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Interview

Hansi Kürsch On The Story Of 'Beyond The Red Mirror': "It Really Goes Back To The End Of ‘Imaginations,’ In Particular 'And The Story Ends'"

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The following interview with Blind Guardian vocalist Hansi Kürsch was a joint venture between MetalUnderground.com and Black Bird Productions. The guest interviewer is none other than Disforia/Judicator vocalist John Yelland, who worked with Kürsch (who appeared as a guest vocalist) on the Disforia track “The Dying Firmament” (from the band’s latest album “The Age of Ether” - see review here).

A lifelong fan of Blind Guardian, John approached me with the idea of interviewing Kürsch about the band’s upcoming new release “Beyond the Red Mirror” (see our review at this location), and knowing how interesting the interaction would be among musicians and friends, I quickly jumped at the idea. So please sit back, read and watch the interview (video appears at the end) with the legendary Hansi Kürsch presented by one of the best up and coming singers, John Yelland! - CROMCarl

On a chilly winter morning I had the pleasure of interviewing a legend, the master bard himself, mister Hansi Kürsch of Blind Guardian. I had worked with Hansi before on a song of mine in Disforia, “The Dying Firmament”, and have stayed in touch with him since. Intensely curious about the growing hype around Blind Guardian’s upcoming album ‘Beyond the Red Mirror’, I was fascinated to learn details behind the album’s story, concept, and creation. The interview which follows shines light on the aforementioned subjects, as well as everything from promotion, music videos, and the orchestral project, to beer and The Hobbit movies. Please, enjoy :-)

John Yelland: Last I heard from you, Blind Guardian was busy doing promotional work. Can you tell me what you guys have been up to?

Hansi: What we have done in terms of promotion is press, basically, and some radio stuff. We were traveling all throughout Europe, and actually did the same thing by phone during the last seven days.

John Yelland: Are there any plans for another music video like “Another Stranger Me” or “A Voice in the Dark”?

Hansi: We might do a video, we’re discussing that with the record company at the moment. The point with the video is always we don’t want to be in there. It’s the most horrible thing I can imagine—to perform a video, I hate that, everyone in the band does. So we’re looking for an animation company to do the job so we don’t even have to appear there. Nuclear Blast is checking opportunities at the moment. So this might come up in January, but so far we haven’t done it. We did the lyric video and promotional videos, but nothing in terms of a music video so far.

John Yelland: Metal seems to be much more widely accessible in Europe, right?

Definitely! There was even the consideration of having us over for 2-3 days in New York, but that did not turn out very well in the end because of timing issues. But otherwise we would have made the regular promo run there as well. So it seems that at least for Blind Guardian things in general are going the right direction. There’s sometimes that sort of vibe, and I have a really good feeling at the moment because everyone seems to be very curious about the new album.

John Yelland: Yeah, I’ve always felt that if you guys had the ability to aggressively market in the U.S that you would do very well. Everyone I show Blind Guardian to is blown away, I usually start ‘em out with ‘A Twist in the Myth’, being that it’s probably your most user-accessible, rock sounding album.

Hansi: Most European fans would disagree, but yeah it is a nice album.

John Yelland: I think it’s a great album!

Hansi: It is a great album.

John Yelland: That’s one thing I really like about you guys, is every album you do something different.

Hansi: Yeah, that’s the plan, and this is how we look at it. I can see how some people do not get along with it. But the overall aspect on ‘A Twist in the Myth’ is very positive from our side because it has that mainstream-ish, more modern attitude which attracts people. You know, open minded people are always celebrating the album, while some of the fans more into the old-school stuff have their issues with this album. But you cannot avoid this, it happens from time to time. I see every album as a step in the right direction for the time it was made. Luckily this seems to be the case with the new album again.

John Yelland: So at this point the new album is completely done. When you get the final mix, how many times a day do you listen to the album? At this point can you enjoy your own album or is it just old news by now?

