Siepen, Marcus (Blind Guardian) (May 2002)

Tales From The Opera House

Marcus Siepen (photo: Axel Jusseit)Ever since the release of its debut album Battalions Of Fear, Blind Guardian has bravely trudged ahead through rough terrain and massive work in order to conquer every single corner of the world. One of the main players on the European power metal scene, and deservedly so, the band has kept moving forward as both musicians and composers in order to make albums that are progressively more ambitious and unique in a scene that has quickly become flooded with countless imitators, and thus firmly established its position as one of the strongest and most important acts of European metal. Having hit the top of the world and a widely acclaimed creative peak with the concept album Nightfall In Middle Earth, the band disappeared from the public eye for a few years until a few months ago the single "And Then There Was Silence" was released. The reason? The band's new album, A Night At The Opera, is just around the corner [it was released March 19, 2002 - ed.]. What better reason to speak with guitarist Marcus Siepen about the band's past, present, and future?

Marcelo Silveyra: Looking at the entire musical history of the band, it is clear that Blind Guardian has progressed with each album, but the major leap came after Follow The Blind . The entire group has since been doing more complex stuff, and Hansi Kürsch's vocals have acquired an enormous range compared to the beginnings of the band. It is known that Hansi eventually started taking vocal lessons, but what about the rest you? What helped you improve every time?

Tales From The Twilight WorldMarcus Siepen: Yeah, everybody took lessons from time to time, but the thing is, on the first two albums, Battalions Of Fear and Follow The Blind ... back at that time we didn't really find ... we had a whole side at that time, but we had not found our other side yet. We had a bunch of songs and didn't question what we were doing; back at that time that's what we basically wanted to do, and we were just really excited. Then was Tales From The Twilight World, and we found our sound at that point; the songs, the compositions, for the first time actually we were trying to find our own side and get rid of our influences, or whatever. So it was more like natural progression, finding our own sound.

MS: Talking about influences, there is something that is quite curious about those of Blind Guardian. The metal influences are obvious, what with Hansi wearing a Queensrÿche T-shirt and you a Metallica one on the picture of Battalions Of Fear . Queen is also pretty apparent with the choruses, and even Jethro Tull is noticeable through some of your latter folk-oriented stuff ... but old Genesis? That's a hard one to pick out from your music!

Marcus: Everybody in the band likes old Genesis. They had some pretty progressive ways of writing songs, and that is basically what we heard and what we do; it's what you can hear in our songs. I think that you can hear the influence in the way of writing songs, in the progressive. As for actual Genesis stuff, I don't know what songs you could see that show the influence clearly, but it is there.

MS: And while we're on the subject of other bands, the power metal movement in Europe has really become quite large in the last few years. A good number of the bands involved are also exploiting the fantasy element, although they are more in the vein of medieval warriors and dragons, as opposed to the more Tolkien side of Blind Guardian, for instance. Now, a lot of those aforementioned bands wear armor and such to carry across an image, yet you don't ... is this because dressing up like a Hobbit just wouldn't look very cool live?

Marcus: We just don't like that [laughs]. We always dress like we do every day, a normal T-shirt and stuff like that ... that's the kind of stuff we feel comfortable with. And it seems like a lot of other bands wear things like full armor and swords and things like that, but that just isn't our side, or what our fans expect from us. Plus I would be very tired after playing live in armor [laughs]!

Nightfall In Middle EarthMS: Before work on Nightfall In Middle Earth began, Hansi had the idea of working with the Nibelung tales in order to create a concept album, although this was later on turned down by the rest of the band in favor of working with Tolkien's The Silmarillion instead. Although Hansi flirted with the Nibelung tales on a track of the Demons & Wizards project, is the concept ever going to come back and appear in Blind Guardian?

Marcus: Yes, that definitely might happen. We don't have massive plans for the stuff that we are going to be writing, but the Nibelungen is a very interesting, very good story, and I'm pretty sure Hansi will write something about that in the future. But there's nothing like a concept album planned, I guess it would be more like different songs about it, although I'd love to do a concept album. Obviously it's a lot of work to get the concept going and also to have the songwriting be right for it and everything, like the first song of a concept album has to kind of include everything and it needs a lot of time, so doing such a concept (the Nibelungen) would be very complicated.

MS: The band was originally planning to release an EP after Nightfall In Middle Earth, on which those tracks that had not made it to the aforementioned album would appear and thus end the story of the concept. The EP got cancelled, however. Were any of you frustrated after knowing that you wouldn't be able to finish the initial story as you had planned?

Hansi KurschMarcus: Well, not really frustrated. I mean, we had all started recording and we were going to release it on time, but we weren't able to finish. We started recording after the Nightfall tour, but the problem was that at that time Hansi got a health problem and had to go to a doctor and get treatment and stuff like that. By the time he was able to sing again, the timing was all wrong and we were doing some songwriting again, so we decided to release the stuff later. Like "Harvest Of Sorrow;" that was part of the "And Then There Was Silence" single and was originally to be part of Nightfall In Middle Earth. And the other songs will also be released, although I don't know if as singles. Maybe we'll have to record another The Forgotten Tales or something like that.

MS: Now that you mention Hansi's hearing problem, André Olbrich also went through some health problems regarding his arm, which could have kept him from ever playing the guitar again. It's hard to imagine Blind Guardian with a new member, as the original lineup has prevailed for all these years. Were you ever afraid during those times that the band would suddenly have to quit?

