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Blind Guardian: The End Of Silence

By Peter Atkinson, Contributor
Tuesday, March 19, 2002 @ 2:03 PM

Rhythm Guitarist Marcus Siepen

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Count German power metal giants Blind Guardian among the collateral damage casualties of the early-90s grunge invasion in America. Though the group did not suffer a humiliating fall from grace like so many hair bands and such stalwarts as Scorpions, Dio and Iron Maiden did in the wake of Nirvana, et al., Blind Guardian never got a chance to get off the ground over here. Even as its popularity was soaring in Europe and Japan, the suits at Virgin Records didn’t think the band’s intricate, epic, speed metal would fly amid all the flannel - perhaps with good reason - in the states.

So for more than a decade, Blind Guardian albums like Imaginations From The Other Side and Somewhere Far Beyond that were selling hundreds of thousands of copies in the rest of the world, were available here only to those who wanted to pay import prices. Nevertheless, the band attained a cult status within the underground that kept people talking about it. Finally, after issuing the sprawling conceptual masterpiece Nightfall In Middle-Earth [based on J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Silmarillion] in 1998, Blind Guardian’s commercial weight had grown to the point where its big label keepers ceded the American market.

Nightfall was licensed to Century Media Records here and sold 20,000 copies in short order with hardly any promotion and no touring. Earlier albums also were issued here and sold similar amounts, and frontman Hansi Kursch’s Demons & Wizards side project with Iced Earth’s Jon Schaffer was very well received.

And now that Blind Guardian has its foot in America’s door, it looks like the band is going to push its way on in and make itself right at home. “And Then There Was Silence,” the 14-minute-long lead single from Blind Guardian’s first new release in four years, A Night At The Opera, incredibly cracked the Billboard Top 200 singles chart here and the buzz about the album continues to build by the day - with good reason.

Opera is stupefying, plain and simple, the finest hour - actually about 70 minutes - in the Krefeld-based band’s 14-year, nine-album career. Capturing the sheer grandiosity of Nightfall, while shedding its conceptual weight in favor of more punch, Opera is Blind Guardian’s Powerslave, its Empire. The glorious guitarwork of Andre Olbrich and Marcus Seipen, the dive-bomb tempos piloted by Thomen Stauch and the gorgeous melodies and gigantic harmonies that liberally decorate the album will have many jaws hitting the floor. Opera already is a smash in Europe. Buoyed by “Silence’s” success, the album hit #1 in Greece, #5 in Germany #11 in Italy and # 17 in Austria. And it very well could be the first Century Media to dent the American charts. The band will make its live debut in the states in November with promise of a full-blown soon thereafter.

From his living room in Krefeld, rhythm guitarist Marcus Siepen offered the following about the biggest band you’ve probably never heard.

KNAC.COM: Is this your first real taste of American press, or did you get some with the last album?
MARCUS: We did a bit with the last one. But it’s starting today with this one. You’re the first one for me. We actually had two guys over here doing studio reports at the end of last year. Today and tomorrow we have about 40 phoners to do, so the schedule is pretty packed. You will be reading about us a lot in America, I think.
The first real proper release there was the last album, Nightfall In Middle-Earth, which was in ‘99, after it was released in the rest of the world in ‘98. Century Media released that one in the states, but we haven’t played there yet, although we are planning to.

KNAC.COM: I was amazed when I was poking around your Web site to find out you hadn’t played in England yet either.
MARCUS: No (laughs). The situation with the U.K. is a little strange I guess. The guys over there are pretty much focusing on bands from the U.K. and Virgin U.K. was never really interested in Blind Guardian and I guess the huge success we had with the single release from the new album changed their mind because for whatever reason they are planning on releasing us and getting us over for a tour. And that’s fine.

"["And Then There Was Silence"] was to show the people why it took so long for us to write all the stuff and record it... We wanted to let the people know we’re not a bunch of lazy guys sitting around in the sun."
KNAC.COM: Were you surprised Nightfall did as well as it did in the states, or had you established a cult following from people buying imports of your earlier records.
MARCUS: Not really surprised. We knew that we had some fans over there through the Internet, people were coming to our home page and telling us, “We’re from the states and we had to buy all your stuff as import albums,” so we knew that there were a lot of Blind Guardian fans over there in the states. Of course we didn’t have a clue what would happen when we finally got our official release, but we are quite happy.
We announced our first ever U.S. gig three days ago [at the ProgPower Festival in Atlanta on Nov. 15, so be patient] and the reaction has been great. People told us, “I’m going to travel six or eight hours just to see you guys there.” That’s great. There will be definitely more shows.

KNAC.COM: When might they be?
MARCUS: This is the only one confirmed at the moment, we are in the middle of planning the rest of the tour. Everything booked ends after the Wacken Open Air in early August and all the dates behind that are just on paper. We want to head over the South America after Wacken, go down to Japan and Australia, then come back and do the rest of Europe in October and then we are supposed to tour the states. So we’ll see what happens.
We’re really looking forward to these gigs. It’s always a challenge to play in a country where we haven’t been before, it’s always special because you don’t really know what to expect or what will happen. But it’s gonna be great. The same with the U.K. and we’re going to be playing two shows in Russia this time where we haven’t been before and that’s amazing.

