Blind Guardian

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“We recorded about 150 shows, but focussed on 30,” explained Blind Guardian’s bass player, Marcus Siepen on their upcoming three-disk live CD Live Beyond the Spheres. “We recorded pretty much every single show on that tour, but we decided to just focus on the first European block because of the consistency of the recordings. We had a full production with the same PA every night and the same recording set up so we just concentrated on those shows.

“We had to listen to all that stuff and make notes about what songs were good at what concert, but the tricky thing is, I think, every musician has the tendency to listen to their own performance first. But, of course, you have to pay attention to the whole thing because it’s not just about individual performances if you want to put something on a live album. You listen to things and listen closely to how we play and how the audience came up and you just compare your notes, and hopefully, you agree on certain things. But the good thing is we have a really, really good run. Our performances were good and the audiences have been amazing, so in most cases, we had three or four options for each song that we would have been fine with whatever version we picked. We tried to put together a typical Blind Guardian show, and the CD is actually longer than the average show. Normally, we play around 18 songs and the CD contains 22 songs, so I think everyone who has been to one of the gigs will definitely like the album.”

The temptation to perhaps over-polish things on a live album is not something that was lost on Siepen, but in the end, he says the band chose to try and keep the final product as close to the live performance as possible, even if that meant leaving in the odd mistake.

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“There are still some fuck ups on there,” he assured, “but they are small ones. If a performance is great and the atmosphere about the songs is great for the recordings, I don’t really care if somebody might not be perfectly on time in that riff or whatever because it’s part of the live thing. We’re just human beings – we’re not machines – especially when you run around and jump around on stage. The more we move on stage, the sloppier the playing gets naturally. If I’m just standing still, I can play anything flawless, but as soon as you start banging your head, all the time that affects your playing, obviously. But it’s part of the live thing, and since we had so many recordings, we put together songs that are pretty high concerning the playing standard. If you listen closely, you will hear little fuck ups here-and-there, but we didn’t care about that. It’s part of the live thing, and we didn’t wanna go in and polish everything. You try to avoid major fuck ups, and they happen. Like I said, we’re just human beings; and sometimes you just fuck up, but that’s something that… big mistakes you don’t want on the live album because it might be a funny thing if you’re at a gig, but it’s not something you wanna listen to over and over again when you put on the live album.”

Over the course of their 33-year career, Blind Guardian has traversed through almost the entire spectrum of heavy metal. They have conquered speed, thrash, and power metal, and as such, Siepen admits the flow and continuity of the set list can sometimes be difficult to harness.

…continued below…

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“It is difficult, and it gets more and more difficult with every new album that we put out because there are more songs added to the pile. The thing is, we have two ways of kind of working around that problem. First of all, we play rather long shows, so the average show on the previous tour was around 2 hours and 10 minutes; so we can squeeze quite a lot of songs into one gig. And the other trick that we’re using is we’re changing the set list every day. As I said, we normally play around 18 songs but we prepare 45 and like this, we can change at least three or four songs every night, and over the course of the whole tour, play way more songs. It’s a good thing for the fans that come to more than one show because they get to see different gigs, and it’s also a vital element for us because it would be a hellish, boring routine to be on the road for two years and playing the same 18 songs every single night. It would turn the tour into something like a 9-5 day job if we did the same thing day in, day out, and we definitely don’t want that. By changing things every day, it stays interesting and exciting for us, and we get to play more songs. Obviously, it was great for the live album because we recorded way more songs than just the 18 we would have.

“That’s our way of working around it. As I said, it’s tricky and difficult because there are some songs that people kind of take for granted. They expect us to play “Valhalla”. They expect us to play “Mirror Mirror” and “Nightfall”, and at some point over the last tour, we started messing with that. Not because we don’t love those songs or like playing them, but at some point, we have to kick out some of the classics; otherwise the setlist would be very, very static. If you have 15 of these classics, there’s only room for three other songs (laughs), and it will be boring.”

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“People should not take any song for granted. We might kick them out on the next tour and not bring them back for I don’t know how long. We definitely don’t want to be too predictable when it comes to the set.”

When it comes to covering so many sub-divisions within the genre over the years, Siepen says Blind Guardian has been trying to expand their own musical boundaries rather than attempting to discover their musical identity.

“We weren’t necessarily searching for our identity, but more broadening it,” he calculated. “That’s the thing for us. When we started, we were a melodic speed metal band, definitely, and that was everything we wanted to do back then, and that’s most likely everything we could do back then. But over the years, we wanted to progress in whatever direction. We just did not feel like recording the same album twice, so we always looked to fresh things that we would play around with. When we put out Follow the Blind, it was the first time we played around with acoustic guitar, which resulted in the intro for the song “Follow the Blind”, for example. We took that to the next step and it turned into “Lord of the Rings”, and that turned into “The Bard”. So we always tried to add something fresh and new and play around with new styles and new elements.

