Hello, Zsuzsanna? This is Hansi from Blind Guardian!
Hi, Hansi! This is Zsuzsanna Muszka from Hungary! Welcome to Kronos Mortus metal magazine!
Hey, it’s nice to talking to you! I think we spoke before, right?
Yeah, that would have been my first question if you remembered me from Krefeld?
Okay, that it makes sense: yes, I do! (laughs)
How are you doing? Can we start the interview?
We can do, yes.
Okay, fine. Back to Krefeld, by the way, there was a quite big forest near to my accomodation and I took huge walks there, saying to myself: „Hey, I think I know where the inspiration for the Bard’s Song for example came from!” (Hansi laughs) Same happened, when I visited Burg Linn and recognized places seen already on the album design. These local places are so important and inspiring for you, do I see well?
Well, the most inspiring place for me, especially when talking about the Bard’s Song is the castle you went to. That’s for sure something which had an impact. In general I think the location where we are at is important and with also, you know, does something to you, but the whole band, including me, is so inspired by fantasy literature. This is still the main impact we have had over the years.
I see. As for Legacy of the Dark Lands, let me congratulate you for this new album!
When I was preparing for this interview, listened to the album some times and said what Bilbo Baggins could say also: „I don’t know half of it half as well I should like”. Because the writing process was so long, more than twenty years but the album is so young for us, still. Please, help us: if we imagine a scale, with ’metal’ at one end point and with ’art’ on the other, where would Legacy of the Dark Lands stand?
Hmmm… I would say… (laughs) Well, it’s one hundred percent Blind Guardian, even though it’s called Blind Guardian Twilight Orchestra. I think the definition in the music is certainly fully related to us as a band over the last twenty years. I can hear a lot of Nightfall in Middle-Earth, I can hear a lot of Beyond the Red Mirror in there, you know. So that is all part, even in the instrumentation already, although there is no involvement of either Marcus, André or Frederik, which makes it metal to a certain extent. I would say it’s a very ambitious attempt, it felt very natural to both André and me. We never considered it to be, you know, anything else but our project. And do I consider it to be metal? With regard to the vocals, yes, it is metal. And it is as much metal as any Blind Guardian album could be. So with regard to that, I would say it’s… but I don’t know! (laughs) If you really insist on the scale, it’s in singing, it’s an eight or a nine degree of metal but in terms of art, which is also and that goes to the orchestra which also plays very heavy which also is an eight or a nine in metal (laughs). I would say it is a canon art of course, I mean we consider ourselves to be artists and we are very spiritual people, who try to explore new territories with each album. I mean, that’s not a secret ever since, I don’t know, maybe Tales from the Twilight World, its people haven’t got it on Follow the Blind or on Battalions of Fear. And for us, it never played an important role be it metal or not. We felt it very suitable for what we considered to be good music and this is what music is supposed to be about. I do not care if it’s whatever kind of style (laughs). As long as it has been done properly, and in the case of Blind Guardian Twilight Orchestra or my own person, I have to identify with it. And I can identify with Legacy of the Dark Lands to a hundred percent.
I understand. Some weeks ago I heard you talking about how important was the listener’s own approach to the music and the lyrics, as you said it was even more important than sticking on the struggling „Oh, what the author wanted to say here!” But now we’re in a lucky situation since we got some really helpful liner notes from Markus Heitz for the easier understanding of the storyline. So with it, everybody can create their own synthesis about the story itself. My question is: what did it mean for you creating this world?
