. Some people take our first demo, others our first official release. So we can actually choose the point of time. So we shift it a bit.``

Your singles allways contain cover songs which are not expected from a band like Blind Guardian. Things like Iron Maiden or Judas Priest would be expected more…
``Isn`t it boring if you fulfill expectations?``

What is your reason to choose cover songs?
``We are allways quite spontaneous. This time we did not need much time to find one song. We were in Spain on tour, sitting in the coach and were listening to `You`re the Voice` in the radio. Then I shouted: ``Hey, Hansi, a cool song. What about covering this one next?`` And he answered: ``Great idea! Do it!`` (laughing) A week later a produced a playback and Hansi sung to it. You always have to see if the vocalist can perform a song. Hansi did it well, but he is one of the best singers in the world. I think it is allways funny to do something different. I like it. The people know already that we can play Heavy Metal.``

You used to cover `Barbara Ann` live. Why not playing a cover song again live?
``I would like to do something like this. The problem ist hat we have to finish our concerts after a fixed time. So it is difficult to explain the people why you play a cover song instead of `Mirror Mirror`. We should talk about htis, haha!``

Are there any younger bands which impressed you?

(after some time) ``I have to confess…``

Or maybe older band which impressed you?
``Well, i can not talk about bands which are playing already for several years. Those are not newcormers. I did not buy any CDs in the last 2 or 3 years and I also did not listen that much to music. When I am working on a project I can not listen to other bands, even not to my favourite ones. I would copy the riffs and melodies and I don`t want that. So I can also not discover any new bands.``

Are there any bands you watched here on WOA?
``I watched of course Slayer and Iron Maiden, also Alice Cooper and Mötley Crüe. Arch Enemy yesterday were really cool. What did I see as well? (laughing) Oh yes, Grave Digger were really good. With Van Canto and Hansi in best condition, haha!``

OK, let`s finish: Please decide: live or studio?
``It is not possible to decide because those are 2 completly differnet things, both with its own advatages and disadvantages. When being really long in the studio you are exhausted, mentally and physically. Your rhythm of Work is absolutely the same every day and this is really exhausting for a musician. Then you wish to be on tour. But the advantage is that you can drive home every evening and join your family. And you do not have 15 people permanently around you.
On tour you have the great show, but you have to travel the whole day for it. You are sitting on airports and in the coach and anytime you are running mad. You are having no privacy, but I need it. After 2 weeks you wish to be in the studio again. So you should perform the change between studio and live really often.``

Festival or club?
``Both has again advantages and disadvantages. I like the close atmosphere in the club because you can hear the fans much better. When all people are singing along it really blows you away. But a club is of course limited concering ist capacity. But when you are here in Wacken and 70.000 sing `The Bard`s Song` you are really stunned on stage. I like both.``

Iron Maiden or Judas Priest?
``Judas Priest!``

Metallica oder Slayer?
``Oh shit!``

I thought that this would be an easy decision for a Slayer maniac…
``No, it isn`t. Both belong to my favourites. Fuck! (thinking as long time) OK, let me answer it as precise as possible. Lead guitars: Kirk Heammet, Metallica. Last studio album: (shouting) SLAYER! Absolutely great! But both are definately my favourites!``

Thank you fort his talk and have a lot of success with your new album and your tour!


Author: Timo Pässler, photos: TimoPässler, Blind Guardian
Date: 2010-09-07

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