Latest release: At the Edge of Time (Nuclear Blast/Riot!)

Germany’s Blind Guardian have been a solid institution in the metal world since their debut Battalions of Fear in 1988. Cutting a template for countless lesser imitators over the years, the band has continued to maintain its popularity thanks to the feverish loyalty of their legion of fans. Soon to be in Australia for only their second ever visit, Loud caught up with easy-going guitarist AndrĂ© Olbrich for a wide-ranging chat about their last album, their upcoming projects, illegal downloading and more…

Q: You are about to come to Australia again for another brief tour, and this time you are doing more shows than last time.
A: Yes, it’s the second time that we can play in Australia. The first time was those two shows in Melbourne, and now we at least have another one in Sydney, which we are pretty thrilled about because we’ve never been to Sydney so far, so we can’t wait to explore the city. And the shows that we played last time… the feedback from the audience has been great, and we can’t wait to come back and play some more great shows for you guys.

Q: I was going to ask you how that went, because I couldn’t be there. So it went off well?
A: Yes! The great thing for us is, when we came last time, we had never been to Australia before so we had no idea what to expect from people. The whole feedback was so great and so overwhelming. The shows had been great, and when we met people outside the shows, exploring Melbourne as well… it was just awesome. So we’re just expecting the best for this time again.

Q:What are the audiences like in South America? I’ve heard wonderful things.
A: They are awesome. They are singing so loud and enthusiastically. I remember the first time we played in Brazil, we played a show in Sao Paolo, and people were singing louder than any crowd we had ever had so far and they were singing so loud that we couldn’t hear ourselves playing on stage anymore. We were asking, “What the fuck is going on here?” (laughs). It’s amazing. The good thing is, on this (tour) block now, we also get to play some countries where we didn’t play so far, like Columbia. So we’re very excited right now.

Q: You’ve played Australia now, which is somewhere you had never been, and this time you’re doing other places you haven’t been before. Is there one particular country you’d like to play next time that you haven’t yet been to?
A: Actually any country that we haven’t played so far. I’d like to play in China, for example, and see how things are running there. I would love to in play Israel, and more African countries. We played a show in South Africa last time, which was a lot of fun for us. There’s so many places to be conquered for us. New Zealand for example. When we’re in Australia we should go to New Zealand and play a show there. It won’t happen this time, but I hope that next time… I would love to play anywhere. Anywhere we didn’t play so far, I would love to go there and play a gig.

Q: I’d like congratulate you on the last album too. To me, all the ingredients were mixed exactly right.
A: That’s good to hear, and that’s pretty much how we feel about it as well. You know, this album captures perfectly what Blind Guardian is about. It has a bit of everything that we did in the past. It has some aggressive speed metal roots, you can hear them in songs like “Tanelorn” and “Ride into Obsession”. It has the epic stuff, in “Wheel of Time” for example or “Sacred Worlds”. It that has power metal stuff and progressive elements in it, and it has stuff that we never did before, like the Oriental elements in “Wheel of Time”. So this album pretty much sums up what Blind Guardian is about. And we didn’t really expect this in the beginning. It was not planned like this. We were not sitting down saying we needed a bit of everything, it just happened naturally. When we played the stuff to some friends, everyone thought the same: This has everything that you guys have been about. And that’s just a cool thing. From the feedback we’ve had from fans when they heard the album and saw the songs being played live, it has been awesome. Everybody loves the stuff and we couldn’t be more happy about it.

Q: Does it give you some sort of a plan for what you might do with the next album? Or will you just see where it takes you?
A: We will just see where it takes us, because the only thing that I know for sure it that we won’t do a kind of second part to this album. We never try to repeat ourselves. When we did Nightfall for example, people expected a kind of Nightfall Pt. 2. What we did was A Night at the Opera — which was very different — and so I just know that we won’t repeat ourselves. The roots, the core elements of Blind Guardian will of course always be there. We won’t try to become a different band. But we will always try to put something new and something fresh into the new songs, and whatever that will be, I have no idea now.

Q: Is there anything in particular that’s been inspiring you that you might use on the next album?
A: There’s a lot of music that I love listening to. I love Opeth for example, and they are obviously very progressive, and we have some progressive elements too. I don’t know if this will be an inspiration or not. A friend of mine played to me some medieval acoustic stuff that sounded very interesting that might be an influence… I don’t know, it’s not like we’re sitting down and putting a pile of records on the table and say, We’re all listening to this and then we’ll see whatever we can make of it. Anything can be an inspiration, even the news that you watch on TV tonight. We’ll just have to see.

