Metal Hammer Greece 5/98

Journey To Middle-Earth

Blind Guardian are a special band. Almost all their lyrics deal with stories from important fantasy writers. This time, in "Nightfall in Middle-Earth" they touch the extreme by creating a concept album inspired by J. R. R. Tolkien's "The Silmarillion". Realizing once again that if I love some bands it's precisely for their particularities, I hear Hansi Kursch speaking for some of the stories haunting his mind

MH: Unfortunately, Hansi, I've heard nothing from your new album. I'd like you, therefore, to describe it.
Hansi: It is, I'd say, the evolution of "Imaginations From The Other Side". All the elements comprising that album are present in the new one as well. Yet, I believe, using them we've taken them to their limits:more choir vocals, richer instrumentation and the variety of the tracks is far greater this time. One can hear from almost thrash songs to melancholic ballads. We wanted to make the very most out of our abilities, from backing vocals to drums, that are almost singing.

MH: I belive that in your last two albums you've had influences from bands like Savatage or even Queensryche. What of the influences in the new songs?
Hansi: Our basic influences are, mainly, the same, meaning the bands you mentioned and Queen. We've tried to give to our music the most personal character possible. We sound very epic, I'd call what we're playing now fantasy metal. To give you an idea, the new material is close to the direction we'd taken with songs like "And The Story Ends" or "Mordred's Song". One of the songs reminds me of Sepultura, though the vocals are nowhere near theirs. There are also influences from Jethro Tull and older Genesis.

MH: From what I know, the album is based on "The Silmarillion" by J.R.R. Tolkien. Give me some more information. With which, exactly, stories from that book do the lyrics deal with?
Hansi: Generally, I've looked into the Curse of Feanor. I began with the destruction of the Two Treesby Ungoliant and Morgoth and went so far as the fifth battle of Middle-Earth, the Battle of Unnumbered Tears, where I finish, with the ruin in that battle. The first song speaks of Morgoth and the legendary spider, Ungoliant. The second. "Nightfall", for the darkness that fell after the destruction of the Trees and the Exile of the Noldor from the Blessed Kingdom, Aman. The third song is about one of the central heroes, Feanor, the tale of the Battle under the Stars, and, mainly, Feanor's thoughts and feelings following the Kinslaying he brought about on his way to Middle-Earth. The fourth song has to do with Feanor's son, Maedhros. Maedhros was captured by Morgoth, the Dark Lord, and hanged on a rock from his wrist. This is the story of his isolation. The next song, "Mirror, Mirror", tells of the incident when Finrod and Turgon saw visions created from the Lord of Waters and decided to create hidden fortresses to protect themselves from the disaster to come. The sixth song, "Noldor", has to do with the curse of the Noldor nad their march through the ice of Aman. Next piece, Time Stands Still, is the tale of the challenge to Morgoth from the Noldor's High King. Fingolfin, and the Battle of Sudden Flame. The eighth song speaks of Maeglin, who enters the hidden vale of Tumladen to join the forces of Gondolin and about the wish the new High King of the Noldor, Fingon, to rediscover the way to the Blessed Kingdom. The Following song, speaks of Finrod that dies fighting a wolf, and for the story of Beren and Luthien after the death of Beren, how he feels in Halls of the Dead where he is waiting for Luthien, as she has said to him. The last song, "Dark Passage", has to do with the Battle of Unnumbered Tears and especially with Hurin, the most famed, perhaps, warrior of the human kind.

MH: So, the narration is almost parallel to the chapters of the book.
Hansi: Correct. I left out the creation of the Sun and Moon and the first war in Beleriand because I tried to tell the story from the perspective of Maglor, the bard. I shall eventually continue the story to the end, unti the War of Wrath. There will be a note along with the lyrics for Maglor. He is the composer of these songs and is for me the main character in the story.

MH: Shall I assume that the next album will also be a concept on Tolkien's work?
Hansi: Yes, something like that is very probable. I don't know though, if I'll continue with the "Silmarillion" or if I'll go into "Akallabeth" or "The Lord Of The Rings".

