By Sarah Kitteringham
CALGARY — Both rabid and fair-weather fans alike can agree that Germany’s indomitable Blind Guardian released their most polarizing album with 2006’s full-length A Twist in the Myth. Following the grandiose and ambitious A Night at the Opera (2002), the band streamlined their sound, resulting in their most rock-oriented album, the yin to their symphonic power metal yang. The band that had constantly swelled musically and lyrically since their 1984 incarnation as Lucifer’s Heritage, who became Blind Guardian in 1986, then yielded 1988’s brilliant speed metal opus Battalions of Fear, has always taken risks and been ambitious. Their symphonic power metal era began with 1990’s Tales from the Twilight World, and has since been twisting and turning with choirs, acoustic integrations, keyboard driven passages, and thematic anthems aplenty. Given their consistently impressive output, A Twist in the Myth was considered by skeptics a misstep and potential end to their career-defining arc.
The notion that Blind Guardian has peaked is the real myth, given that they’ve consistently grown and integrated new elements into their music. Nearly a decade has passed since that album, and the band have since released two triumphant albums, 2010’s At The Edge of Time and this year’s Beyond the Red Mirror, their tenth. Both are mature records with a dynamism that other bands oft attempt to replicate, and inevitably fail. Blind Guardian remain a benchmark to which others aspire to become. Beyond the Red Mirror in particular is dramatic and dreamy, a deliberate effort five years in the making that revisits the character who dominates their Imaginations from the Other Side (1995) record. That said, vocalist and band co-founder Hansi Kürsch admits that Blind Guardian may soon reach a crossroads that will change their sound once more. Although decisions have not been made, ideas are forming in the lyricist’s head about where his long-running band may go.
“We might have to consider what we are going to do next,” begins Kürsch from a hotel in São Paulo, Brazil. He and his band are there to perform on the National Holiday of Our Lady of Aparecida, which celebrates the country’s patron saint.
“We may announce the end of the orchestral period because I would say, more or less that everything is set, but we need to go for new dimensions anyway. I can’t really promise that we’ll change personally, because there might be orchestration in the next album, but I wouldn’t mind to have that change in the future.”
Like any popular band, Blind Guardian has the near future mapped out. Currently, they are touring in support of the current album. They’ve got an orchestral album on the horizon, and are working on reissuing their back catalogue on CD and vinyl. The band is particularly focused on the vinyl reissues, given that they’re extremely hard to obtain. Currently, vinyl-selling site Discogs is awash with horribly overpriced copies.
“What is making this more difficult is that the first three albums, which have all been recorded analog, and the master tapes have been analog as well, and they disappeared. We lost them. It’s a fact,” laughs Kürsch. “All we have is the only vinyl tracks and the 24 tracks on analog, which we used for remixes on [2013 box set] A Traveler’s Guide to Space and Time, and we have the CD, so we would have to do distributing these albums as vinyl again, would be actually doing a new mix, just for analog outputs. This makes it very, very difficult.”
Considering the devotion of Blind Guardian’s audience – their concerts are a combination of celebration and liturgy – what the band will do next is always on the collective minds of their audience. “I’m curious about that as well. That’s my issue at the moment. I think for example that we have neglected the more medieval part. I can imagine it would be a nice treat to go into such a direction,” says Kürsch.
“I can imagine if we switch our focus even to the dislike of some people that were down on A Twist in the Myth, for example, on the song “Another Stranger Me,” that was a very unique song, some drops, some things to get hooked on, then we are on the right way,” he says. “But to be honest, when we did Beyond the Red Mirror or At the Edge of Time, we always start at point zero.”
When it comes to lyrics, Kürsch’s starting point is the music’s direction. Despite reaching fantasy author proportions with his complex, otherworldly lyrics, he writes after the music is nearing completion. Accordingly, Beyond the Red Mirror tells the harrowing journey of that world, which is also occupied by nine supernatural beings with the capacity to be malicious.
“Sometimes, I get caught in the middle of songwriting, given that I do that,” elaborates Kürsch. “This has also been the case when we worked on Beyond the Red Mirror. Some songs have spoken this clear language, so it was obvious how the words should go, but others, they have hidden their essential points in the beginnings so I really had to dig for those.”
Like its precursor, …Mirror ends on a cliffhanging note that could be revisited at a later time. This album around, he revisited the two worlds that his main character was immersed in on the Imaginations… album. In closing track “And the Story Ends,” the boy on the epic journey in the record has approached the passage between the two worlds, a red mirror. On the other side is someone else “reflecting the cruel part of your soul.”
“I would hope the music we create for the next Blind Guardian album, this upcoming orchestral album, defines this direction. You know, it does not necessarily have to be classically designed, or it must not necessarily be [focused on] these two universes again like what happened on Beyond the Red Mirror,” says Kürsch. “If that is the case, I will go back immediately and finish the story because I liked the character, but it pretty much depends on the music.”
While the band is starting to set sights on upcoming music, the upcoming tour will be characteristically focused on the new album.
“We do put the focus on Beyond the Red Mirror, but even if I say so, that just means we are playing three, sometimes four, songs from this album. We keep it to the same songs each and every night, that’ll be ‘The Ninth Wave,’ ‘Prophecies,’ ‘Miracle Machine’ from time to time, and ‘Twilight Of The Gods.’ These are the ones we’ve chosen,” reveals Kürsch.
He adds, “Other than that, it’s a mixture of all the albums we have done. We keep our focus on the newer ones, some songs from A Twist in the Myth, some songs from At the Edge of Time, but we cannot avoid the classic ones. So songs like ‘Valhalla,’ ‘The Bard’s Song,’ and ‘Mirror Mirror’ they are set every night.”
With his feet and mind firmly planted in the future of Blind Guardian and what that means for the band itself rather than for naysayers, it’s refreshing to hear Kürsch’s conclusion on the matter.
“The core fan will get what the core fan deserves.”
Blind Guardian play Calgary on November 13th at MacEwan Hall, Edmonton on November 14th at Union Hall, and Vancouver on November 16th at Commodore Ballroom. The opening band for all the shows is Gravedigger.AB, Alberta, Blind Guardian, Commodore Ballroom, MacEwan Hall