Q: You get a lot of inspiration from science fiction and fantasy books and films too. Is there anything in that vein that you’d like to explore that you haven’t done yet?
A: Actually we’re working on something that’s going to be pretty big. You know there’s this thing that we call the Orchestral Project, and that’s something that we’ve been working on since the last twelve or fifteen years. Which is basically Blind Guardian’s music, but not played by Blind Guardian but a classical orchestra. It’s not metal. There’s no guitars, no drums, anything. There’s Hansi singing, with the orchestra playing our kind of music. In the beginning we though we might do something with the Lord of the Rings again, but this plan changed because we’re working together with one of Germany’s best fantasy writers. He’s called Markus Heitz and he will actually write a novel for all of this. So there’s this colloboration with this guy going on now, and this will be pretty exciting for us and for the fans.

Q: That certainly sounds like something that would take some time to get together.
A: Actually we are speeding up big time. We started with that idea twelve years ago, and the big step for us was finding the right orchestra, and it will be the same orchestra that we used for the last album, the Prague Symphony Orchestra. We already recorded five or six songs, but we still have to write some more, we still have to record, obviously. And the plan at the moment is being able to release this in 2013. So it’s not that far away anymore. Especially in the Blind Guardian universe. Two years ahead, that’s very close! (laughs)

Q: So what is the more immediate future for Blind Guardian?
A: Our old record company EMI will release a best of album sometime early next year, so we have already worked a little bit on this. Because we just don’t like putting together a collection of ten songs that have already been released in that version. So we did some re-recording of old stuff, there’s some re-mixing going on to put something together that is interesting for people who have the originals already. There will be more festival shows next year, there will be lots of working on that orchestral project that I already told you about and obviously we also start writing the next regular Blind Guardian album. So we’ll be busy.

Q: Just going back to your Best Of album, you must be very lucky to be able to have some imput into that, because many times record labels will just put them out without even letting the band know they’re doing it.
A: Yeah, well we have the rights to say no if we don’t like this. And as I said, a regular kind of Best Of album where you just take songs off every album without changing anything or adding anything would be too boring for us. Because most of our fans have all our albums, so there’s no need for them to buy a compilation with everything that they already have.

Q: Blind Guardian is one of those bands whose fans have to have everything you do, as you’ve said. So do you think that downloading has affected your band less than it might have others, because your fans are the kind who prefer to buy the CDs so they can have the artwork and booklets and things like that?
A: I think we are amongst the blessed ones, yes. We are selling less albums now than when the Internet thing started, and this is affecting every single band on this planet. It would be nice to lie, but it’s just a fact. Metallica are affected as much as Madonna is affected, as much as the Chili Peppers, or whoever. Internet downloads affect your record sales. But as you said, we’re in the lucky position to have very, very loyal fans that want to have the original, and we always try to make it a package that is worthy to buy. We try to put ten great songs on an album instead of two great ones and eight fillers. We try to make the cover artwork look great, we try to make the booklet look great and try to give the fans something for their money… value for money. And I think this is honoured, because as I said most of our fans still go to the record store and buy our album. And if it works like this, I also don’t have any problem with the Internet. If somebody hears about Blind Guardian and he doesn’t know the band, and he downloads a couple of songs to check them out, and he likes it, then on the next day goes to the record store and buys the album, that’s perfectly fine for me. If he uses the Internet to check something out, that’s fine. But if you like it, and I tell this to every fan of every band on this planet, then buy their albums because if you just download them, you will kill them. Period.

Q: That’s something I like to ask all bands, because there are people who perhaps aren’t the greatest of music fans who don’t understand what damage downloading illegally is doing.
A: Well, we do it because we love it, it’s a passion, it’s a hobby, but also at the end of the day it pays our bills. And also, you don’t go to the bakery around the corner and grab his bread and say, “Man, I love your bread, but I’ll take it for free.” That’s stealing! There’s no other word. And with music, it’s nothing different. It costs to record an album, it costs to go on tour and this is more than just a hobby for every professional band out there. If you record albums then you also try to get something back from it.

Q: So can you give us an idea of what might be in the setlist for this tour?
A: Well not really. That’s something that we have yet to work out. When we play live, we might play, say, eighteen songs, but we always like to prepare at least twice that many. We are flexible about our set lists, so normally we only decide what to play on the night when we do soundcheck. What I can tell you is that apart from the stuff that has been played on this tour so far, we have just prepared some songs that have never ever been played. I won’t tell you the names now or it will spoil the surprise, but obviously it will be some classics that we just have to play or people will crucify us, and there are new songs that we will play to present the new album, and there’s a good mix of stuff that will can play. And there’s some stuff that we’ve never ever played, so it will be an interesting mix for everybody.

Q: So if someone was to go to all three shows, the set would be different every night?
A: Well there will be some songs, like I said, that will be play every night, but yes, the set list will be different every night.