KNAC.COM: I guess the obvious questions is, how did you manage to go more than 10 years without releasing an album in U.S., the biggest market in the world?
MARCUS: The reason comes down to Virgin in the states. The funny situation is back in the early days when we were signed to a small independent label here in Germany, No Remorse Records, Virgin did the distribution for the label. And the third album we did, Tales From The Twilight World in 1990, at that time Virgin in the states said, “Yeah, it would be a great band for the states, but we can’t do it because they are not signed to Virgin.” Half a year later we signed a contract with Virgin worldwide and from that day on they did not have any interest in us any more in the states (laughs). I don’t know why, I have no idea

KNAC.COM: That was when Nirvana was blowing up and if you weren’t from Seattle, no one wanted to have anything to do with you - especially if you were a metal band.
MARCUS: That maybe one of the reasons, I don’t know. Nobody ever said anything to us about it. I guess in the end they couldn’t deny our success, we became too huge to be ignored (laughs). Maybe that’s why they thought about releasing us, or allowing the albums to be released. We said, “So guys, if you don’t want to do it, we want to look for another company in the states,” and they agreed on that. Century Media made the best offer and we knew those guys since the early ‘90s from the work they did with bands like Iced Earth or Nevermore, who were are friends with. So everything is fine now.

KNAC.COM: Isn’t the record business great?
MARCUS:(laughs) It’s strange sometimes, but you can’t do anything about it. If they say, "No, we won’t release that album,” what can you do? It sucks for the fans, we are pretty aware of that so we are glad Century Media finally released all the stuff. At least they’ve released everything from Tales From The Twilight World.

KNAC.COM: Does the audience you have in Europe and Japan, continue to grow or have you reached your peak there?
MARCUS: Oh no, it’s growing. That’s the great thing. You can see it at the concerts, they’re getting bigger and bigger every tour and also you can see it by the success the [“Silence”] single had. We were No. 1 in the Spanish charts for a couple of weeks and since it was released in November it’s been in the Top 10 there, it never left there. It’s been a huge chart success all over the world. We ended up on the German chart, Japanese, Greek, Swedish, Canadian, whatever.

KNAC.COM: Even in the U.S.
MARCUS: Yeah, the guys at Century Media were freaking out, even though it was only like at 172. But they had never had something make the American singles chart before. It’s great. This single has been the biggest single success we’ve ever had. It’s a good omen, I would say.

KNAC.COM: The fact that it’s a 14-minute long song makes it even more amazing?
MARCUS: Yeah, not quite the typical radio song. We thought about which song to pick for the single and there were two reasons for choosing this one. The first one was to show the people why it took so long for us to write all the stuff and record it. If you listen to that song you know it was a lot of work in the studio. We wanted to let the people know we’re not a bunch of lazy guys sitting around in the sun.
And also, after this four-year break where no album or single was released from us we wanted to give the people as much new material as possible and with this one single you get almost 20 minutes of new music. This was also our way of saying thanks for waiting so long. And I guess everyone appreciated that.

KNAC.COM: Did it really take you four months to put “Silence” together?
MARCUS: Yes. It’s about 200 tracks that we recorded for that one fucking song. 200 tracks, other bands make three albums of that (laughs). But, that’s just us, I guess. It wasn’t planned to happen like that. We never sat down and said, “Well, we have to have a 14-minute long song.” We started writing stuff and the first chorus appeared after four or five minutes and at that point we knew “Well, this one is going to be a little longer than the rest of songs.”
After the release of the single, most of our fans were asking, “Well, is that the way the whole album will sound like?” And of course it’s not, that would be a bit too much, I guess.

KNAC.COM: Then things start getting tedious.
MARCUS: Yeah, definitely. That was kind of an experiment for us. I don’t know if we’re ever going to do something like that again. There’s no masterplan when we start writing. It was an experiment to us and it worked, at least in our opinion.

KNAC.COM: Will you play the song live? Can you play the song live?
MARCUS: We’re thinking about that at the moment. We’re in the middle of rehearsal and we’re still working on the set list. The plan is to record another double live CD on that tour, so we’re practicing a whole lot of songs so we can change the set from time to time in order to record as many songs as possible and we started rehearsing that song. But to be honest I don’t know if it’s going to make it into the set.
Obviously it’s difficult to play that song, concerning all the choirs and all the guitar arrangements and the keyboard stuff. We’ll try it, but I don’t know. I don’t want to promise anything. It would be interesting to play that song.
This question recurs after every album we release. We just separate between recording stuff and playing it live. When we go into the studio we just try everything that comes to our mind. And if we end up with 60 guitar tracks and 100 vocal tracks, whatever, if that’s the stuff we like in the studio we record it. And at that point we don’t think about how we will do it live.
Then when we start rehearsing for the tour we focus on the main melody lines concerning the vocals and the guitars and everything else. So it’s definitely going to sound different live. It’s much more raw and much more energetic and heavy, I guess. And up ‘til now no one has complained. The good thing about Blind Guardian concerts is that we always have a couple thousand people in front of the stage singing all the choirs (laughs). That helps a lot.

