BLIND GUARDIAN - Journey Through The Imagine Nations
February 8, 2015, 5 years ago
Twenty years ago Blind Guardian released an album regarded by many as their breakthrough, some five records into their career. Imaginations From The Other Side is the album to which all the band's works past, present and future are compared, so when vocalist Hansi Kürsch claimed during a recent interview that the band's new opus, Beyond The Red Mirror, was directly connected to and thematically influenced by Imaginations, the majority of the Blind Guardian fanbase had a collective nerdgasm. Completely understandable given the height of the pedestal Imaginations has rested on for two decades."Imaginations From The Other Side shares the pole position with Nightfall In Middle Earth," states Hansi, referring to the 1998 follow-up. "If we were to hold a vote Nightfall would be in the lead, but it seems that the core fans are more in favour of Imaginations. I'm fine with that; Imaginations is a great and intense album and I have nothing but the best memories about it."
Asked if he's got a personal spin on why Imaginations From The Other Side is widely regarded as (one of) the band's finest moment(s), Hansi chalks it up in large part to Blind Guardian releasing the right album at the right time."Imaginations made a difference in our career, you're right. I think it has a lot to do with perfect timing, which might happen once or twice in a lifetime. It doesn't matter how talented you are, if you don't have that luck to present it at the perfect time the sensation won't be the same. We definitely had that with Imaginations. We were the upcoming band, we came out with a great album and people could easily relate to that. At the very beginning some people had issues with the tiltle track because it was too modern for the time. Nobody thought Blind Guardian would ever come up with something like that. Other than that it was just a very positive vibe. Of course, the intensity and excitement we delivered was probably due to the fact we worked with Flemming Rasmussen (producer/Metallica, Morbid Angel) for the first time. Nowadays we're an established band that probably every metal fan knows. It's not something new to be discovered. We come up with
classic and individual stuff as we always did, but I think it's more difficult to catch the same sort of attraction."
"We were also at that age back then when young metal fans looked up to us as big brothers. Now they look up at us and we're like old parents (laughs). I'm not sure but maybe it makes things a little different as well. And the fans that have grown up with us, who are now in the 40s or whatever, they aren't in the same situation compared to back then and can't capture that same spirit. That might be confusing sometimes; they get better quality music but can't get into it because they're not the same inside."
As with every Blind Guardian release since Imaginations From The Other side, hype for Beyond The Red Mirror was through the roof in the weeks and months ahead of the official release."That's cool, but I think that's related to the break in between," says Hansi, downplaying the Blind Guardian fanbase's almost fanatic loyalty. "It creates the situation because nothing happens around us for long periods of time. We're not posting stuff on Facebook, we're not telling people how cool we are. Other bands are afraid of losing contact to the fans if they stay away. We think completely differently; if we really keep the focus on our music it will be appreciated by people. We have to deliver some information to the fans, of course, because a new album is coming out or I cut my hair or whatever (laughs). You can compress that into a small block of time and deliver it in a massive way."
Yeah, the haircut. It's been five years since Hansi did away with his flowing locks during the sessions for At The Edge Of Time, yet it's still a topic of conversation amongst some of the Blind Guardian faithful. Right up there with former Helloween singer Michel Kiske opting to shave his head a million years ago."It's unbelievable," Hansi laughs. "I look at Bruce Dickinson and James Hetfield, who are the real heavy metal stars - we're way below Iron Maiden and Metallica - but I don't understand why some people are still hung up on my hair. No idea (laughs)."
Beyond The Red Mirror closes the gap on five years of (presumably) nothing from the Blind Guardian camp since At The Edge Of Time (not including touring). No surprise in hearing it wasn't assembled over the course of a few months given their usual three-to-four year holding pattern between records."It took two-and-a-half years, and we really didn't take any breaks in between. We started with the songwriting, finished two songs, went through the first production shot, and when Charlie (Bauerfeind/producer) left the studio we went back to songwriting. This went on until October 2014. One of the causes for the delay of the album was the preparations we had to make before we recorded. We had ideas and we wanted to accomplish them and it took this long to make everything work. There seems to be a trend for people to release copy/paste albums, where they finish one third of a song and just use those same musical parts with different lyrics, but that's not the case with Blind Guardian. We have a lot of parts to work on when we write a song, and the linking of those parts needs more attention from our side. Pick any spot on the new album and there are so many parts that it would drive some other musicians crazy (laughs)."
Which is what the fans are expecting going into the new record. They've been waiting a long time and want something epic; Blind Guardian needs to come in big and bold yet again or go the hell home."I have the same feeling," Hansi agrees. "I'm just surprised sometimes that people overlook that when they talk about the how long it takes for us to come up with an album. I can live with that, though, because I know when we release a new album five years from now we're going to hear the same complaints (laughs). Some bands are more productive than we are, but we can't change how we work. It takes as long as it takes."
Beyond The Red Mirror reportedly didn't start off as being a trademark über-epic Peter-Jackson-eat-your-heart-out Blind Guardian production. If the behind-the-scenes babble is to be believed, Hansi and Co. started off with a blank slate and no direction in mind. Things just developed as the band went along."Yes, that is the case and there are two different perspectives on how we started," Hansi clarifies. "André (Olbrich/guitars) says he felt some pressure when we started the album, and I didn't, but he didn't have any goals to accomplish as far as he could see apart from putting in the best performance possible. I was thinking about doing something more straightforward than At The Edge Of Time when we started the songwriting. We had some ideas that were connected to 'Ashes Of Eternity', and that spoiled my goals of following a thread from the very beginning (laughs). Things became complicated and not as straightforward as I'd hoped, at least in the first steps. From there the album just developed in to the direction it took. There's a strong organic flow on some of the songs like 'Grand Parade' and the 'Distant Memories' bonus track, and there's the aspect of other songs which is more complex like 'Ashes Of Eternity' and 'The Ninth Wave' where you have
those disturbing elements. And that was the point where I started thinking about a concept."
Referencing some of the previous albums was, according to Hansi, a conscious decision on his part.
"I have to think in those terms because sometimes I have to explain it to people. There are conceptual and musical links between Red Mirror and Imaginations; they are limited but they are there. What makes the new album very special in comparison to anything we've done since Imaginations, and the link to Imaginations is closed with Red Mirror. It's a very defined album. For example, if you're not into industrial dystopian elements you may have problems enjoying 'The Ninth Wave'. We consider it to be such an outstanding song that we gave it the opening spot, and if you listen to the choir on it you know why, but it also might be the most confusing song on the album for the fans. It refers a lot to A Night At The Opera and A Twist In The Myth, and I think it will give justice to those two albums. We wouldn't have had such a clear vision without those abums. It's good to have a perspective for the future when we make music, but also has a connection to the
past. For us the aspect of going forward is more important than the look back."
It's safe to say Blind Guardian's comfort zone is and perhaps has always been conceptual songwriting, even as far back as their 1988 speed metal debut, Battalions Of Fear."In musical terms I would agree because that's when we come up with the best stuff," Hansi admits. "We feel more comfortable doing conceptual stuff. It's organic, typical songwriting for us. We don't think about what we're doing so it could be that a song turns out to be rather easygoing at any point, but we always have plenty of ideas so there's no need to retrace our steps. We've somehow managed to create that rollercoaster ride that is such an essential part in our songwriting without having to really communicate even though we interact very well. It's all just natural results that we can attain quite easily. Concepts are the most comfortable way for Blind Guardian to go, and I think we would fail misreably if we tried to compose AC/DC music (laughs)."
(Top photo credit by Hans-Martin Issler)