INTERVIEW: Frederik Ehmke – Blind Guardian

For over three decades, Germany’s BLIND GUARDIAN have been at the summit of power metal. Through their fantasy inspired lyrics, galloping guitar play and soaring vocal deliveries, the band are well respected in the global heavy metal community. It’s hard to believe that for a band that has been active for so long, 2016 marks the first time the band are playing certain cities across the UK. Before a blockbuster show in Manchester, we spoke to drummer Frederik Ehmke to talk about the tour, the band’s lyrical approach to the topic of fantasy, and we reflect on the legacy and impact of BLIND GUARDIAN.

It’s the second UK date for BLIND GUARDIAN, you played the first show in Glasgow, how was that performance?

Frederik: It was the first time we have every played in Scotland so we were only expecting the best, as always, but we were positively surprised at the intense audience. They were singing along, they knew every word, every song, every melody so it was a blast!

It’s been a long time since BLIND GUARDIAN have played in the UK, so I take it the reception was very positive?

Frederik: Yeah, yeah! We’ve only ever played London before and Bloodstock Festival (2009) and Dublin, of course that isn’t in the UK, so these shows are the only ones we have played so far. You never know what to expect when you play a new territory but we are definitely surprised!

So for the tour with the setlist balance, is it going to be mostly new material?

Frederik: Well you should expect a classic mix of the best of. Since we wanted to represent all of the albums or the most albums possible in one set and we have a limited amount of time that we can use so yeah it’s a mix. We have tried to cover every album and we want to play some of the new stuff from the latest album.

So speaking about the latest album, it’s been out for over a year now, how have you found the reception?

Frederik: We are totally happy with the reception, from the very first day we got very good compliments from fans, from the press/media, friends actually too! Everybody seemed to like the album and we ourselves are very happy with what we created, it’s a very nice epic masterpiece I would say with all the orchestral stuff, we are very happy that we got to work with a real orchestra. That was amazing.

So how do you think it holds up in comparison to your back catalogue?

Frederik: I think with all of our albums it shows an evolution, if you start with the very early ones you hear the very basic speed/thrash metal elements and then more melodies, more epic and more orchestral compositions with the later albums. I’d say the folk elements came in more and more, that may be the one element that is missing on the new album. It got more replaced with industrial sounds.

And with the writing process for records, is it easier now than say 10 years ago?

Frederik: I think it’s never easy, there are always high expectations from the fans but you should not be distracted from any expectations, we always did what we always felt was right. We still do that nowadays and it’s just like a mirror of the current moods and the current feelings and sometimes for the lyrics as well. Normally it’s inspired by some fantasy literature but it’s also currently read by Hansi [Kürsch, vocals] also.

That leads into my next question, a lot of BLIND GUARDIAN’s lyrics are based on fantasy. It’s well know you use the work of Tolkien or George RR Martin for inspiration. Nowadays, fantasy is very much is very popular, is it easier now to write music than say 20 years ago?

Frederik: I’m not sure, maybe it was actually easier back then when there wasn’t that much music like this already existing so to come up with this idea it was something pretty new and now there are now a lot of competitor bands that also use fantasy and fantasy literature and write lyrics about that, so again it’s like the same answer to the previous question. If you stay true to yourself and true to what you want to do, then you have your unique sound!

Especially with shows like Game of Thrones and The Walking Dead which are very popular, I’m interested to know what are your views on fantasy being popular. Do you think it belongs in the niche?

Frederik: No, I like the fact because more popularity also comes up with more people liking it so it has a bigger base, and maybe more people being inspired by it and having more of a contribution to the whole topic so the whole scene is richer I would say! It’s definitely not like a sell out or anything.

Has it impacted the band at all? Since the topic has become hugely popular have you been gaining new fans for example?

Frederik: I think it’s very hard to tell if you have through that, gained new fans. We’ve definitely gained new fans and both circles around those topics have a bit that cross each other, so we have both fans of fantasy and fans of metal. We are in the middle. It’s very hard to tell if we gained fans because of those shows but maybe yes, since we deal with those topics maybe now you Google stuff and you found out there’s a band that writes about or has songs about that topic. Maybe they got curious and started listening to us and getting to know the band.

Moving onto the legacy of BLIND GUARDIAN, for over three decades the band has been very influential in the development of power metal. Where do you see BLIND GUARDIAN? Do you appreciate the impact you have had on the scene?

Frederik: I’ve always thought, and I can say this as being a former fan of the band before I joined, to me it was always a special unique sound. It has a very special spirit about it and I would still say that the band was able to keep that special status, and you can tell that by the fact we still have a different sound compared to anyone else. We also have a different standing on festivals and we are touring worldwide, so this is pretty unique for a little German metal band.

Germany, in particular, as a country have pumped out some highly respected metal bands, like KREATOR, SODOM and DESTRUCTION for example. Do you think the fact you all come from Germany, you have that advantage to build a platform?

Frederik: Those bands you mentioned, they are also close to where BLIND GUARDIAN are located which is like the manufacturing centre of Germany. Maybe that had an impact or influence on those people living there. I personally come from Frankfurt, which also a little bit industrial, so also there are more metal bands to be found. I guess so yeah, with metal there must be a reason for the feeling of that music. It’s called heavy metal which is a credit to where metal is manufactured!

We could say the same with the English scene with bands like BLACK SABBATH and JUDAS PIREST for example. Since those early days, metal has really evolved into the global phenomenon it is today. What are your views on the scene today? Do you think it is in a good place?

Frederik: For me personally, it is very hard to keep an overview of all the bands. There are so many new bands popping out from the ground and they are all trying to find their way to the top. There are so many different styles and categories, it was simpler in the past! I think the good thing is there’s a kind or a special metal sound for everyone. In that general sound of music, they’ll find their own little niche and find their own sound representing your own favourites!

Really, that’s the beauty of having all these sub-genres, there is something for everyone…

Frederik: Yes definitely!

So being in BLIND GUARDIAN, do you feel that you can transcend all the different sub-genres and unite everyone to follow your band?

Frederik: We don’t really think that much about sub-genres, we just think of what we like. Of course we are aware of putting different musical influences together but we don’t like the feeling of being put into a certain direction. We are power metal but we have orchestral stuff. Oh so you are epic orchestral metal? No we also have the speed/thrash parts. It’s not easy to categorise us, we just do what we like, we don’t really think about sub-genres.

And being in such an influential band, what advice would you give bands that are starting out today?

Frederik: It’s pretty simple, just do what you want. Do what you really want to create, find your own way by being true to yourself. It’s not meant in the true metal sense but just be true, be honest with yourself. Don’t do anything you don’t want to do just for success or because it’s a fad. Do the music you like and people will find that you are passionate when they listen to your music. Then it will be convincing and pleasurable music.

And really my last question is, you’ve got this mini tour of the UK, can fans expect BLIND GUARDIAN at any more appearances over the rest of 2016?

Frederik: We will have some more festivals this year, unfortunately I do not know all of them by heart now! There will be Wacken of course, Close to the UK, maybe some people will come over from there! It’s definitely worth it because it’s a very unique festival, but we will always try and work on getting back to the UK. Glasgow last night for instance was a real blast so it would be a shame if we didn’t come back. It’s always a matter of time because all the places, we want to come back, but they need preparation. A lot of the time we have to invest and we maybe want to start working on the new album, as everybody knows it takes a long time for us to finish an album!

Well brilliant, thank you for taking the time to talk to me Frederik, thank you

Frederik: Thank you!

For more information on BLIND GUARDIAN like their official page on Facebook