KNAC.COM: Taking four months to put one song together, at what point does it just get ridiculous?
MARCUS:(Laughs) Everybody in the band is a perfectionist concerning everything that is related to our music. We work a lot on the songs, changing the arrangements here and there and when you change, for example, the keyboard arrangements to something more classical, you have to change the guitar along with that and then the drums and whatever, so it becomes like an endless process.
But everybody knew that this song had to turn out perfect in order to work properly, so we had to work hard on that one and in the end everyone was happy. It was a hell of a job to mix all this shit (laughs), but everyone had a vision of this song in their mind and luckily everyone had the same sort of vision.

KNAC.COM: You had worked with Flemming Rasmussen a couple times and he’s known for working on stuff with an epic scale - like Metallica’s ...And Justice For All - why did you not work with him this time? He would seem like a logical choice?
MARCUS: Flemming is a great guy and we really enjoyed working with him and it might happen that we work with him in the future. But on this album we knew we wanted to record everything in our own studio [Twilight Hall IV] here in Krefeld and we also wanted to mix it here, because that was why we built the studio. Flemming is a guy who is used to working in his own studio [Sweet Silence in Copenhagen], that’s where we recorded the last two albums. And living in Denmark isn’t that cheap.
So we decided to work with Charlie Bauerfeind, who also was involved with the Nightfall recordings, we have known him for quite some time. I have no idea who is going to do the next one, but I don’t think we’ll have to worry about that for three or four years (laughs).

KNAC.COM: Do you go into the studio with everything scripted out, or just a framework and let things go from there?
MARCUS: We have everything finished before we enter the studio. When you start writing all the shit when you’re in the studio it takes way too much time. But some parts change. We changed a lot of the drum arrangements in pre-production and with these changes the album became even heavier than it was planned to be in the beginning. So it became a little more aggressive, which is fine it works fine with all the songs.
KNAC.COM: I got just e-mailed 15 pages worth of lyrics for Night At The Opera, is this another concept work like Night Fall?
MARCUS: No. We had the concept all over the last one so we skipped that for this one. It’s 10 songs with different topics. Two have the same topic, which is The Iliad and the fall of Troy, the songs are “Among The Silence” and “Under The Ice.” But beside that the songs have different topics with no connection. Some are about pure fantasy stories, one is about Jesus Christ, one is about German philosopher Friederich Nietzsche, different stuff.

KNAC.COM: On your Web site there was a list where fans could pick the lyrical topic of a song from some suggestions [which included everything from Nordic mythology and HP Lovecraft to something called the Nibelungenlied and The Ancient Bylina of Volga]. Did you ever end up doing something with the winner?
MARCUS: Yes, it’s the song “The Soulforged,” it’s about the Dragonlance stories from whoever [Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman], I didn’t read the books I have to admit (laughs) that was Hansi’s job.

KNAC.COM: He writes all of the lyrics?
MARCUS: Yeah, he has to sing the stuff so he has to write it.

KNAC.COM:... and read all the books they are based on?
MARCUS: Yeah. And he had plenty of work reading The Silmarillion for the last album He read it five times in a row I guess because it’s really complex and there is a million characters to keep track of. He wanted to do it right, so he made sure he knew it inside and out - or as least as much as one can with Tolkien.

KNAC.COM: Speaking of Tolkien, what did you guys think of Lord of the Rings?
MARCUS: Everybody in the band has seen it and I love it. I know there’s some things from the book that are missing, like Tom Bombadiel for example, but still it’s a great movie. Until this movie I would have thought it impossible to make a good movie out of this book because it’s so huge and complex, but Peter Jackson did a great job and what I heard is that DVD version will contain all the stuff that’s missing in the cinema version, so it’ll be one hour longer which will be awesome.

KNAC.COM: There had been talk of you doing some work on the soundtrack, whatever became of that?
MARCUS: When they announced that they were going to do the movie tons of fans sites on the Internet came up and they had all these votes about who should do the soundtrack and we won all of them (laughs). So that got the attention of Peter Jackson and we managed to get in contact with them and we were asked to send them demo material, but at that time we were stuck in the middle of pre-production and the songwriting of the new album and in the end we said “thanks for the offer, but we won’t send you anything.”
Had we got that job, there wouldn’t be a new Blind Guardian album out at the moment and Blind Guardian is definitely more important to us than doing the soundtrack for the movie. It would have been great, but after a four-year break you don’t want to make that a five-year break. So that’s why we said, “Let’s focus on Blind Guardian and that’s it.”

KNAC.COM: Since you mentioned that people are signing along when you play live, the lyrics, the themes aren’t going over their heads?
MARCUS: All the lyrical stuff is printed in the [CD] booklets; we’re not trying to hide anything from them. We want them to explore the topics as well. Over the last week, everybody has been asking what the songs are about, can we have the lyrics. Unfortunately, the album has been on the Internet for the last three or four weeks, so people have been downloading the stuff and listening to it and some even wrote down the lyrics and posted them onto the forum on our homepage (laughs). They’re definitely into the lyrics, so that’s fine.

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