HANSI KÜRSCH (BLIND GUARDIAN): “We Wanted To Drift Away From The Orchestral Stuff Again”

Blind Guardian, live at Plane'R Fest, Colombier-Saugnieu, July 7, 2023
Photo: Séverine Peraldino

While touring Europe’s festivals this summer, Blind Guardian stopped in France, where Metal Express Radio caught up with Hansi Kürsch just before their show at Plane’R Fest. The vocalist very kindly took time to chat about the band’s recent tours, their latest album, their influences and favourite Sci-Fi Books and TV-Shows, always an inspiration for the Bards of Heavy Metal.

Last year, you released The God Machine. Now, you have started touring a bit everywhere, from Brazil to France. The last time you recorded an album, it was an orchestral work, thus it has been quite a while since the fans have had new songs. How is it going so far with the new songs on stage?

Oh, well, we haven’t played too much so far, because these last years, we had an exceptional situation because of the coronavirus delays. We were touring for Somewhere Far Beyond anniversary, so our focus was more on Somewhere Far Beyond when we played live than on The God Machine. This is switching now, but so far we only have played “Violent Shadows” and “Deliver Us From Evil” live. And of course, they are fans’ favourites and they will become great live songs in general for the set, even in the future. But the first test we’re going to have in September is when we add more than just two songs to the set. And that’s still a surprise what we’re playing, but I think we’ll end up with three or four songs from the new album. So far they have been received very well, and the album has been received very well everywhere. And when we play festivals, it’s still more like we want to perform a best-of album where we all feel very confident, where we play for a wider range of people, which might not be Blind Guardian fans naturally. They may know about the band, but they are not die-hards sometimes. Of course, there are also a lot of die-hards coming, I hope, even for tonight. And therefore a best-of selection is always what we prefer in such a situation.

You also have a new lineup on stage with Johan van Stratum on the bass. What is it like playing with him?

I mean, the point is, leaving me out. I’ve been the first Blind Guardian bassist and I was not top-notch in playing bass. Oliver Holzwart had been, who came right after me on the bass, and then we have had Barend Courbois, who’s also French-Dutch, or Dutch-French. And we always played on good terms. It’s not a fostered position in Blind Guardian, who’s playing the bass. And we now found Johan, who’s younger, who’s more active on stage. He plays a very solid role, I think, in the whole scenery of Blind Guardian. He’s bringing literally in fresh blood, and we all enjoy that. It’s a very peaceful atmosphere we’re having and a very collegial atmosphere. I believe everyone will see that. It’s a very nice image.

Dawn of Extinction and Scardust will be touring with you, starting in September. Do you have a say in the bands that are touring with you?

We do. Yes. We do not always do that. We give a lot of leeway to whomever we’re working with, trusting that they will bring in bands which are naturally suitable. But in this case, yes, we checked out a couple of bands, and they applied for becoming Blind Guardian support, so we listened to the stuff. And we felt that this is quite a good match because they’re delivering a sort of different spirit. Dawn of Extinction is very radical, which we like. It’s one side of Blind Guardian as well, while Scardust is more on the Score-ish, Power-Metal-ish side. So that’s the other side of Blind Guardian also. You can figure that they fit into what we’re doing, but they’re not matching what we’re doing.

Well, no one really does…

If you say so, I would not disagree. But these are really good bands, I think. So that was the main reason for us.

Apart from Hellfest last year, a couple of festivals, you haven’t played in France for a while. Can we expect any surprises in the setlist?

I don’t know what a surprise is. I think, whatever we’re playing can be considered to be sort of best-of. We have a bunch of maybe 40-50 songs in general which are fans’ favourites and which we’re able to play, I won’t say easily, but if we rehearse them a couple of times, we can. And I believe what we have fixed for tonight is very suitable for a festival situation. You will hear very old-school stuff, but also the classics and then, of course, some of the new stuff. The mixture is what makes it.

