Tyska Blind Guardian är aktuella med “Beyond the red mirror”, som är en uppföljare till “Imaginations from the other side”, som släpptes 1995. Nya skivan var inte från början tänkt som en uppföljare utan det gav sig mer efter hand. Rocksverige fick möjlighet att sitta ned med Hansi och André när de nyligen besökte Stockholm och det visade sig bl a att Hansi inte uppskattar ordet “trevligt” om sin musik:
“I hate if someone comes in when I´m working on some music and say “That´s nice!”. I don´t wanna be nice and I don´t wanna make something nice. If someone says he hates it, that´s ok. That´s a statement, but being nice and good, is not good.”
Why a sequel to the album “Imaginations from the other side” (1995) after all these years and also, did you already think of a sequel back then?
Hansi: No. Definitely not and not even in 2012 when we started the songwriting for this one. We had the first couple of songs and there were some working titles like “Encrypted time” for example and “The holy grail” and I just had these working title images, created by André and Frederik (Ehmke) actually and I was playing along with the ideas and trying to come up with stories for these particular songs. A certain image appeared in my mind and it wasn´t related to “Imaginations from the other side” and I kept the images and all of a sudden at a certain point, when parts of the songs spoke a certain language, I thought that maybe a concept album could be something interesting? Then I just revisited “Imaginations from the other side” by accident, in terms of coming up with the concept and I found that the boy standing at the mirror, hadn´t made that final jump. As simple as it is, I just thought about the way Stephen King did with “The shining” and “Doctor Sleep”. The idea was good and I had a similar situation so why not come up with a story about what has happened to the boy and what were the consequences of his decisions some 20 years ago. He didn´t get to jump and from that point on, I just started doing a lot of brainstorming and created a story around the boy, which would fit in with “The holy grail” and the “Encrypted time” thing. All of a sudden I had a story which connected the two worlds, described in “Bright eyes” and “And the story ends” and the elements which I have had in mind for single songs. It was just about connecting the pieces and coming up with a storyboard. Once the decisions had been made, it was fairly easy I must say. André didn´t know about the concept and he created songs the way he usually creates songs. I on the other hand, didn´t want to have him interfere with the songs and another issue I had to cope with was that I didn´t know where the songs would finally end up on the album. I had to design it cleverly into the lyrical concept. At a certain point I had to make a decision and say that “Ok, this has to go there!”, but it was no issue for the songwriting in general.
When did the rest of you guys find out that it was going to be a sequel?
André: Hansi brought in his ideas when 50-60% of the songwriting was done and he sent me a kind of script of the story and I liked the idea in general, because I remembered how we worked on “Nightfall in Middle earth” (1998) and I like concept albums. It´s much more complicated after a certain point and the songs can be problematic, because you have to decide things very early on and somehow we can´t, because things are not done then. I don´t like to compose in order to fill a position on the album, because then it´s really difficult to put your emotions into what you need. I like to work more freely and whatever comes out comes out. Then you can use it however you like. We didn´t have this problem now and I don´t know how cleverly he handled this with the lyrics, but we never had the problem of choosing the perfect order. We chose the order in the way we felt would be best from the feelings of the songs. It´s the perfect concept album, for me. We had the songs ready early on.
A concept album is about the idea of listening to the first song all the way through to the last song. How do you feel about this, since these days a lot of people just listen to individual songs or they press shuffle on Spotify?
André: It´s not our problem, it´s their problem! I enjoy the album and I enjoy the concept and I can let myself fall deep into it, as an entertaining factor, but for other people it´s like they watch “The lord of the rings” and they only see Bilbo in the beginning and then they´re in the cave with the dragon and that´s it! If it´s fun for them, then ok.
Hansi: If it´s possible, it´s also a chance to educate people. We were used to vinyl and concept albums and we accepted the running order. But sometimes you don´t listen to all of it. I can listen to one side of Pink Floyd´s “The wall” and then later on listen to the rest. It´s not absolutely necessary to listen to it from start to finish, but to get an idea of the art in such an album, we recommend to listen to it chronologically. We tried to design the images in the artwork and the liner notes, so it hopefully will attract people who are not familiar listening that way to an album and prefer Spotify. It´s ok and the shuffle thing is still an ok thing to do.