For me, it is always the same that goes for all Blind Guardian albums and for the lyrics. They have to go hand in hand. And the music to a certain extent decides in which direction the story or the lyrical line would have to go. And there is always with a connection of knowledge. There’s a little bit of philosophy, ideology and historical background is necessary with regard to all the Blind Guardian songs. There is no song or no line where I didn’t have a certain idea when singing or performing it and when writing the lines obviously. And in lot of cases, I keep in mind what these lines were written for. And sometimes, did after five years, ten years, fifteen years (laughs), I lose a few of the lines but I never lose the full aspect of a song. I mean, that stays the same, so… The lyrical content and the storytelling always have a high value. But it doesn’t have to be that important for the fans, if you ask me. The fan can take the whole thing and transform it or interpret it into a completely different direction. That is fine with me. Completely. As long as it does something to the people, as long as the people have the chance to be inspired by it, then the mission is accomplished. And there are certain lines on this album for example which are related to the Thirty Years’ War. The Thirty Years’ War place a very important role in The Dark Lands of Markus Heitz and it does in Legacy of the Dark Lands which storyboard-wise is a creation of Markus and myself. And, you know, I don’t wanna educate people with it. But I just like to keep it attractive to myself, having some, actually historical background in there which, you know, can be investigated by people if they want to do so. Like, for instance, the Comets and Prophecies thing is very close to reality. It’s a likely situation. There were three comets in the beginning of the Thirty Years’ War and they were considered to be the foreboding shadows of the apocalypse and people really believed that the four horsemen were amongst them around that time. I mean, the Thirty Years’ War was also a religious war. And, like War Feeds War, there is a trace from the Thirty Years’ War. But basically it stands, you know, for every war. You know, every war feeds the next war. So there is a little bit of thinking in there, there is a little bit of history in there and you know, I like to present that to people and they do with it whatever they want to do. With regard to the story itself, it needed to be a free-styled story to a certain extent. As said, Markus has given me a frame and a prequel and we knew about the apocalypse and we knew about that Nicolas to be the first rider of the four horsemen but other than that, I had a lot of freedom, you know. Because the songs demanded it. I needed to explore a certain region at a certain part of the song and I needed to have free hand there to say well, like in The Great Ordeal, for example. I involved the defendence of the Templars. They were not on Markus’ list, not at all. (laughs) But I felt the song needed something like this and I also needed new company for Nicolas because I was not able to leave in everyone who played an important role in The Dark Lands as much as I could. So there was a little bit of individual freedom for both of us. And whenever I came up with these stories to Markus, he has woven that into his story. And at the very end we just thought that, „Well, let’s give a guideline to the people!” So we have the narration parts and we have the music itself with the lyrics and we have these guidelines. So people can really relate to what we have had in mind.
It’s really cool, I think it helped a lot for us! Somehow, Nicolas seems to me like Arthur’s descendant…
Way, yeah! (laughs) I mean, Nicolas has been there long before Arthur. But yes, I mean there’s no doubt that I’m very thrilled by the Holy Grail and by Arthur and by everything with regard to the Arthurian epic and whenever I’m weaving something into a story or I have a certain atmosphere which goes to this direction, then yeah, I mean that shines through (laughs), even if it’s a story about the riders of the apocalypse. But I believe that part of our songwriting that’s what is in the music, this is what I mean when I say the music itself, even without the band sounds basically like Blind Guardian without metal instruments. I … [crackling noises in the phone line] … and they always make us feel very comfortable. And to a certain extent, if you really go back to the Lord of the Rings again which of course is very inspiring for us as well, and Tolkien is, but I mean, Gandalf, he certainly has, Tolkien has been inspired by Milton or by Taliesin, which, you know, both are kind of inspiring for me as well. So this is where the circle is completed again and therefore I think it still has that Tolkien-ish approach not only in the music but also in the way of storytelling.
I see. You know, we’re a Hungarian metal press and we’re really happy and proud that several artists related to Hungary added their own talent to this masterpiece, like Gyula Havancsák with the cover art and Tamás ’Tommy’ Geiger as a sound engineer. Why did you put right them together?
Gyula was, you know, we are in contact for so many years I cannot even imagine and I was always thrilled by his album artworks. But the contact to him was accomplished, established maybe ten or twelve years ago and that’s when we started talking about this project and started exchanging first ideas. He is a brilliant artist and I’m pretty sure that this is not the last Blind Guardian album cover he has worked on. He is very smart. I just give him a little bit of story, and… you know, you see the results! He is a genius. I mean, that’s a really great pleasure to work with a professional like him and he has always been on spot, very responsible. There will be another artwork, for sure by Gyula and for us in the future. That’s for sure! (laughs) I’m really impressed and from what I have recognized so far, the people are really loving his artwork.