Regarding the latest album, clearly, there’s a break between The God Machine, which is heavier than previous works, with fewer orchestrations. How did you transition between these two different styles?

What you have to understand, as you may know, but I’ll just point it out nonetheless, Legacy of the Darklands has been composed over such a long time. It was something really aside. So we never considered that to be a full Blind Guardian album, but one of our biggest dreams for ages and ages. So we have to leave that out right now. What we should somehow consider, is that we knew that this album would come when we did Beyond the Red Mirror. So Beyond the Red Mirror was designed in a way to be as orchestrated as it was on the album, finally. The songs themselves had a similar structure if you really are listening to what we are having on The God Machine. But instead of lifting the stuff up and just delivering what is essential for the songs, we added and added and added, so it got closer to the orchestral stuff, and you get an idea of what the orchestral album probably would sound like. With The God Machine, it was the opposite. We wanted to drift away from the orchestral stuff again. Even though I would say the compositions, they are right on the spot, but they are as complicated and as well thought, woven together as Beyond the Red Mirror was. But it doesn’t appear like this. That’s fine, and yes there is a little less information, but if you really get into the core, it’s pretty much the same intense songwriting, the same progressive way we are designing stuff, but it just appears differently, and of course, we tweaked it into that direction while we tweaked Beyond the Red Mirror into the other direction.

Even though it’s one of the trademarks of Blind Guardian, there is no acoustic medieval ballad on The God Machine. Did you grow tired of this?

No. It’s sometimes a coincidence that songs like these are happening, and we are not chasing for it. So if it comes naturally, it’s fine. It did not this time. When we composed “Let It Be No More,” there was an intro medieval-ish guitar thing composed by André, but it did not suit the rest of the song. So I was complaining about that, and we took that out and instead came up with that more proggy introduction which he then brought in. Because the other one would not have fit it. So technically there could have been that one spot. But in general, I think when we do such a song, it always will be compared with “The Bard’s Song.” And this is a great legacy to have a song like this. But on the other hand for other songs like this, for instance, “Skalds and Shadows” or “A Past and Future Secret,” even though they are great songs and commercially successful as well, they cannot compete with “The Bard’s Song.” So no matter what, whenever we do such a song, it has to be on a very high level. Even if I believe it’s probably not happening, that there’s going to be any song getting close to the reaction “The Bard’s Song” gets. But yeah, that’s why we are not so dedicated and so focused on writing so much medieval stuff, because the ones we are having are pretty on point.

With At The Edge Of Time and Beyond The Red Mirror, you are telling a story, we could deem these “Concept Albums.” However, with The God Machine, it’s more like you’re taking stories you like and transforming them into songs. Will you continue to develop such conceptual albums?

It’s always connected to the storytelling because I choose the direction the song goes lyrically, even if I connect it to, let’s say, The Kingkiller story of Patrick Rothfuss. You get an idea and if you know the story, then the understanding is easier, but you will also figure out there is the lyrical “I/Eye” and my personal perception of a story in there, and there’s a conclusion which I come up with, and there probably are thoughts which are inspirations which are given by a story like that, and I transmit it into something different anyway. I like to do that and it fits very well, I believe. It’s more like I judge when I do a song. What can I do with it? Do I have something completely individual which I want to somehow present to the people, or is it something connected to a story like the mentioned ones? There’s no recipe and there’s no golden rule which I could follow. It’s pretty much depending on the situation and on the moment and on my mood.

So far you’ve been, let’s say, the adapter, but will it be possible one day to have the stories you tell in your songs – that are not already from pre-existing books – translated into another media, maybe into comic books, films or even a novel?

Well, we had that on the agenda when we did Beyond the Red Mirror. At first hand we wanted to publish a graphic novel. But because of some problems the illustrator has had, we couldn’t finish that one and we put that aside. But at one point, this certainly makes sense. It partly happened with Legacy of the Dark Lands when we cooperated with Markus Heitz. But this story, the book he wrote is a prequel and has barely anything to do apart from the story of the Dark Lands. So that technically could become a novel one day. Other than that, Beyond the Red Mirror, the graphic novel is not completely out of the way. That might take place one day. And looking at it and as the world proceeds, I believe that things like that will become more and more popular and we for sure will have thought about that.