Hansi: It is sort of old at the moment because we have been so wasted at the end of the production, and I was forced to listen to it so many times during mixing that I am trying to stay away from it for a while. So at the moment I am refreshing my experience with the album because it’s still a newborn baby and you need to get a little distant from it to really figure what the album might sound like for other people. At points I was listening to it like 4-5 times a day, you know, forced to listen to it 4-5 times a day, plus the two years we were working on it constantly. So it needs a little time in-between before I really can enjoy the album. Usually it takes me at least 6-8 months after finishing the album before I have an open mind to listen to the album in a more consumer way. But right now I’m still the producer.

John Yelland: Do you have any favorite songs on the album?

Hansi: “The Ninth Wave”, because this is going to shock and amaze people. I am really impressed by the progression we have taken there, because this is really a step into a new direction. Then we have “Sacred Mind”, this is, expression-wise, probably the strongest song on the album in terms of my performance. People maybe will relate differently to it, but I’m really proud of the output. It was really a sort of performance art song, and I like that. And then the third one I would choose would probably be “At the Edge of Time” because this was one of the songs I have had the biggest concerns about, and it turned out really great.

John Yelland: I kind of figured it was just a matter of time before we had a song called “At the Edge of Time”, with the line in “And the Story Ends” and the title of the last album.

Hansi: Right, well you got the point because I did not think about that line when we produced the album. Someone brought it up to me, and when we were working on this album and as we were talking about concepts and I finally made my decision to go back to ‘Imaginations’ I was like, “Okay, I have the line in the song, and I have the album title, it’s a great title anyways, so why not use it for a song?” It was fairly obvious.

John Yelland: To me it feels like closing the circle on something that’s been in the cooker for a long time.

Hansi: That’s what I said, exactly! It was about time to close that circle, because some people just relate it to the album, and it’s more a reference to “And the Story Ends” than anything else. So yes, it was closing the circle, finishing it.

John Yelland: So is the new album a full-on concept album like ‘Nightfall in Middle-Earth’, or is it more like ‘Imaginations from the Other Side’ where there’s just a handful of songs which tell the story?

Hansi: The way I connected it would make it a complete concept out of ‘Imaginations from the Other Side’ because I was able to involve some Arthurian aspects in the story. Actually, if you bring it down to the point, it would be a sort of modern quest for the holy grail, and the protagonist in the story would be a sort of futuristic Arthur. As mentioned before, the whole thing has a very strong dystopian frame, so everything which was brought up on ‘Imaginations’ will be reflected on this album, but it’s a straight concept here more like ‘Nightfall in Middle-Earth’. There’s a weird but straight story telling.

John Yelland: Okay, so every song contributes to the story then.

Hansi: Yeah.

John Yelland: Can you describe the story of ‘Beyond the Red Mirror’? I’m already familiar with it, but I think having your words would do a lot for us.

Hansi: It really goes back to the end of ‘Imaginations from the Other Side’, in particular to “And the Story Ends” where we see that boy standing in front of a mirror, and this boy is supposed to take the jump through and become the chosen one in a different world. On ‘Imaginations’, especially on the cover, there are these two different universes described. One is more an Arthurian fantasy world, and the other one has a lot of similarities to our world. I left it like this on ‘Imaginations’ and was always sure that the boy would have done the jump. But when I revisited that particular scene, I decided well, the boy is just a boy, and he’s afraid to jump, and due to that consequences occurred for both of the worlds. Due to that, both worlds underwent drastic changes into a sort of catastrophe, and this is documented on the album. At the same time we are going to accompany the boy, who has become a man twenty years later, on his quest to recover his memory and a way back to the other dimension. Obviously this is supposed to be found beyond the Red Mirror, which is the final portal between these two universes.

John Yelland: So is the story concluded at the end of the album, or is it left open like “And the Story Ends”?

Hansi: It is left open, but that’s also related to the Arthurian epic, because if we go back to Arthur and Mordred, we will find out that Arthur is stuck somewhere, you know the once and future king, the myth is still open. He more or less gets lost, and this is the same thing which is going to happen to the boy. But if you listen to the earbook version, you will get a sort of sequel with a song called “Doom”, but this is more dealing with another protagonist of the story, and this would be my sort of Mordred.

