Interview with Blind Guardian — “We wanted to define a new Blind Guardian sound.”

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German power metal act BLIND GUARDIAN are back with a brand new album, “The God Machine.” In anticipation of the release, we chatted with guitarist André Olbrich about the upcoming album. Watch the entire interview here or read the complete transcript below…

First of all, thanks so much for taking the time to do this interview and having this promo day. How has your summer been?

My summer? We played many festivals so far, lots of traveling, which was not easy because things changed a little since Corona and it became really difficult for the bands to fly with equipment and [it] takes much more time, so it’s more intense I could say. 

I noticed in Finnish festivals at least there were a lot of bands who lost their gear and luggage and so on. Did that happen to you as well?

Yeah, it’s terrible. So far, we didn’t lose luggage because most of the time we arranged trucks going to the destinations, so we could only fly with hand luggage and stuff. But now, this weekend we had a trip to Spain and Romania and we had the gear with us and so one little trip took us 17 hours. That’s not nice. [laughs]

I can only imagine, especially when you’re still inside of Europe, you don’t really expect that to happen. Anyway, we’re here to talk about your upcoming album “The God Machine” and it’s the first full-band album you’re releasing in quite some time – if you are not counting the orchestral album – how does it feel to have a release with the whole band lined up again?

Yeah, it feels great. We were waiting for this for a long time and if it was not for Corona, this album would have been there earlier, but of course, we lost some time and we feel a little bit sorry for the fans to wait so long. That was not expected even by us. [laughter] Okay, in the end, this album came a little bit [together] from the extra time we had, because usually, we are always in a hurry. You write the songs, you are barely ready with the songwriting, you have to be in the studio, the tour is booked already, so everything has to be [ready] in time. The songs sometimes suffer a little bit from this (being worked out during the production.) This time, we knew okay, there wouldn’t be a tour, we would have more time, so we said: “Okay, let’s do demo tapes and stuff and work a little bit more on the songs.” I think that was a real advantage with this album. So this complex music could grow a little bit more and now it’s, for me at least, it’s more smooth to listen to the full album and easier to get in[to] I think for the people, that’s a big advantage, yeah. 

I guess it’s well worth the wait for the fans as well. I don’t think anyone will be angry that it took you so long. Anyhow, the first thing that I noticed while listening to the album is that it feels like you went maybe back to your roots, but kept it kind of modern, and it altogether sounds very refreshing. I was wondering whether you had a lot of discussions about what direction you would be heading after “Legacy of the Dark Lands,” which was such an undertaking.

Well, we started songwriting right after the tour at the end of 2017 already, I think. [We] just collected ideas, we left everything open, because, in the beginning, we don’t want to limit ourselves to a certain direction, we just see what ideas we have and work with this. So I think at the beginning we were working with “American Gods” and “Architects of Doom” and then we did a break with the songwriting because we had to focus, or we wanted to focus on “Legacy of the Dark Lands.” When this was done, it was so intense to work with the orchestra and these extraordinary arrangements that for me it felt natural to really do something else and to feel the metal band again, the brutality, the speed, so naturally, we wrote the first one or two speedy songs and when we played at Wacken Worldwide (the digital show) and we played “Violent Shadows,” we had amazing feedback for the song. We thought okay, seems that people like what we are doing, and then shortly after this, or no… not shortly after this, before this already, Corona started. I think that is a key point because at that moment, for me, my whole surrounding and the world changed. It felt tougher, almost that we switched to a kind of survival mode. We had to become tougher, harder. Everything seemed a little bit in chaos and for me, it felt authentic to write harder and more brutal music at that moment. So, I think that this album really caught the time spirit, the moment how we feel right now and that is what is always in our music, from all the old albums, that was a really big part of sense in the music. This more speedy album feels natural for us, but on the other hand, we never planned to do a retro album or copy the old days. For us, it was getting the energy that we had when we started as a metal band, this pure energy, but with the knowledge [that] we have now and we grew as a band and as composers. We wanted to transfer the speed metal into the time 2021, 2022. So, it had to sound more modern and it had to be a little bit more tricky concerning the arrangements and that’s what we did. I don’t like to just look back and have a song that wouldn’t work for me. Yeah, I think what we did now is how speed metal has to sound right now and this is how it can be interesting for the new generation of metal fans. If you have now a 16-year-old guy or a 20-year-old guy, that could catch their attention much more than an original ‘80s song I think. 