Graphic novels and music can become complementary.

Yes, I also believe that the depth of a story like Beyond the Red Mirror, which is also, even though it’s a fantasy story, it’s about mass manipulation and driving your views into certain directions. And with a graphic novel like this, you would get an understanding that there are some other things going on which are maybe between the lines.

Blind Guardian, with the name Blind Guardian, has been around for 35 years now. What are your thoughts and reactions when you realised that?

It has been asked the last few months a couple of times and for whatever reason, there are occasions when one starts to think about the length, about the continuity of your career. And this seems to be one of these moments because we are more or less, as a band scratching the 40 years anniversary. And that’s a long time! It doesn’t feel like this and we certainly haven’t thought about that forty years ago. We knew we would become popular and we wanted to become popular and be in the business. But other than that, there was no idea about time and about the span we would do that, the time span we would do music and art. And all of a sudden, things went in the right direction and the years went by without recognising. We were not successful from one to the other moment and it was not a straight-through career. I can’t say that. But it was a very decent one, a very smooth drive so far. So we are not really thinking about when to stop. Of course, when I do the intense singing and I’m realising that I’m getting older, I ask myself, OK, if I’m 65 or 70, which is a bit away, but not too far. It’s like a decade and as we know now, a decade is nothing and a bit more than a decade. But right at the moment, getting so many questions, that’s something you start to keep in mind and think about. But we always found ways to develop ourselves and find opportunities to do music which still fits our age. But 35 years is a long time. There’s no doubt about that. And that’s, I think when we did the album, I said that we started working on Blind Guardian or Lucifer’s Heritage, as it was called then, maybe forty years earlier. I really have to look into the calendar, but I think in two years we will have the 40th anniversary of the band!

Even if it’s 35 years, you have been quite active on social media for the last few years. And recently the fans have been asking your opinion on Amazon’s new TV show, The Rings of Power. You said you haven’t watched it, which is probably for the best, honestly. Fantasy and Science-Fiction, which were always considered somehow underground just like Heavy Metal have now become way more popular and mainstream. So, what do you think of these changes as a Heavy Metal musician and also a fan of Fantasy and Science Fiction?

I believe that’s all going in waves. When we started in the ’80s, Fantasy literature was getting a small hype. Not very big, but it was a hype. So, Tolkien was revived and a lot of other people. This is how our interest grew in literature. We, at one point, just figured it goes along very well with our music and I’m capable of somehow capturing essential parts of the story or an essential thought and I’m able to do something with it in a song. This was basically a fan thought in creation. We were like, okay, this fits very well and we want to do something with it. There was no commercial thought about it. And it was not that neither our music from the first moment nor the connection was somehow mainstream. We just did it and then turned it into something more mainstream. Before, many people lost interest in that kind of literature again. While in the early days of this century, Peter Jackson did the movies and then the next hype started. And as you said, social media and all that stuff. That is a different progression and development nowadays. So, the way things become a hype are different than in the ages before, at least as far as I recognized it and experienced it. I think we have to live with these developments and with these changes and we have to embrace them and involve them into whatever we are doing. That’s part of the art and part of the development of human beings. You said social media and I, from time to time, even reply and do all that stuff. And we have people maintaining the big thing. That’s definitely not my construction in general, but I like the fact that you are able to communicate with people and you can deliver a message. These corporations, therefore, become even more important.

About social media, one of the big things you did on Facebook and YouTube was the Imagination Song Contest. People had to choose between “Born in a Mourning Hall,” “Bright Eyes” or “Another Holy War” to do a cover. How did you choose the songs (because these are very difficult)?

