After waiting for long fifteen years, we finally have a new DEMONS & WIZARDS album, the international super band that, as we all know, brought together the masterminds of BLIND GUARDIAN and ICED EARTH in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Since Hansi Kürsch and Jon Schaffer announced the reunion tour after almost two decades without playing any live shows, and after a successful tour that saw them headlining some of the biggest metal festivals around Europe (including the 30th anniversary of Wacken Open Air), we have been waiting for updates about a new studio album. Luckily, the date has arrived: on February 21st, 2020, the third installment in the DEMONS & WIZARDS saga entitled “III” will finally be released via Century Media Records. Check out our interview with Hansi Kürsch here.
I would dare to say that “III” is one of the most anticipated metal releases of the year, both because of the long gap since 2005’s “Touched by the Crimson King,” but also due to the relevance of the musicians involved, who always draw a lot of attention from the fans when they get involved in a project. In contrast to what happened on the reunion tour last year (which had some well-known friends from BLIND GUARDIAN as guest musicians), due to logistical reasons the backup lineup who recorded “III” consisted mostly of American musicians. I would highlight the contribution of Brent Smedley on drums and Ruben Drake on bass, along with additional guitars by Jake Dreyer and Jim Morris, in addition to an impressive choir.
The album opens with “Diabolic”, which was also the first single. The mysterious guitar intro and ethereal background sounds build up a tension that grows slowly until the first distorted Schaffer riff creates a sonic explosion and the song takes a very heavy and dark twist by DEMONS & WIZARDS standards. Hansi‘s unmistakable voice depicts the personal singing style he has developed with BLIND GUARDIAN, but the big difference is that the production sounds much more organic than the last works of the German bards, which is especially noticeable in the exquisite sound of the drums. The break towards the end of the track, returning to its initial mood, brings the circle together and allows us to take a breath before continuing the journey. Definitely one of their greatest tracks so far.
“Invincible” is a more straightforward track with a more conventional structure, though not less effective. The main riff and vocal line are quite melodic and easy listening, with pompous and very well-achieved vocal arrangements, but perhaps it feels a little bit short of ideas to be considered among the most outstanding creations this duo has come up with. On the contrary, “Wolves in the Winter” draws your attention from the beginning with its aggressive attitude and heavy sound, including an inspired Schaffer delivering those razor-sharp triplet-filled riffs that have given him world fame. This song is closer to the style of ICED EARTH but Hansi also makes sure to add his own influence, contributing with his charisma and magical touches in the choruses. Another highlight from the new album.
“Final Warning” brings up an interesting mix of elements, with a soft start progressing towards a more complex tempo, commanded by impetuous galloping guitars perfectly accompanied by a solid Brent Smedley behind the drum kit. No wonder Jon Schaffer is recognized as one of the best and most influential rhythm guitarists on the scene. It’s the shortest track on the album, ending somewhat abruptly and leaving you hanging on a cliff. In “Timeless Spirit,” maestro Schaffer experiments with acoustic guitars full of sentiment, alternating with heavier segments and expanding the musical landscape of DEMONS & WIZARDS throughout its nine-minutes. Hansi‘s vocal performance is again superb, adding loads of drama and emotion into the song. It would be a pleasure to have the opportunity to hear it live.
In “Dark Side of Her Majesty” our beloved bard steals the show with his incomparable powerful voice and epic massive choirs that predominate in this mid-tempo song, which starts promisingly but somehow gets diluted and becomes redundant. It’s a correct track and fulfills its purpose as the bridge between the two halves of the album, but in the end, it goes a little bit into oblivion. “Midas Disease” is another mid-tempo song with repetitive structure, and despite having a nice hard rock vibe and a rather catchy melody, at this point we begin to perceive the lack of contrasts and elements that stand out from the average to meet the high expectations of the fans. These are perhaps the weakest points on the record, although they don’t affect that much the overall experience of the album.
Things improve a lot with “New Dawn,” a song that brings back the necessary nuances and sonic layers that catch the listener’s attention. The changes in intensity and alternations between light and dark are one of the key elements of DEMONS & WIZARDS‘ success, allowing Jon Schaffer and Hansi Kürsch to use their full arsenal of magic spells. The same applies to “Universal Truth”, a track that also includes some novelties, including predominant use of keyboards and a more prominent bass line. Hansi‘s work is monumental once again, reaching unseen levels of expressiveness and a huge vocal range. His lines continue to improve over the years, and I think his experience with the BLIND GUARDIAN TWILIGHT ORCHESTRA album has made him grow even more as a vocalist.
For those who were missing some more of that pure evil, “Split” is perhaps the heaviest song on the album, solid from start to finish, with a headbanger tempo and a more aggressive attitude. It’s a guaranteed blast for their live performances and reminds me of the glorious days of ICED EARTH in the 90s. I’m sure it will become one of the favorites for those nostalgic for the Matt Barlow -era. Finally, we have “Children of Cain,” the longest song on the album, lasting over ten minutes. It’s a complex track, full of details and changes in atmosphere, incorporating folk and acoustic elements, among other surprises. Because of its cinematic tone, it is the perfect way to conclude the album in an epic way, becoming the cherry on top and giving perfect closure to this anticipated album.
Overall, “III” is a release that fully meets the high expectations generated, doing justice to the legacy of the band and the long wait. Both Hansi Kürsch and Jon Schaffer have grown immensely as songwriters over the years and this is evident both in the crafting and execution of the tracks. It seems that the more complex and the longer the songs, the better the true spirit of DEMONS & WIZARDS is represented, exploiting the full potential of this collaboration. I appreciate that, of the four sound engineers who worked supervising the recording and production of this album, Charlie Bauerfeind‘s influence on the final mix has been kept to a minimum, since the result sounds much less artificial than the last BLIND GUARDIAN albums.
“III” is an album that benefits from multiple listens and deserves to be enjoyed with calm and patience. Not all songs are instant classics and may require a few spins before you can make a final verdict on them. Perhaps the most impatient people are going to discard or criticize the album after a first listen since its content is not ready for fast consumption in times when digital attention disorder is the rule. I can say that the magic and chemistry between The Demon and The Wizard are intact after fifteen years, and I sincerely hope we don’t have to wait another twenty years to see them on tour again, and that the next album arrives before 2035. Whatever the future brings, all we can do at the moment is enjoy this amazing comeback by DEMONS & WIZARDS.
Written by David Araneda
- Wolves In Winter
- Final Warning
- Timeless Spirit
- Dark Side Of Her Majesty
- Midas Disease
- New Dawn
- Universal Truth
- Children Of Cain
Hansi Kürsch – Lead and backing vocals
Jon Schaffer – Guitar, bass, mandolin, keyboard, backing vocals
Brent Smedley – Drums
Jim Morris – Additional Guitars, Backing Vocals
Jake Dreyer – Additional Guitars
Ruben Drake – Bass
Thomas Hackman, Olaf Senkbeil, John Jaycee Cuipers, Zakery Alexander, Jeff Brant, Todd Plant, Jerome Mazza – Backing Vocals
PA’dam chamber choir – Classical Choir
Century Media Records