Yeah, I was interviewing Mikael Stanne the other day and he mentioned that the production of their old albums never sounded that good and that when he looks back it’s hard to listen to older material. Is that the same thing with you guys?

I always leave the productions in the time they were made and I think I know that they always were within the limit of possibilities we had. So, I don’t regret doing anything. I think these albums are all great for the time they were done. Of course, with my knowledge as a composer, I would arrange [things] maybe a little bit differently nowadays. On the other hand, I like this nativity of the first albums, it has something pure, something original, and that spirit of the time. I love that. I don’t want to destroy this with knowledge. It’s sometimes just good to leave it like it was. [laughter]

That makes sense. It was also mentioned in a statement that it’s sort of a new chapter for BLIND GUARDIAN. Is that also how you see this album?

We wanted to get somewhere else, that was clear. We wanted to define a new BLIND GUARDIAN sound so to say. “At the Edge of Time” and “Beyond the Red Mirror” were pretty close together, I see that as one chapter. After this, for me, everything was set in this direction, it was the peak, and we need to close a chapter and open another one from time to time. We felt it was the right time to do this. We were talking a lot with Charlie [Bauerfeind, producer], about how we could make the new album sound completely different and Charlie said “Okay, if you want different results, then you need to make sure you change everything from the very beginning.” We changed already the way we recorded drums, I changed my guitar sound completely. All these details together, we found a new guy to mix the album, and all this together made it a different outcome and really something that makes clear that a new chapter starts. Even with the artwork, we took that step, after it was clear music-wise that this sounds really different. We said, “Okay, now we really need to make it clear for everybody, there needs to be a cut with the artwork and say okay it’s still fantasy, but it’s different, it’s more modern.” I think from the whole concept we worked out, it’s pretty much a round album now. It’s almost like a concept even when it isn’t. 

Yeah, it’s interesting that you mentioned the cover art because I indeed felt like it’s very BLIND GUARDIAN and still based in this fantasy world. At the same time, it feels very minimal, which is also very trendy nowadays. So that’s pretty cool.

For me, it has the same dynamic, the same aggression, but also leaves lots of space… our music is more open, it has more space. I think that that was a really big step, not to be so super epic again, with 80 instruments doing tricks at the same time, but more… I love a lot of the ‘70s. Many of my favorite bands are ‘70s rock bands from DEEP PURPLE to LED ZEPPELIN and I really love their guitar sound, so my basic sound now is really based on the ‘70s amplifiers and that gives you more space, so the vocalist is more shiny in a way, you can say. All this together is… [laughs]

You mentioned the sound is inspired by the ‘70s but is that altogether also your approach with this album that the melodies and riffs are more inspired by the ‘70s?

I would say it’s pretty much influenced by the ‘70s. Even now, in our live shows, we stick to this concept and it works out. It’s much better for everybody. We are maybe a little bit back to the basic rockish band and not too modern, like the American way of metal sounds from the guitar sound, like SLIPKNOT, KORN, DISTURBED, they have that typical overly distorted, full guitars. I made a step in the complete opposite direction and I think it’s really interesting because my hero is Eddie Van Halen and I was always checking out his sound and what I like and what I don’t like. Maybe that is for us a way to go and I feel it feels good, even with the speed metal music, it feels good to have a sound like this. 

It’s interesting to see that when most bands go left, you go right. Even though it’s different, it still really sounds like BLIND GUARDIAN, so that’s really cool. I also read a statement that Hansi mentioned that he originally wanted the album to be heavier and that you guys vetoed that. I was wondering when you guys make decisions together, is it somehow important to stick to your roots so much and not differ so much from that?