The attention span is minimal these days.
Hansi: Unbelievable! I hope this is not going to be the case with our fans. We always gain new young people and I have a feeling this will happen again with this album. It has a clear concept, once people are willing to dig in and it has so many different little things to discover and I would imagine that even for a newbie, this could be something attractive.
When writing a sequel and a concept album, do you look at other bands´ concept albums that are out there, to get inspired? Do you have any favorite concept albums?
André: It´s “Operation mindcrime” for me.
Part two really sucks though!
André: It´s weaker, but it doesn´t suck. (laughs)
Hansi: I listen to it now and then and I feel it´s stronger than many of the other albums they´ve come up with. I see the relation with “Operation mindcrime”. There was no intention of calling this one “Imaginations from the other side part II”, because the music speaks a different language and it´s more of a storyboard I caught up with. Once the decision was made there were things like “The holy grail” and I wondered how I could put that in there and relate it to “Imaginations from the other side”. The kid in the story is actually kinda like a modern King Arthur and his counterpart is like a modern Mordred all and this gets woven in after a while. I went back to “Imaginations from the other side” and looked at the dystopian images and they had to be important in this album as well. They´re a bit more clear on this album than on “Imaginations”. From a lyrical point of view you can find links to all the songs. There´s a little bit of everything. There´s the post apocalyptic Jesus thing which plays a role in both stories. It all appeared pretty clear before me when I started working in that direction. But there was never an idea of combining the albums musically. I think the album itself can stand on its own without the concept.
André: For me, a concept album is more than just the lyrics. On “Nightfall” we did the sequences with the spoken word, which I liked very much. A chance to explain more things. With “Beyond the red mirror” we have a chance to do the earbook and write down a big part of the story and that is really cool, that you as a fan can get into it and understand more details. Sometimes lyrics leave a lot of spaces to be filled and leave things open. I want the full thing. I want the book, an audio book with the spoken words… a real world.
Hansi: Everything we do goes with that and that´s the cool thing. You can leave the songs as they are or design whatever you want around it and it just makes the impact stronger.
Is it more difficult writing a concept album than a regular one?
Hansi: I try to keep songwriting as individual as possible. I wouldn´t say it made the songwriting for this album more difficult. Even when we did “Nightfall” and had the idea of a concept album, it didn´t make it more complicated. Being creative and coming up with new ideas, is always a challenge and especially in the beginning when you start at point zero. That was the case on this album as with all the other albums. If you work on big classical pieces, songwriting can be an issue.
You have two orchestras on the album and that must be a challenge putting together?
Hansi: The coordination, yes. Composing wise it was demanding obviously. We used two orchestaras at two different times. One of them couldn´t do it the second time so we had to get another orchestra within that time and that was the biggest issue. It´s not that easy to come by a 90 piece orchestra.
Was there ever a thought of using Flemming Rasmussen again, since he produced “Imaginations from the other side”?
André: I think Flemming is an awesome producer and I love him and I always think about working with him again. Maybe one day we´ll do it. When we wanted to record the opera, the Sweet Silence studio was closed and then for a number of years there wasn´t a chance to work with him. We wanted to work with Pro Tools and Charlie Bauerfiend was the best guy for digital systems with all his knowledge. He started early with that and is a real nerd. The other thing was that we established our own studio and we thought that we could improve our sound and working style while working in our own studio. We have everything built for Blind Guardian and after our needs. It didn´t work perfectly in the beginning, as happens when you start with something new. You will face problems, but I think you can see the improvement in the last three albums. We have a really cool sound now and that is something we achieved together as a team and we built it up as a team as well together with Charlie. You can only achieve that after working together for a long time. If you change the producer every time, you will always start at zero.
When you started listening to music back in the day, what made you go with metal? Was there a certain record that made you feel that this was your kind of music?
André: The first drug I took was KISS. (laughs) Because of KISS, I saw Iron Maiden opening up for them in 1980 and I was really amazed with Iron Maiden. They were heavier and it gave me a passion for this kind of music. A few years later Metallica came out. Their guitar sound was unbelievable and then it was clear in what direction I wanted to go.