John Yelland: Do you feel you identify with the boy in the story, as far the isolation aspect is concerned, or is he just a character you found interesting?

Hansi: It is a character I found very interesting, and of course everything I write has some references to my life, but I’ve never been in an isolated situation, the opposite would be the case. So this is nothing which really has anything to do with my life or the way I look at things. But there is always that connection.

When we go back to ‘Imaginations’, especially the title track, we find this character has lost the ability to keep up his imaginations and to revisit these childhood territories, and this of course has been a very essential part on the new album as well. This came by what I have observed looking at and talking to other people, and so real life obviously has an influence on the characters and the story.

John Yelland: I really like the way you approach creating your stories, I definitely admire you as a story teller. Some day in the far, far future when Blind Guardian starts slowing down, do you ever think you would ever take up writing books or stories?

Hansi: I would like to, I have some really nice ideas. I just wrote down the storyboards for ‘Beyond the Red Mirror’, and I think there are some nice things which I could narrate, but when I did the liner notes I just discovered how difficult it is to write something down like that, and as you said, the time needs to be there to really keep your focus on just telling the story, without thinking about how it interacts with the music. Then yes it would definitely be an option, but it takes time.

John Yelland: With the new album coming out, the orchestral project ahead, I imagine anything like this will have to take place when Blind Guardian is less active.

Hansi: Yeah, definitely, I could do something like that while I’m on the road and I have time to kill, but usually I also like to hang out with the guys, and by the end I’m usually too exhausted. Despite my vision of being more creative while on tour, at the very end once you’re on the road you’re just wasted and it’s just great to do nothing but play the concerts and survive somehow.

John Yelland: Speaking of touring, how many songs off the new album will you be playing?

Hansi: That’s always a good question. I just started my rehearsals, and we were talking about a lot of old stuff which we have never (or hardly) ever played, and I just see the difficulties everywhere. And the songs we are playing, they are played for a reason. One reason is they are really appreciated by the people, but the other reason is these really are the songs which are really performable. Some of the stuff like “Curse of Feanor” or “Battlefield” are simply a pain in the ass. To go through them every night, I mean it’s just so harsh and so high pitched, and so not my range, basically.

John Yelland: Well yeah, I mean it’s a different thing to go into the studio day after day in a comfortable environment where you can sing that high and relax and take your time. But most opera and concert singers would never go out on the road and play for months at a time like you guys do.

Hansi: Right, and this is sometimes hard to explain because people don’t see it. But with a song like “Curse of Feanor”, if I had to do it once or twice, no problem. But playing four or five shows in the U.S back to back, I can do it twice and on the third day we’d have to skip the number. The same with “Another Stranger Me”, this is even easier than some of the ‘A Night at the Opera’ stuff. But due to the schedule a metal band has, you have to be very careful with the songs you are choosing.

But back to your question, we are really working on three of the heavy songs at the moment and they seem to be very doable. We started rehearsing a piano song today which is called “Miracle Machine”, we tried to involve the band there, so it will be a slightly different arrangement in comparison to what we have on the album. I would say we’ll prepare five songs off the new album to be performed, and if we end up with three every night I would be very happy.
It seems that “The Ninth Wave” is going to be one of them, and this is a very significant song. This one alone is nine minutes long, and people will experience something new in terms of Blind Guardian, that’s for sure. And as I said I just started working on old stuff, and we will do some alterations there as well. So there will be a significantly different approach of songs once we hit the road.

John Yelland: Can you tell me any of the older songs you’ll be doing?

Hansi: Um, I would need to open the list which we agreed on, but I remember “Guardian of the Blind” was on there and this is quite doable. The old stuff is usually fairly easy to play. But everything coming up from ‘Nightfall in Middle-Earth’, all the songs we haven’t played from ‘A Night at the Opera’, they are a pain in the ass. I mean they’re just so damn difficult, ugh, I’m having nightmares at the moment.

John Yelland: Well I think you’ll handle it, a few friends and I were watching ‘Imaginations through the Looking Glass’ the other day, and I commented how I like that whenever you can’t go for the high notes you still are in pitch and make it work, even if you sing it an octave lower.