We did some albums where we really went far away, like “Twist in a Myth” was, [we did] many experiments with electronic sounds as well. At that time, I wanted to sound more synthetic, I wanted to play around with sequencer stuff and I like that we have this experimental spirit and that everything is allowed so to say. There’s nothing forbidden. If I have a great concept in my mind, I want to realize it, no matter what. For us, it’s important that an album in its entirety, with all the songs together, has to be in harmony. We started many songs in the songwriting period, but some of these songs would absolutely not fit in. It would be like a break and we didn’t want this. We only chose songs that fit together and would tell a story if you have a nice order. So this is important for us that the album itself is in harmony. We have some other songs for the future that are in a completely different direction. We even tried out some jazzy elements and yeah, there are some really cool ideas in there. At a certain point, we will release this, but it all has to be in the right context. Still, we don’t need to stick to the original BLIND GUARDIAN sound, which in my opinion, was the “Tales of the Twilight World,” which was the first definition of the real definition of BLIND GUARDIAN. We can go wherever we want.

You guys also posted a video about “Blood of the Elves.” It seems like you also had a disagreement over the chorus. What would that song have sounded like if Hansi had gotten his way?

Worse, way worse, of course. [laughter] Well, I think I have a better ear for catchy and hooky melodies. Hansi is in that way more the complex, too much progressive thinking guy. I am sometimes [like that] with instruments, when it comes to the epic, classical songs, then I get too complex and he is more calming me down and making it more listenable. With the chorus parts, I really have the taste for a little bit of sing-along, I love these choruses when they really get stuck in your mind. Hansi wanted to destroy this, I said no way. He wanted this because of the lyrics. For him, it’s very important to put the sense of the lyrics… a whole book needs to fit in the chorus part, you know. [laughter] I said no, don’t do this, the rhythm is perfect, the melody is perfect, just leave it like it is. So, that is basically what happens sometimes, but most of the time we agree anyways. We are not so far away, it’s not like two worlds [that] crash. Even little things can make it more smooth or not.

It’s actually interesting to hear more about how you sort of complement each other even though your specialty is maybe not vocals and his is not guitar. Do you think that is also the success behind BLIND GUARDIAN? 

Yes, I would say it’s really the chemistry between Hansi and me. That is a love-and-hate chemistry. We have a way of communication that we can really talk about everything. We bring everything to the table, even when we are not agreeing. We are not shy to have these discussions and even fights about something, but in the end, we are both able to take a step back and say at a certain point, “Okay you were right.” We both have this ability. That makes it work because sometimes Hansi gets what he wants, sometimes I get what I want, and sometimes we find a compromise. But I’m not such a big fan of compromises, I always think if you find a compromise you lose something. So it’s better we go 100% his way or 100% my way, somehow I like that better. We are doing this. When we agree to something, we stick to this. After we decide something, we go for it 100%. That is the nice thing in us, from that moment, let’s say Hansi was against something and then he would say okay let’s do it your way, from that moment, there’s 100% support of him for this idea, the other way around too. That makes it in the end great music I think. 

Now, talking more about “Blood of the Elves.” I found out in that video that you and Markus pushed the theme, The Witcher theme to Hansi. I know he writes the lyrics mainly. Do you guys have a lot of say in what things the lyrics should be inspired on?