Hansi: For me it was quite different in the beginning. When it comes to metal it was “The number of the beast” (1982). I listened to the Maiden stuff before that and for melodies, DiAnno was the better one, but when “The number of the beast” came out, that was the moment. I listened to Queen and Deep Purple and so on, but that one drove me crazy. After that it was Queensryche´s “The Warning” (1984). I didn´t like it at all in the beginning, but it taught me something about music and that´s that sometimes you need to listen again and again to understand it. First time I listened to it, I thought it was kinda like a rip off of “Sad wings of destiny” (1976), but after a while it was the most mind blowing album I could imagine. It was the same thing with “Rage for order” (1986). I hated it because I didn´t like their looks. It took a year or two and it really taught me a lot about music and metal. Ever since, it´s been the music for me.
André: Judas Priest was also important. I saw them for the first time in 1980 and they came to Germany every year and I never missed a tour. That sound at that time, was unbelievable!
How do you look at the first Blind Guardian album these days?
Hansi: I`m still proud of it. There are things we could´ve done better, no doubt about that, but the spirit was good and it has a longevity quality to it, like “Majesty” for example. It´s one of the most demanded songs all over the world and if it´s not in the setlist, people start yelling and complain. It proves that the quality is there. I´m totally fine with everything´s we´ve done.
André: I always think you should leave the album in the time it was made. For ´87, when we recorded the album, you should see what was around at that time and for that time it was an amazing album. We performed everything in the best way we could. We didn´t play better and that was our limit, but we always went to the limit. We only released something if we gave it 100%.
Hansi: I think it was unique already, at least I hope so. There are so many different elements in there and it was not typical for metal. I´m really happy with the development of the band, but still proud of the beginning.
With the upcoming tour, is there any thought of just playing “Imaginations from the other side” and “Beyond the red mirror”?
Hansi: No, I think it will be a regular setlist. There will be a focus on the new album for sure and quite bigger than what we´ve done for the last albums. But a combination of those two albums would be a offense against the other good albums. You need to have a mix.
Have you ever had a low point in your career? Maybe thinking about doing something else?
André: Not from a creative point. It has always been really great. I can only speak for myself, but there was a period after “Imaginations” exploded worldwide, which was a very big step for us everything became so much bigger all at once and I was very exhausted from the touring. I thought; “How will this end?” We are probably a little bit different than other bands. We are not “sex, drugs and rock and roll”, so it became difficult. Then we changed our production and how we organized the tours and things became better. There were five or six very tough years. The mid 90´s and the beginning of 2000 was very difficult.
Hansi: It started getting very demanding for me with “Nightfall in Middle earth” when I gave up the bass. I had to cope with this new situation of not having an instrument to play on. That was my lowest point. I was burnt out. It wasn´t about giving up or so, but a dark feeling and I needed to find some new energy.
André: Because of all the problems, the harmony within the band was not the best and I think that during that period we had the most fights in the band. Then after the release of “A night at the opera”, the reactions weren´t that good. Fans needed time to understand the album. We did something so extraordinary and we put so much work into it and in the end nobody understood what we did.
Hansi: It was an extremely demanding situation for us as musicians and creators. When we finally started touring for “A night at the opera”, everything changed again. We had a bigger audience than ever, but up to that point it was kind of critical. After that, things went better.
Being in a band must kind of like be like being in a marriage?
André: Yes and you share something that you´re all part of. It´s very emotional and intimate. You´re very sensitive and if someone says one wrong word, it can piss you off completely. For us, it´s very difficult to exchange thoughts and opinions and especially if you don´t get along with the ideas of the other one. You have interpretation problems and you need to find diplomatic ways to continue and to make something good out of the situation. I think that´s one of our strengths, that even when we have completely different tastes, we manage to create something in the end that fits us both.
Hansi: If you have a strong argument, at a certain point you really start considering what the other person is saying. This really comes with age. People that criticize you, don´t want to offend you. I hate if someone comes in when I´m working on some music, and say “That´s nice!”. I don´t wanna be nice and I don´t wanna make something nice. If someone says he hates it, that´s ok. That´s a statement, but being nice and good, is not good. (laughs) You need to learn that. I´m surprised when people just stay where they are and don´t take new steps.
Text av: Niclas Müller-Hansen
(Bilder från bandets hemsida)