Hansi: Yeah, I always try to do that, it’s always doable. But again, due to the ranges and the keys some of the songs are composed in, this is becoming more difficult when we talk about ‘A Night at the Opera’, because there is no reference sometimes. The music is doing something completely different than the vocals, and if you don’t go for exactly what’s sung on the album then you can get lost. It’s different when we’re talking about ‘Imaginations’ or so, then you just go an octave lower and it still sounds very nice. But you cannot do some of that with the newer stuff, I guess it would be the same with your music. In Disforia I imagine there are some songs where the problems are quite similar.

John Yelland: So is “The Ninth Wave” going to be replacing “Sacred Worlds” as the opener?

Hansi: That’s at least an option, I do not know if we’ll do that every night, but this could be a great option because the introduction of the song is so gigantic it makes even “Sacred Worlds” look small.

John Yelland: That’s a big thing to say!

Hansi: Yeah! But you will discover once you have listened to the first 16 bars, there are no questions!

John Yelland: What’s the news on the orchestral project? I’ve listened to all sorts of interviews with you guys and it seems like it’s always, “Next year, I swear, next year!”

Hansi: *Laughs* Yeah, next year, I swear! Well we’re almost there. We recorded with the orchestra already, the song writing has actually done for a few years, and I do have my first vocal session in February. If things work out well then I might be done with singing in the end of 2015, which would give us the opportunity to release the album in 2016. But my performance obviously depends a little bit on my physical condition after touring. When we’re on the road for two and a half months in Europe I’m usually not in the best condition afterwards to sing with a clean voice, which I’m supposed to do in a lot of cases on this album. So we’ll see how far I get in 2015.

John Yelland: Well by the time this thing is actually released I think it’s just going to blow everyone out of the water.

Hansi: Yeah, I have the same feeling, the problem is that ‘Beyond the Red Mirror’ is a really strong album, and it contains the metal band, which the orchestral album won’t. So there’s one great element missing. The songwriting is on the same level, if not higher, but distorted guitars have some advantages, I have to say.

John Yelland: This is a long way down the road, but I don’t suppose you’ve considered doing any live performances of the orchestral project?

Hansi: We’ve discussed that a couple of times. The options we have with the orchestral album are almost countless. We can go different directions, like involving the band later on and doing performances in orchestra halls, but also in regular concert halls. It’s quite open at the moment. I would guess we’ll at least do a few showcases with it.

John Yelland: I’ve watched the lyric video for “Twilight of the Gods” many, many times, and I have my own impressions of what the song might be about. Should I tell you how I interpreted the song and then you can correct me if I’m wrong, of would you rather just tell me what it’s about?

Hansi: No, you should do that, because the tricky thing while doing promotional tours is that people always want you to explain everything. I can explain it in a very plain way but actually this is not really what we really want, nor what I want. Even if there is a deeper message, the story is first, but the listener’s interpretation is more important than anything else, so I would prefer having someone tell me what he thinks it’s about.

John Yelland: Okay, well it seems to me that it’s a sort of commentary on the relevance of religion and spirituality nowadays, that they’re actually fading and losing their relevance. With lines like “I hail all these non-believers” and “Get up, lay down your ancient faith, we’re the chosen ones, come feel the change”, it certainly seems there is a religious undercurrent. It seems to tell of an unsettling change in this direction, but that there’s also hope and the gods may return, so to speak. That sort of thing. Is that anywhere near the mark?

Hansi: It is near the mark, but you've over-analyzed things a little bit. If we go to the religious point and connect it to nowadays, at the very end the aspects you’ve brought in are definitely a part. But the overall opinion of the creatures in the story would be that it’s too early to give up religion, and this how I look at religion in general. No matter if you believe in it or not, there is a necessity for religion nowadays. This world would definitely be a worse place without religion. Going back to the beginning of the story, in the chapter called ‘The Cleansing of Discordia’, this is really about trying to create a better world without religion. And actually the protagonist on this side of the mirror, he is going to fail on that because living creatures, human beings, whatever, they need something to relate to, and so this is where he goes wrong. But he has this optimistic feeling that he’s doing the right thing and that he’s doing it at the right moment. And he’s actually banishing the superior beings of this world out of this universe at this point.