I don’t know why we did it. I cannot recall that we had the selection. It was André’s and Marcus’ idea and I liked it. So we did that. It was a fun thing to do. I do not remember why we chose these songs. If I think about it, it was more like many people would be able to do something with these. I believe the most difficult one is maybe “Imagination” or “Script for My Requiem.” I would say they are tougher than the other three. There was no particular reason I believe. Maybe we like these songs.“Past and Future Secret” would have been maybe easier but the variety probably would not have been as big as for instance “Bright Eyes”. There were some quite interesting performances.

People rose up to the challenge. It was very fun to watch!

If you are a fan of Science-Fiction and Fantasy Blind Guardian is obviously the band for you. You just have to pick a song and you read the book. You already wrote songs about Tolkien, Sanderson, George R.R Martin… Are there any other authors that you have read, that you really enjoyed and thought maybe this could turn into a good song?

Right now, I think Philip K. Dick, the guy who wrote Blade Runner. He has some interesting Sci-fi stuff which definitely is worth digging into it. Minority Report is one of his books. There’s a bunch: some blockbusters and also he wrote tremendous short stories. This could be a very good option.

Isn’t he the one who wrote The Man In The High Castle?

Yeah, he did that. It’s a great book! I just have to figure it out because there is Richard Harris with Fatherland which is kind of a similar story I feel at points. Philip K. Dick is more focused on the US and on the conflict there between the Japanese forces and the German forces. While Fatherland, as far as I recall, is a place in Germany and it’s just an alternate reality as well. That’s interesting stuff to look into. If we have the right tune, that’s always very important because, of course, it depends on my mood. But I need the right music. If the music doesn’t fit, I don’t touch it. I rather go in different directions with the lyrics. Recently over the last years, we always have had some more sci-fi-orientated songs. We were working on one song which is called “Blade Runner” as a working title. But this song has never been released. We may rework it but I doubt it will deal with the Blade Runner stuff. There’s always something coming in where I’m at least tempted.

One last question. Der Greif, or The Griffin written by Wolfgang and Heike Hohlbein, has been adapted into a TV show recently. In the show, the action is taking place in Krefeld in the 90s. The main characters are running a record shop. There are loads of Easter eggs about Blind Guardian and the Somewhere Far Beyond album. Your music is played at some point but we can’t really recognize it. If you are a Blind Guardian fan you know that it’s Blind Guardian. The music is not in the foreground like we have in Stranger Things with Metallica for instance. What happened? Were you somehow involved in the development series?

They asked for the rights to use the song and of course, we were happy to give them the rights. We liked the idea and I was really impressed by the TV show. I did not expect it. It’s really something like Stranger Things, not on the same level but it has a bit of the edge. It’s nicely done. I’ve been around in the ’80s so I can tell you some of the stuff gets very close. On the other hand, I really like the storytelling. I’m a big Stranger Things fan. But I also like The Griffin. To my surprise, it’s really well done. It’s a nice story which apart from the easter eggs you mentioned has so many connections to pure fantasy. To high fantasy. I was really surprised! I like the selection of songs in general, they have in the show and you’re right, ours is quite distorted at points. But I don’t care. You see the poster, the CD. And the jacket… I will not complain. I hope they get a chance for a second season. I like the idea of the guy having all that anger and aggression in him. That was also very cool. And what the result of it is. So there were many great things in there. Well done!

interview and photos by Séverine Peraldino, July 7, 2023.


  • Séverine Peraldino

    Reviewer, interviewer and apprentice photographer for Metal Express Radio, Séverine comes from a small place in the Southern French Alps, near Grenoble. Her taste for classic Heavy Metal is a family heritage and after growing up listening to Iron Maiden, Dio, Metallica and Angra she expanded her horizons with almost every subgenre of Metal, from Power, to Prog, a little bit of Death and Black Metal. She mostly enjoys albums telling stories with originality. When she is not travelling around for concerts and festivals, you can find her reading a good book, or playing board games with friends.

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