Latest Release: Beyond the Red Mirror (Nuclear Blast)

Returning to Australia but with a better sense of the local fanbase, Blind Guardian understand that there is a following for their power metal here.
Marcus Siepen, the band’s rhythm guitarist since the late 80s, is involved wholeheartedly in the direction their epic music. Their latest album, Beyond the Red Mirror, is a highly recommended addition to their impressive catalogue. On the eve of the impending tour to Australia, Loud Online got a hold of Marcus to chat about the music, the legacy and the upcoming tour of Blind Guardian.

Blind Guardian are more than happy to have long songs their albums and the latest one does not disappoint. In fact, the new one has both the opening and closing tracks clocking in at around nine and a half minutes long. Radio play is not a consideration, is it?
Ha ha, no, not really, but Blind Guardian were never a band on radio anyway so it does not really matter if we release shorter songs or longer ones. Actually, the song ‘And Then There was Silence’ from the A Night at the Opera album was fourteen minutes long and we released it as a single so that shows how much we care about radio airplay.

Is that the nature of writing songs, in that it just happens to come out as it does?
It just happens. It is not as though we are sitting down, trying to write long songs on purpose. The typical length for a Blind Guardian song, on average, would be about five to six minutes. Sometimes it is bigger and we don’t really care. If it takes longer than five minutes for the song to end then we let it be.

You’ve got a producer who has also worked with Hammerfall, so song length is not a problem.
No, not at all. Our producer, Charlie [Bauerfeind], has been working with us since the Nightfall album which was in ’98 so the chemistry is just perfect. He understands the music we are trying to create and he can push us beyond our limits which is the perfect studio situation so there is no need to change things.

How did you approach dealing with choirs?
Ah, the approach is that we wanted it to be quiet for the first time in our career. Normally we have singers in what we call our choir company that does the choir and when they have to be bigger, we overdub the parts but the problem is, we wanted it to sound very big to match with a big orchestra. At some point, taking a handful of singers and getting them to double everything does not work because you get phase cancellation and it doesn’t sound bigger at a certain point. So that is why we worked with real choirs of sixty people and even had to work with two choirs due to timing or availability problems. In the end there are two different choirs and two different orchestras on the album but there is still one band.

This album is a concept album so in effect links back to Imaginations from the Other Side. Do you feel that the sound of both albums sits well together, side by side for the listener?
Well the Imaginations from the Other Side came out in 1995 so because there is some time spent until up to the latest album, I wouldn’t compare them musically.  We’re still the same band with the same roots but our musical development is quite different. Back then, we didn’t work with orchestras at all, it was all programmed keyboards and we did use choirs in the choruses but nothing was as big as it is today. Also, the new one has the speed metal or thrash core that we had back then but it is a different development, I would say.

Do orchestras request a lot of time and effort for presenting and achieving the arrangements?
Oh, there is a lot of time and effort. In fact, that is one of the most difficult parts because none of us are able to write down a score to give to an orchestra. You cannot give them an mp3 file to ask them to play something, so you have to have a rhythm score to give to them. André [Olbrich – lead guitar] works on that as he programmes keyboards in our studio so we try to come as close as possible to advise on what the orchestra should sound like. There are people to help us who go through the fine tunings and they write an actual score to present to the orchestra because otherwise, they do not know what to play. We cannot afford to fly an orchestra into our studio in Krefeld [Germany] so we have to go there. One orchestra was in Prague and the other was in Hungary. We had to go there and record stuff, fly back and then fit in into the mix. So, it is a lot of work but it is worth it because the results sound so much better than anything you could do with keyboards.

Indeed. Were you playing with them live?
They get playbacks and they had to play to that as well as to a click track to fit to our recordings. We didn’t go there and set up all of our equipment and jam with them. They got a prepared playback and were the only ones playing to that.

It is your tenth album, do you find it the most cohesive project thus far?
Ah, I think it is the biggest project so far, because of the big choirs and the orchestras. It is a dimension that we did not have before. We have had orchestrated stuff on previous albums so the latest is a the biggest step in a long development and I have no idea where that will take us into the next album, be it further or back but it is the biggest thing that we did so far, I would say.