I agree with you, totally! I’m not sure in it but I think I remember you planned working with Hungarian Studio Orchestra and Choir again like you did in Beyond the Red Mirror, but it had been skipped. Is it true?
No, it has not been skipped, the point is we worked with the FILMharmonic Orchestra ever since At the Edge of Time. And we also worked with them on Beyond the Red Mirror. So during that time, they had accomplished seven or eight other orchestra recordings already. And then for the first time we worked with the Hungarian Orchestra who did a great job and they would have done a great job on this one as well but we were depending on, you know, the way we designed the whole thing from the beginning and the Czech people did an amazing job, so there was no need for us to change.
Okay. What was different in this album writing process than the previous ones? I mean, when You recorded something with the orchestra, there was no chance to make changes in the music, I suppose… How can we imagine this process?
Yeah, you basically nailed it already! (laughs) That is one of the two big differences. We recorded the orchestra in Prague for each song, and on a day, eight hours or twelve hours depending, you have the chance as a musician to accomplish two songs, yeah. You know of the quality and the length the songs have had on for Legacy of the Dark Lands. So, in total we have had like eight or nine recordig sessions in Prague, and of course we were able to go back and correct a whole recording if we felt well. Let’s say, we recorded This Storm in our first recording session there and it was still lacking something, we had a second attempt. But say, a year later when we went back for the second recording session. But still it was a complete performance because everyone performed at the same time there. And there were exceptions where we had overdubs in Prague, like four certain percussive instruments or a marimba, which you know, would not get through if you need it. So that was extruded sometimes from the regular recordings. But other than that, they performed in one row. So it was an organic building. And when I started working on the vocals, I had to live with this organic building. There was no chance for me to get rid of the trumpets if I didn’t like them. And this obviously is completely different to a regular metal production. If I do not like the lead guitars I hear, I just mute them and I’m just singing to the rhythm guitars or the other way round. Or if the drums are too loud, you know, I turn down the drums. Again, if the trumpets are too loud and I just want to turn them down, you cannot turn them down. There is no chance because you have that complete recording and there are some more chances to, you know, make my life easier when being an engineer then, but not a lot, you know. I really had to cope with this, and I had to live with it. That took a while. And it was sometimes not so easy to, you know, find a solution for these problems but we must find it and I believe that at the very end I learned a lot for myself with regard to recordings and how to adjust to things. So if we ever do a second orchestral album, my way of dealing with the orchestra and with the recordings will be far easier because I have more experience, obviously. That was one thing which obviously was a very-very difficult. And when we decided to go for real orchestra which was obvious for us from the beginning as well, the score writing of course was totally different to any other experience we have made because when we composed the stuff on keyboard, we had great libraries and the stuff sounded amazing. So we thought, „Well, we just print out these scores and then an orchestra could play it!” But as you can imagine, that is not the case. There was a lot of providing work to be done until we really could work with the orchestra. So this process has taken the longest effort and time, yet.
That sounds interesting! Did you and André use a piano for composing as well?
No, there was no piano. We did it on keyboards and we started during Nightfall in Middle-Earth and that’s when the first good orchestral library samples came out. So you had that library, you transposed that to the keyboard and then basically when intending to have a violin, it sounded like a violin. When we were working on the oboa, we just went for the oboa sound and they sounded very natural. And over the years, digital technology developed without a question and the sounds got better and better. So nowadays, it’s not even necessary to do a recording with a real orchestra because these libraries’ space sound so real, you hardly can defer in between. We just decided for the nature of things to go for a real orchestra and to make it even more authentic. That was our dream from the beginning, so we sticked to that. But nowadays a lot of soundtracks, they have been performed by the keyboard basically (laughs) because they’re that good and the privilege you have when working with the programmed orchestra is you have access to every instrument. All the problems we have had we could avoid, another problem you don’t have then is when recording in an orchestra hall, like the Rudolfinum in Prague, you have rooms on the instruments. So you cannot get rid of them, so you have to like it. We loved the room in Prague, that was one of the reasons for us to go there. It sounds so classical, original that we always intended to have that on the album, once we have heard it. But you know, if working with a keyboard with a library, you can use any room. You can, you know, that’s the possibility which digital revolution is offering to you but we decided to go oldschool and oldschool means to bleed and spat a little more.