MH: I believe it'd be extremely interesting to if you were to get into "Akallabeth"
Hansi: Truly, Tolkien's text is relatively small, so there's a lot of space for someone with a little imagination to tell of that tale. I was impressed, however, from the characters from the part of the story I busied myself with, and I believe it is a very interesting part, since it's the most important part of the history of the elves.

MH: I believe that Tolkien's work, along with all its recent publications of his manuscripts, is something one can really go into studying.
Hansi: You're obviously talking for the "The History Of Middle-Earth" series. I'm really very into it. It's something that excites me greatly.

MH: How important is literature for your life?
Hansi: Very important. For Blind Guardian, Tolkien consists the main source of inspiration behind most of the songs. For me, personally, there are many other very important works, like for instance the Ring of the Nibelungen, which I think is almost as important as Tolkien's work. Literature is, perhaps, the only place where I can retire and let my mind go free, since most of the rest of my life is dedicated to music.

MH: What other writers have affected your life and lyrics?
Hansi: Definitely Stephen King. I love the "Dark Tower"! Stephen Grandy with "The Rhinegold Saga", Marion Zimmer Bradley, Gary Jennings, who is a historic (note: must refer to the writing style) but his writing style is very much like fantasy. T. H. White, since I'm interested in the epic of Arthur, Mary Stewart

MH: Michael Moorkcock, I assume
Hansi: Of course, he's amazing! It would be worth it to make a concept album about his work. I was talking with an Italian friend of mine, who told me something that I think is as important as it is true; let me tell you here that the story, that in the album stops before Turin, will be continued in an EP that will be released later in '98 or early '99, where I will mostly deal with Turin. So, the said Italian, told me that Turin is the character that inspired Elric, from Michael Moorcock [if I ever meet you, I want to talk to you about that, Mr. Kursch! - Ares].

MH: Probably, I never thought about it.
Hansi: Neither had I, but there are a lot of common elements between them character-wise, especially that tragic element which moves me greatly in a hero.

MH: However, Elric's stories were released a fair while before the publication of "The Silmarillion"
Hansi: Indeed "The Silmarillion" was released in the '70s, if I'm not mistaken. MH: In '77
Hansi: Then maybe there's someone else who inspired both of them.

MH: If someone has no idea whatsoever about Tolkien's books, Stephen King's etc., how differently does he sense the music in relation to someone who knows what the lyrics are about?
Hansi: More appropriate to answer this question would have been Thomen, since he's read nothing of all this. I believe it's not so important to understand the lyrics, as is perceiving their spirit and being open minded as far as fairytales and things not about reality are concerned. There are, however, elements from real life in those stories: the way one faces life, the way the story is felt and compared with real life. So, regarding the lyrics, one might try to see them from a different perspective, if he's not into fantasy. As about the music, if someone likes fairytales and dreams, he can feel it even if he has not the slightest idea as to what the lyrics are about.

MH: There is the opinion that Tolkien's work has been allegoric.
Hansi: He said it himself that it's mostly a story. Of course there are parts of it. MH: That express true feelings?
Hansi: Yes, my feelings. For instance, "The Silmarillion", was written, as far as I know, during the First World War. So there are points when one can say that it's not just a story.

MH: I wanted to hear that from you because there's the opinion that in reality, he meant something else.
Hansi: He main goal was, I believe, to play with the reader. To get him into the story and into a character of the story. He wanted much more than to teach something or to make comparisons with reality: he wanted to excite the reader and make him a part of the story. For example, the description he did of the Valar, was like saying that the Valar were the readers: they are giving life to the story. He is Eru, who creates the cosmos.

MH: What other bands do you think have used successfully Tolkien's work in lyrics?
Hansi: I can't answer that because I know hat a lot of death or gothic bands deal with such topics and I don't much like their music, so I don't know who is considered successful . There are however from time to time bands that are inspired very successfully from Tolkien's work, but I'm not sure their success is because of Tolkien. It's the same as with us: those lyrics help to approach and audience that under different circumstances would not listen to your music, but the main part is always played by the music.