Andre OlbrichMarcus: Of course, we thought about that. It's hard to change, we've been the same four guys for all these years and the problem is that we have become best friends. And just like you, we can't imagine Blind Guardian with anyone else. When André had his arm problem we didn't know if he'd be able to play the guitar again, and it was the same with Hansi; a real problem. Especially with the singer ... I guess it's easier to replace a guitar player because the singer is a very important - one of the most important - part of the sound of the band, but it was very hard. We were lucky, but yes, we thought about that. It was a new and strange situation for us, but not a nice one [laughs].

MS: Hansi is known to have described the sound of your latest album, Night At The Opera, as a midpoint between Imaginations From The Other Side and Nightfall In Middle Earth. Every previous album had brought Blind Guardian to a further point, but now you seem to have taken a step back. Why is this?

Marcus: I actually think ... we have made one step back and that is that we got much more aggression, we got much more heavy than on Nightfall In Middle Earth. But I would say that this album is also a step forward, definitely. Obviously we have the songs that are typical Blind Guardian, like "Battlefield," but we also have very unusual songs on there, like "Sadly Sings Destiny." I would say it's definitely a step forward, but we just moved back with the heaviness.

MS: One of the songs on the new album, "Soulforged," deals with the infamous character Raistlin from the Dragonlance series [of books]. Now, considering that and the amount of fantasy in your lyrics, one just has to ask: do you guys play Dungeons & Dragons?

Marcus: Yes ... well, actually, I didn't play Dungeons & Dragons. I played a long time ago - I don't know if you have this, but it's basically the same - it's a game called Schwarze Augen (Black Eyes). It came out in the early eighties, at around the same time, and I played with a couple of friends a long time ago. The problem always was that I didn't have time and stuff like that. Now André and I have played a lot of role-playing games on the computer, like Baldur's Gate or Diablo or whatever ... we have fun with that.

A Night At The OperaMS: Another interesting song on A Night At The Opera was the bonus track "Mies Del Dolor," which of course is the translation to Spanish of the song "Harvest Of Sorrow." I know of the Scorpions having done a similar thing with "Winds Of Change," and the closest thing to metal that I recall having done such a thing in recent years is Bon Jovi with "Bed Of Roses." What was the reason for doing this?

Marcus: We didn't do it because of those other bands! [laughs] During the production we wanted to do something special for a couple of countries, and somebody came up with the idea of recording one of the songs in a different language. We tried all kinds of languages, but some didn't work. For example, translating to Japanese from English, it was very difficult, all the words and meanings just didn't come out. We did a French version, an Italian version, the Spanish version, and a second Spanish version where the Spanish vocals do some other things. I think it was special, we tried the vocals for all that stuff and sometimes it was really hard because Hansi obviously doesn't know all those languages. But we now have four versions for four different countries, and the reaction so far, from people who have heard it, is really good. They really liked it.

MS: ...Well, an obvious question after this would be: have you ever considered doing a song in German?

Blind GuardianMarcus: We never thought about that, no. There are some heavy metal songs out there, from other bands, that work well with the language. But we just don't think that the sound of our songs and the German language fit so well.

MS: This is probably something that you will get asked a thousand times in the coming days, but which nevertheless must be asked: what did you think of the The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship Of The Ring movie?

Marcus: I thought of that, yes. I loved it; everybody in the band has said it was good. I know there are some parts that are very important that were left out from the movie because it would have been too long with them, but I heard that there was a longer version including this stuff and playing more with the concepts and the characters. I don't know if it will come out, but it's interesting. The movie was very good already.

Blind GuardianMS: Blind Guardian has for a couple of years now had a side project on the works; a more orchestral affair that was at one time considered to see if the band would actually do the soundtrack for the movie. Some time ago, it was stated that the project was already half done. Will it be coming out under the Blind Guardian name once it is ready?

Marcus: I don't know yet, there is nothing really planned. You see, the project is going to be very different from Blind Guardian; the music is another thing completely. There are no drums, no distortion, or things like that; it's more like wind instruments and a very interesting kind of orchestra thing. There are some classical choruses and things like that, but not really heavy metal. We don't know anything at the moment, and the production is now in the background. We don't know if Hansi will sing everything or if we will make it more like a rock opera, with many different singers trying out parts and being the characters in the story. It is definitely coming out one day, but I just don't know when.

Blind Guardian (Marcus Siepen, Andre Olbrich, Hansi Kursch and Thomen Stauch
Blind Guardian (l to r): Marcus Siepen (guitars), André Olbrich (guitars), Hansi Kürsch (vocals) and Thomen Stauch (drums)

Battalions Of Fear (1988)
Follow The Blind (1989)
Tales From The Twilight World (1990/1999)
Somewhere Far Beyond (1992/2000)
Tokyo Tales (live) (1992)
Imaginations From The Other Side (1995/1999)
The Forgotten Tales (1996)
Nightfall In Middle-Earth (1998)
A Night At The Opera (2002)
Live (2003)
A Twist In The Myth (2006)
At The Edge Of Time (2010)
Memories Of A Time To Come (2012)
Beyond The Red Mirror (2014)

Added: May 13th 2002
Interviewer: Marcelo Silveyra

Artist website:
Hits: 2153
Language: english

[ Back to Interviews Index | Post Comment ]