It is impossible to be a fan of melodic power metal and not have at least four or five Blind Guardian albums in your collection. They are the epitome of European power metal, but more than this, they have paved the way for so many other artists since their debut release of Battalions of Fear in 1988. So by 2017, the band has released twelve extremely impressive studio albums and two live offerings. They are an outfit who really have not released a sub-standard album let alone song, and are about to release their third live album, an ambitious offering entitled Live Beyond the Spheres. The release is being packaged as a three CD, and a four LP format, and showcases the band live during their 2015 tour of Europe in support of Beyond the Red Mirror. Unlike your standard start to finish live performance over one or two nights, the set list has been put together over thirty shows. The band has painstaking poured over hours and hours of recordings to ensure the most powerful performances were isolated. This is true Blind Guardian, pure perfectionism.
I was fortunate enough to spend some time with Marcus Sipien (guitars) to dissect the new live offering.
Marcus, Blind Guardian have released two previous live albums, prior to Live Beyond the Spheres, can you talk us through why you have decided to release another live album now?
“I can actually, we felt the time was right again. We are not the type of band to put out a live album each year. The previous album was released fourteen years ago and we have had three studio releases in this time. And another important factor was that the new line up was right and we felt this was the time. We are playing really well and we are so happy with how the band is right now, so yeah the time was right!”
I have read that the band listened through hours of live recordings of the 2015 tour to finalise the albums set list, can you talk me through this process?
“Its basically as you said, we sat down and listened to the recordings. But if we tried to go through all of them we would still be listening to them as we recorded every show actually. We decided to focus on the European tour and Charlie our producer was going through the shows and made mixes for us whilst we were on tour, so this helped you know with different sounds and problems that you have live. At the end we listened separately and made notes and shared the notes and we had to agree. If we didn’t agree we had to go back and listen again! We were able to pick the best performances and that is the process and we are so happy with the finished product. It was a lot of work for all of us but it worked.”
The packaging and artwork of the release looks amazing, what can fans expect from this?
“The packaging and artwork is always very important for us. It is part of the whole deal and we want people to get value for money with packages. We looked through tons of pictures from the tour and we put together a great booklet with linear notes, so it is a really nice package. You know I am a collector myself so we look at it like that. We are all fans as well and buy albums so we look at it like that. ”
Are you going to do some live shows to promote Live Beyond the Spheres at this stage?
“We will play a handful of gigs this year but not so much to promote the album. We sort of promoted this album with the previous tour you know. We are doing mainly festivals this year and the main focus will be on song writing from this point at the end of these gigs. At some point we have to step back from the road so we can write. We have never been a band that can write on the road, we are either on the road or writing and recording and this has been how we have always done it.”
Blind Guardian has built a loyal fan base through its impeccable live performances, and I know that this is something you all pride yourselves on, so can you tell me what current live metal acts impress you and why?
“There are all kinds of bands that impress me. I went to the Rock Hard Festival in Germany last week. I saw some outstanding live performances from so many bands. Exodus was one and I have been a fan forever, I have attended concerts since the 80s of this band. If you want to see thrash metal on stage they are the band to see. Opeth were playing and they are a band who not necessarily jump around all of the time but always have a great set list, sound, lights. This is something that I love, the music itself isn’t important if a band is doing something that captures my attentions that is what I like and what I look for in performance. These are a couple of examples of bands who I love to see live.”
So after this release and its promotion what are Blind Guardian going to be up to, is there another studio album in the works?
“Actually there are two in the works; we will finally finish the orchestral album that we have been working on for so long. The only lacking is Hansi’s vocals, and this was supposed to be done on tour but this doesn’t work as touring is demanding on his voice, and he needed to rest between shows. He will finish this during the year and we will put it out next year. We have started working on new songs for the regular Blind Guardian album, we have a few songs down but they will probably change. We are busy and so the orchestral album will come out next year but no promises from there but it is underway.”
Marcus, you have played in Australia on three different tours, when will we see you back down here?
“With the next album for sure. We will play the festivals this year but then we will focus on the writing for the next album. As soon as the next tour happens we will for sure be there. We love Australia and last time we got to see Sydney and Melbourne and we are hoping that next time we can visit other cities. We love it, we will be back I promise.”
To finish, 2018 will be the bands thirtieth anniversary as a recording artist, are there any plans to celebrate this?
“Not yet really no, because the funny thing is people ask us about this but we are not that sort of people. We don’t think like this we don’t think that way and check on when anniversaries are coming up. If people don’t point it out we don’t think about it so there are no plans. We love our history and everything but we don’t think that way. So at this stage no.”
This was the third time that I have interviewed Marcus and it is always a pleasure to talk with him. He is an articulate, innovative and extremely knowledgeable musician, a key part of the driving force behind Blind Guardian. Live Beyond the Spheres was released worldwide on the 7th of June through Nuclear Blast, and from the samples I have witnessed, it is just what you would expect, flawless and engaging. For more information check out the formats at www.nuclearblast.de
Interview by Mark Snedden