MH: Those death metal bands you mentioned, tend to use the "evil" side of Tolkien's work. What's your opinion on that?
Hansi: To tell the truth, I've never happened to read their lyrics.

MH: They compare him with Satan etc.
Hansi: That's stupid! I'm trying to handle the matter realistically, giving more emphasis to the heroes' feelings than the story itself. I try for instance to give the feelings of isolation when Maedhros is hanging from the rock, looking towards the peaks of Thangorodrim, with the cold winds and the barren land around him. That's the way I try to handle the "evil" side and I think it's much more exciting than comparing with Satan. You've probably noticed that nowhere does Tolkien describe "bad" characters. There is no, for instance, description of Sauron. He simply plays with the feelings and with some verbs to give the atmosphere surrounding him. So, there is quite vague an image of Sauron, but there's no way I'd compare him with Satan.

MH: Since we've been talking about concept albums, there's something I've always wanted to ask: is "Somewhere Far Beyond" a concept album? I have the impression that every song is a story from a different world, and that all the narrator s from those worlds have gathered as shown on the cover. Am I right?
Hansi: Yes, you are. Of course, you can see every song on it's own. "Time What Is Time" is about someone who finds himself in the Blade Runner world, "Journey Through The Dark" is for someone who's forgotten who he is, for time travel and for Jhary-a-Conel, the Michael Moorcock character. "Black Chamber" deals with someone found in the Twin Peaks world and his fate is dark, "Quest For Tanelorn" is obviously for Jhary-a-Conel also. "Ashes To Ashes" is based on reality, it has to do with the death of my father. "The Bard's Song - In The Forest" and "The Piper's Calling" are about the gathering itself, "Bard's Song – The Hobbit" is obviously about the Hobbit and "Somewhere Far Beyond" is about Stephen King's "Dark Tower" and about someone who found himself in there.

MH: Are there any lyrics that you've written based on your own fantasy stories?
Hansi: Yes, in "Imaginations From The Other Side" there's "Bright Eyes", which continues with "And The Story Ends".

MH: That story kind of resembles Michael Ende's "Never-ending Story"?
Hansi: Yes he's very good, most of his books I like especially.

MH: "The Mirror Inside The Mirror" was great book.
Hansi: An incredible book, really!

MH: He is a genius
Hansi: Was, unfortunately (note: Michael Ende died a couple of years ago). As I was saying, "Bright Eyes" and "And The Story Ends" resemble "The Never-ending Story. I was not influenced from there, I just tried to write a story that ended up taking same direction.

MH: What the story about, exactly?
Hanis: It's about and isolated child living in reality. Despite its age, he's about ten, it's very smart and has some special talents. He's not getting along well with the people around him, including his family. So, it's isolated and eventually starts loosing it's mind. That's happening in "Bright Eyes". The reason why he can't get along with other people is that he has already shaped his own perspective about truth and he does not belong to the people who always say "yes". In the end, through the mirror you see on the cover, he comes into contact with another world. Both sides, the good and the evil, are interested in that child because of its wisdom. In the beginning, the child does not accept the imagination from the other world with positive feelings. When he does, the dilemma is created: which path will he take? Take the good path or the evil path? Stay in reality or jump into another world? Eventually, and that's the end of the story, in "And The Story Ends" to chid makes that jump, finds a friend, but it is not clear which path he took.

MH: Would you be interested in writing a full text and publishing it?
Hansi: Yes. I'm always working on something like that, but at a very slow pace. I can't go faster cause there's not enough time, since currently I am a musician. I write many short stories, I have the ideas for the lyrics and the covers; some things could be published with the lyrics, but for something to be published in book form, that will take a long time. Perhaps in a decade, not before, since it takes a lot of experience to form a specific style to create something interesting.