I think Hansi needs to have the last word for the lyrics because besides that he has an amazing talent for the lyrics, he needs to feel it. He’s the vocalist, he needs to have the right feeling for the right words and one word in the chorus part can change so much. If you put a word the singer will not get along with, you can ruin a song. So, I think it’s really important that the vocalist likes what he has to perform in the end. Hansi’s lyrics, I love them so much because he has a way to write but there’s always something to read between the lines. He’s always leaving lots of space for your interpretation, for your own interpretation, which makes the people think. He is giving some hints maybe, then people start really to think about what’s going on, what’s the meaning, they go deeper into it, much deeper. That makes BLIND GUARDIAN’s music more intense in the end. Sometimes, it’s even that because of the lyrics they will find the book and then read the book, that’s so amazing. Hansi has the magic there and sometimes we talk about words, especially in the chorus parts, there are sometimes discussions because when we are songwriting he is using dummy lyrics. In the dummy lyrics he is choosing words that sound so good, then, in the end, he is trying to exchange these lovely words and it’s always another fight between us because I’m like “Hey you can do everything, but you cannot take this word out of this melody.” [laughter] No but Hansi has a really good taste for this and a really good feeling for what topic matches the feeling for the song or the feeling of the music. When I compose something and it’s melancholic, he knows where to search, which books would fit this kind of music. He has a really good sense for this and most of the time, he drops me some topics and asks me what I think, whether I know this or that, and then we have a talk about this. The other way around, when I write music, for example, “Destiny,” I’m a big RPG player, that was for me, inspired by a game called World of Warcraft about an icy world something. I told him about this and my vision of the Lich King. Then he said, “Okay I will not write about this because I’m not into that story, but I will come up with something that catches the same emotion.” He’s really good at that, I don’t need to worry, I don’t need to interfere. 

You already mentioned the guitar sound earlier on and one of my favorite [guitar] passages in the songs happens in “Life Beyond the Spheres,” now that I think about it, the ‘70s sound is also quite clear in there. Do you personally have any moments on this record that you are particularly proud of?

Yeah, some. [laughter] Well, from the guitar work probably the best guitar work I ever did is in “Destiny,” which is played in a very special way, which was really tricky and I had to rehearse a lot to make it sound that way. It was not really clear if I would get to this sound that I had a vision but it wasn’t clear if it would work out or if I would completely fail. In the end, Charlie helped a lot with the production, we worked a lot on these guitars. I’m really proud of this. And of course, I’m a big supporter of innovation, to bring the whole music genre forward to something else. Maybe even find a new something that wasn’t there before, I think with “Life Beyond the Spheres,” I knew I wanted to go somewhere in the soundtrack direction. At that time, I was playing cyberpunk [games], so my inspiration was a little bit cyberpunkish. I tried to bring in a metal soundtrack in a cyberpunk direction, more spacey than we ever did before. Hansi grabbed that feeling and I think now we have a song we never did before, not even close to that kind of genre. I like that, that is a very innovative song, I’m proud of this too.

I really like that one. Now, I noticed that you have the “Somewhere Far Beyond” tour coming up as well. A shame again, that you’re not really stopping anywhere other than Germany and maybe a few neighboring countries. How are you looking forward to touring again?

Well, playing the shows is so great. It’s such a feeling I was missing for 2 years. Because it’s part of us, to feel this, to get the energy of the audience. You bring this home, you need this for creativity. Now it’s like refilling the batteries, the batteries were empty. We’re going on stage and we’re refilling them, it’s just amazing. But, we are playing festivals since May and as I said before, traveling is really really difficult at the moment, from that point of view, touring is not as much fun as it was before. But from the show aspect and the attention from the fans, it’s better than ever. You can feel that everybody was waiting for this moment again to celebrate. We are enjoying it. For the tour we have in Germany, we will not need airplanes anymore, so it will be much easier and I think much more enjoyable.

I heard that you were planning to do a tour for “The God Machine” in 2023. Is there anything planned for that or is that just hypothetical for now? 

No, it is actually our plan to do this, but we don’t have bookings so far. I can’t say where we go or what is possible. We wanted to wait until autumn to see how the whole situation will be because we are not fans of postponing or delaying shows in any way. When we book a show, we want to play it. So let’s wait until the last second with the bookings to make sure there are no more restrictions or whatever. If there’s another lockdown, you never can be sure about this, then we don’t need to book anything. We want to wait and when the situation is clear and we have a green light, we will book a huge European tour and probably a North America, South America, and Asia as well.

Let’s hope this time you have a stop in Finland too because it’s been quite a while I believe. Anyway, our time is up. It was a pleasure to talk to you. Do you have any last thoughts you want to share with your fans? 

Well, if you have not seen us live so far, then join our shows and become part of the big party, because I think it was really fun and for sure, the next shows will be too.

Interview by Laureline Tilkin