John Yelland: That’s fascinating, I love getting glimpses into the real stories within the lyrics like this.

Hansi: Yeah, one thing which is really important again, and this brings me back to Tolkien, is that storytelling approach. Of course I come up with a fantasy story which has a strong dystopian attitude, and there has to be a message delivered as well, but on the other hand the story always comes first, I think. And as you said even if it’s a straightforward story, I cannot tell it in a straightforward way. Otherwise the story wouldn’t lead you anywhere, and I just expect the listener to accept these realities I’m creating.

John Yelland: What music are you listening to these days?

Hansi: It’s very difficult to find good new acts and albums, because a lot of the stuff nowadays is repetitive and since this is not exactly what Blind Guardian’s philosophy of music is, this is of course my philosophy in listening to music as well. Well you can’t resist listening to Michael Jackson, it’s still amazing how good his productions sound, they are still top notch. It’s just amazing how strongly they out-perform everything else. But I listen to almost anything, from Amon Amarth to Alison Krauss, to Tori Amos, The Beatles, Avenged Sevenfold, Sanctuary. I really like Machine Head. It really depends on the band, I still like hard music, that’s for sure. There are still a lot of great bands coming out these days.

John Yelland: The last real question I have, what advice do you have for newer bands trying to get out on the scene and make something of themselves?

Hansi: The first thing is definitely to be confident and just try out, because people will always tell you that the times are bad and that there’s definitely no chance of being successful, but exemptions always arise. I would say in 95% of all cases, this new musician may find out that he or she simply is lacking something, but there is still a good 5% chance that you belong to the lucky ones. No one else but you can really decide and judge if the potential is there or not, you definitely have to go for it, there is no other way of finding out.

And another thing, as long as you can manage yourself, you know? Be in charge of yourself. Being recognized nowadays might be more difficult, because I feel record companies are going quite strange ways, I feel.

John Yelland: Yeah, I’ve actually noticed a lot of younger bands are simply just staying independent.

Hansi: Yeah, and that’s good, definitely not for the worse.

John Yelland: Well do you have any last message you want to impart on us? I really appreciate your time, thank you so much for talking to me!

Hansi: Great talking to you as well! To everyone, just enjoy the rest of the year, and enjoy a new year with ‘Beyond the Red Mirror.’

John Yelland: Thank you so much, Hansi

Hansi: John, it’s been great talking to you

Watch the interview here:

CROMCarl's avatar

From the early to mid-90's, Carl published his own fanzine called C.R.O.M. In 1997, he released a compilation entitled "CROM: The Resurrection of True Metal," which featured songs from bands from around the world, including the first U.S. release of any kind for bands like Italy's Rhapsody (n/k/a Rhapsody of Fire) and Brazil's Angra. Follow Carl on Facebook and Twitter: @CROMCarl.

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5 Comments on "Hansi Kürsch Talks From 'Beyond The Red Mirror'"

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1. Bruna writes:

Blind Guardian Brasil 2015 o/ esperando .........

# Jan 7, 2015 @ 6:24 PM ET | IP Logged Reveal posts originating from the same IP address
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2. Dr. Steve Brule writes:

now Disforia needs to tour with Blind Guardian pls kthxbai

# Jan 8, 2015 @ 2:27 PM ET | IP Logged Reveal posts originating from the same IP address
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3. Dante writes:

Great interview,looking forward to listen to Beyond The Red Mirror and see the bard´s on tour in Mexico City 2016

# Jan 9, 2015 @ 10:26 AM ET | IP Logged Reveal posts originating from the same IP address
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4. Cynic writes:

Awesome interview, I'm hyped for this new album now.

# Jan 9, 2015 @ 8:48 PM ET | IP Logged Reveal posts originating from the same IP address
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5. Vera writes:

yes Disforia tour with BG kkkk

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