MH: Why do you think Tolkien is so popular among heavy metal fans?
Hansi: I think he fits the music, because those two create a new world. Tolkien on those grounds was a perfectionist; there is everything in his works: spirit, mythology, politics, languages and there's a corresponding variety in heavy metal, since every kind of it is a new world. Now what else? What I know for sure is that I'm into Tolkien and I'm into metal.

MH: Give me some details regarding the artwork of the album. Is it again done by Andreas Marschall this time?
Hansi: Yes, he's done the cover of "Mirror Mirror" which has been released a couple of weeks ago here in Germany. Incidentally, it very successful, since it's at #42 of the mainstream pop charts [at the time, Mirror Mirror was at #8 of the Greek mainstream pop charts -Ares]. This has never happened to us before. The cover of the EP shows the Noldor making their way through the ice. Specifically, it's the messenger of the King who is ahead of the others progressing through storm and snow, holding Fingolfin's banner in his hands. The album cover will be the dance of Luthien in front of Morgoth. Morgoth is almost asleep and Beren can be seen in front of the throne in the form of a wolf. I gave Andreas a lot of detail as to how Tolkien describes his creatures and I can't wait to see what he'll come up with. I just saw a few sketches and Andreas' perspective of the room where the scene takes place is very original and interesting. The wolf has become quite aggressive looking, but I like it, as I like a lot the way he's drawn Luthien.

MH: What's your opinion of the general situation in heavy metal?
Hansi: I believe that it's becoming popular again. It's something I hadn't expected so soon. I like bands like Rhapsody or Hammerfall. My only problem with metal, as it is currently, is that it's very old fashioned and very little open minded. Even though the roots are at the metal of the past two decades, I believe that new elements should be introduced. For instance, I get a bit tired of Hammerfall, since it's the same music I had been listening in the '80s. I prefer, for example, Savatage's style, who are constantly evolving. That's what we are trying to do: be heavy metal while at the same time adding as much progress and as many influences as possible.

MH: What's your opinion on progressive metal?
Hansi: There's the corresponding problem there also. Playing progressive music doesn't mean playing very technically. Many of the band that call themselved progressive metal, forget to write any noteworthy compositions. Technically speaking, however, progressive metal is veryinteresting.

MH: What do you think was the importance of "The Forgotten Tales" for Blind Guardian fans?
Hansi: I think the album was liked by all interested in folk metal. Of course, all those interested more in our speed metal side than are folk metal side, were probably not satisfied. In the end, the album was successful, though it didn't have the tremendous success our company hoped for since the "Mr. Sandman" single didn't work out. The poblem was, I believe the songs used in previous albums. It would have been better if only songs like "Surfin' USA" or "Mordred's Song" in it's second form.

MH: What's your unfulfilled musical dream?
Hansi: To write a full rock opera about "The Lord Of The Rings". That is also the wish of Andre, so it's very possible that something like that may happen in the future. To be honest, we've already written four songs that I think are better than anything in "Imaginations" or "Nightfall". We'll see, for the time being I believe "Nightfall In Middle-Earth" is a very good album and an EP will follow.

MH: That will be called?
Hansi: We still don't know yet. Presently, there's the title of a ballad: "Harvest Of Sorrows". It's in the vein of "Scarborough Fair" of Simon & Garfunkel. There's a doom metal song, a typical Blind Guardian song and a typical Blind Guardian orchestral piece. For the time being we've recorded the drums and the base for the EP but we haven't decided if it will be out at the end of '98 or the beginning of '99.

MH: To wind this up, what are your plans for the coming tour?
Hansi: The first part of the tour will be in central Europe: Germany, France, Austria. Switzerland, Italy for a festival, Czechoslovakia, Hungarry.

MH: Greece?
Hansi: We'll definitely be in Greece this Fall. We couldn't come in Greece during the first part of the tour, but we'll come in the second part, along with Spain. Germany, Greece and Spain are the most important European markets for us. In August we'll play in Brazil and Argentina, perhaps Colombia. Next, we'll play in Japan and Southeast Asia.

MH: Good. Hope to talk to you again soon!


Interview by Orestes Raptis Translated by Ares Terzopoulos