… continued further below…

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“It is difficult, and it gets more and more difficult with every new album that we put out because there are more songs added to the pile. The thing is, we have two ways of kind of working around that problem. First of all, we play rather long shows, so the average show on the previous tour was around 2 hours and 10 minutes; so we can squeeze quite a lot of songs into one gig. And the other trick that we’re using is we’re changing the set list every day. As I said, we normally play around 18 songs but we prepare 45 and like this, we can change at least three or four songs every night, and over the course of the whole tour, play way more songs. It’s a good thing for the fans that come to more than one show because they get to see different gigs, and it’s also a vital element for us because it would be a hellish, boring routine to be on the road for two years and playing the same 18 songs every single night. It would turn the tour into something like a 9-5 day job if we did the same thing day in, day out, and we definitely don’t want that. By changing things every day, it stays interesting and exciting for us, and we get to play more songs. Obviously, it was great for the live album because we recorded way more songs than just the 18 we would have.

“That’s our way of working around it. As I said, it’s tricky and difficult because there are some songs that people kind of take for granted. They expect us to play “Valhalla”. They expect us to play “Mirror Mirror” and “Nightfall”, and at some point over the last tour, we started messing with that. Not because we don’t love those songs or like playing them, but at some point, we have to kick out some of the classics; otherwise the setlist would be very, very static. If you have 15 of these classics, there’s only room for three other songs (laughs), and it will be boring. So people should not take any song for granted. We might kick them out on the next tour and not bring them back for I don’t know how long. We definitely don’t want to be too predictable when it comes to the set.”

When it comes to covering so many sub-divisions within the genre over the years, Siepen says Blind Guardian has been trying to expand their own musical boundaries rather than attempting to discover their musical identity.

“We weren’t necessarily searching for our identity, but more broadening it,” he calculated. “That’s the thing for us. When we started, we were a melodic speed metal band, definitely, and that was everything we wanted to do back then, and that’s most likely everything we could do back then. But over the years, we wanted to progress in whatever direction. We just did not feel like recording the same album twice, so we always looked to fresh things that we would play around with. When we put out Follow the Blind, it was the first time we played around with acoustic guitar, which resulted in the intro for the song “Follow the Blind”, for example. We took that to the next step and it turned into “Lord of the Rings”, and that turned into “The Bard”. So we always tried to add something fresh and new and play around with new styles and new elements.

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“A little while ago, I followed the discussion somewhere online where fans were talking about what kind of music we are doing, and one said: ‘that’s speed metal’, and someone else said, ‘no, you’re wrong, that’s thrash metal’; and the next one said, ‘no, you’re also wrong; that’s prog, epic, you name it-metal.’ And they’re all right because all of that is part of Blind Guardian’s sound, but I consider ourselves to be a metal band – just that – because if we feel like doing speed metal, we will. If we feel like doing a prog-metal song, we will, and if the next song will be thrashy, fine, perfect. We don’t want to limit ourselves. We just want to be able to do what we feel like doing, and in the end, it will always sound like Blind Guardian because the key elements – the key features of our sound – will always be there. But we always try to spice things up and add fresh ingredients to that soup, and that’s our attitude: the musical identity is there. The basic core sound of Blind Guardian is very well defined, but we always want to change it a bit to keep it fresh and interesting for us, as well as the people.

The last studio album Blind Guardian released was Beyond the Red Mirror in 2015, but Siepen reveals that as well as the upcoming live release, there is also a couple of other gems in store for fans.“We’ve already started working on the next studio album,” he offered. “Actually, we are working on two things at the same time. We will finally finish that orchestral album that we’ve been working on since forever, so Hansi [Kürsch] can finally finish his vocal recording this year, and that should be out next year. We have already also started working on new songs for the next regular Blind Guardian album, but it’s too early to say when that will be done because it’s still early in the process. We have two songs kind of done, but nothing is recorded; so things tend to change. But we are working on it. The orchestral album has been 20 years in the making!

“The idea was born in ’95 or ’96 as far as I remember (laughs), but I have to point out it is all original music. So it’s not like we took some old songs and just had an orchestra playing on top of them. It obviously sounds like Blind Guardian. All the arrangements, all the melody lines, and the way we build things up is there. What is not there is the metal band, so seriously, it’s only orchestral playing with Hansi singing. So there is no André [Olbrich] or me on guitars. There’s no Frederik [Ehmke] on drums. It’s Hansi, plus the orchestra and it’s… I can’t really describe it, you would have to hear it. There are a couple of people that we played some songs to and everybody was blown away in a positive way, and everybody said they expected all kinds of things, but they didn’t expect that. So nobody really has an idea what it really sounds like, so it’s tricky to talk about (laughs). But what I can say is I’m pretty sure you will love it. If you like that aspect of our music, you should love the album.”

Written by Kris Peters

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“Live Beyond the Spheres” is out today, July 7, via Nuclear Blast Records

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