I see. In the videos you recently released, we could see you changed the type and the brand of your headphones for recording this album. I don’t know if I should speak these brand names, but what was the cause of changing between them?
Oh, you don’t have to name the brand, it’s an in-ear and it’s a headphone, you know, it doesn’t matter which brand. Of course, I, in both cases (laughs), I used high quality equipment. The reason for that is when we started the recordings for Legacy of the Dark Lands, we considered every noise coming from the speaker, from the headphones as disturbing. We didn’t want that on the microphone. That was our first idea because we wanted to keep the vocals as clean as possible and try to adjust as much as possible to the orchestra. I was singing far quieter during the first attempts we did. And I never felt really confident with the in-ears. And I never felt confident about result when singing everything too soft. So, after having a full run of every song for the first time, I decided that I was not satisfied with the result. And then we also considered the option of not using the in-ears and even though creating some noises with an open headphone to have me in a more typical Blind Guardian recording session. So I went back to the headphones and worked with the headphones. At the very end, most of what is on the album has been composed with headphone. And yeah, there are some noises coming through the headphone speakers and they are captured by that highly sensitive microphone but we said, „Well, it doesn’t matter at all!” because the spirit of my performance with the headphone was far more intense and far more Hansi Kürsch-like than the one with in-ear.
I understand. I just asked because I have both types of these headphones at home, the one that you used during the recordings of At the Edge of Time and the other one that you used during the recording sessions of Legacy of the Dark Lands. And I don’t understand this change between them because the second one sounds to me so hard, harsh and raw-sounding for this music, especially if we compare it to the first headphone we’re speaking about. But it’s just my taste.
Well, I have to tell you that I’m struggling with my hearing, you know, forever. And I do not envy the engineers working with me, really, because I have tinnitus and I had a tinnitus back in the late nineties. And ever since that, you know, never disappeared completely, so my listening is changing every day and it is so much depending on blood pressure which I have even without singing. But when getting into a raging, intense mood, of course my hearing changes within a session completely. And these guys (laughs) have to adjust, you know, to all my behaviours and to all my feelings. And well, I can be little bit of a diva when being in the studio (laughs). So, I would say, what my experience is with headphones, if I change them from time to time, that certainly helps me because then, you know, I’m dealing with other things than myself and sometimes there is everything it needs during the producion to get me going.
I see. What the future holds for the band? You mentioned a possible next orchestral album…
Way, yeah. Give us a little bit of time for this, maybe something in between five and ten years, you know. I’m getting more courageous than we started songwriting on this one, but as we seen with Legacy of the Dark Lands that might take a little longer than a regular Blind Guardian album. The regular Blind Guardian album is what is on the agenda next. There will be a pre-production in February, I think and the real production for Blind Guardian starts around March, 2020 and my goal is to accomplish this album until the end of the year. And then we will see sometimes in 2020 we will be on the road for touring for the regular album and after that I’m pretty sure we will do some shows for the orchestral album.
Yeah, that would be good! Back to the album’s entirety, my last question is: we can state for sure that it is a very-very complex album. But there’s a certain charm in that when difficult and complex things are interpreted in an easy way; I think it is one of the highest perfections that an artist or a man, a human being can reach. How could you describe the whole album in one sentence?
I personally think it’s very melodious… It is a soundtrack for a movie which does not exist. It will create pictures. In your mind.
That’s correct. Hansi, thank you for sharing your time with me.
Zsuzsanna, nice to talking to you again! After such a short time! (laughs)
I also bring the greetings from our Hungarian Blind Guardian fanclub! We follow the Blind and expect you back to Hungary as soon as possible!
Yeah, we do our best and keep up the good work! Thanks!
Okay, thank you! Thank you again! Good bye!
Thank you! Bye!
The interview was taken with Hansi Kürsch on 14.11.2019.