The backing vocals remain strong, giving a powerful Queen vibe to Blind Guardian’s music. Is that something that has naturally developed or was it intentional?
I think it is natural because Queen have always been one of our main influences and we just loved the stuff that they did. Both the choir thing and building guitar harmonies are obviously inspired by Queen but we’ve never tried to copy them. We’ve always just tried to put our influences into our music. We are not sitting down and saying that we must have a Queen styled choir in that song or a Brian May styled guitar harmony in this song, it is just something that happens naturally.

What is the breakdown of guitar solos on the album?
It is mostly André that does the solos. I play leads on a couple of songs; mostly the songs that I have composed. The main thing is that he plays lead and I play rhythm guitar but live onstage, we have to re-arrange all the songs because on the albums there are so many guitar tracks going on but onstage, there are just two guys with guitars. We have to sit down and find out how to distribute the rhythm and lead parts. So in the live situation, I will play more lead guitar parts.

There are plenty of variations rhythmically on the album even with just the use of wah pedals to bolster or enhance the sound. How would you say your rhythm playing has evolved?
I would hope that it has gotten better. I’ve always been a rhythm guitar player so if you asked me if I wanted to play lead or rhythm, I will always play rhythm. One of my main influences has always been Tony Iommi from Black Sabbath with his heavy riffs. So I try to lay down a solid foundation making things sound big and playing as tightly as possible. That approach has not changed over the years, I just hope that I’ve gotten better at it. When we started to list songs for the coming tour we had about forty possible songs to play. We are starting to get our chops together for old songs because if you don’t play them for a long time, you just forget the song. So we have to relearn it but I have recently sat down to relearn the very early stuff and I have gotten better a guitar player. Ha ha.

Speaking of that early material, did you pick Flemming Rasmussen’s brain about Metallica’s rhythm sound on Ride the Lightning when he produced Blind Guardian’s Imaginations from the Other Side?
Obviously we loved the Metallica sound but back then I don’t think that it was our goal to sound like Metallica. I don’t think that Nightfall in Middle-Earth or Imaginations from the Other Side do sound like any of the Metallica albums. Back at that time, we were looking for a good studio and a good producer because we felt that we had reached a limit with Kalle Trapp who had worked on previous four albums. He couldn’t help us to get further and Flemming was high on the list because we respected with what he did with Metallica but also with Pretty Maids. So we went to Copenhagen, checked out the studio and everything was pretty much as we wanted it to be. He is a great guy, an awesome producer and his studio was great so that is why we decided to do those albums with him.

Lyrically, there are plenty of literature influences involved. Plenty of metal bands cited H.P.Lovecraft as an inspiration. Did that ever enter the world of Blind Guardian?
I have to say that Hansi [Kürsch – vocals and bass] is in charge of the lyrics and I know that he read some Lovecraft stuff, just like I did. I cannot really say if it ever was on his list of things to do. I wouldn’t mind it because I love his stuff. In general, it is something that keeps coming back just like King Arthur and mythology. It is a spooky horror kind of thing but we have looked at Stephen King type stories in the past but I can talk to Hansi and recommend he read some Lovecraft books again. It might be a nice idea.

How much of an impact was the success of the Scorpions for you when starting out in Germany?
We all love the old Scorpions stuff. They definitely opened doors for any German rock band because they were the first ones to go international and become very successful and do it a long time before anybody else. So, they are important for any German rock band. They are not much an influence musically because what they are doing is completely different. I still love the old stuff and we played a show with them a couple of years ago and they are nice guys as is the whole crew. It was a very nice experience.

Your guitars have got Doug Aldrich signature pickups in them. Is it fair to assume you’re influenced Dio and Whitesnake?
Musically, not at all. It is the same thing [as Scorpions]. I like Whitesnake a lot, they had some great stuff going on and I think that Doug Aldrich is an incredible player. In my opinion, he is one of the best players that we have around for the moment. The funny thing is that I am not a big fan of his particular guitar sound. At some point I was reading about his signature pickups and normally I am an EMG pickups guy. I like trying different things, once in a while and some of my guitars have the original Gibson pickups. As I said, I was reading an interview with him and he was talking about his signature pickups which sounded interesting. So, I put one into one of my Les Paul guitars and I have to say, they sound amazing. They do not magically make you sound like Whitesnake at all, they are just brilliant pickups so thank you Doug. Anyway, you will see them on tour.

Catch Blind Guardian in June:
19/6: HiFi Bar, Melbourne VIC (+ Divine Ascension + Bane of Winterstorm)
20/6: HiFi Bar, Sydney NSW (+ Divine Ascension + Taberah)