Demons & Wizards - Touched By The Crimson King
Naming yourself a true appreciator of Hansi Kürsch's work is definitely something that sets your patience on hard trials. Blind Guardian releases are truly rare events occurring perhaps twice a decade and a five year phase has also passed since the last time the super duo Hansi Kürsch and Jon Schaffer released a Demons & Wizards album. Better late than ever though and infrequent studio visits put aside, here we have their sophomore effort, Touched by the Crimson King. This is the continuing saga of a journey that can be said to have started on tour during the nineties. Kürsch and Schaffer have both taken long rides in metal land and became friends during the many tours their respective bands had together during that time. This friendship ended up in a couple of jamming sessions that ultimately led to the birth of this side project and the self titled release found its way to the market in late April 2000. The idea was to combine the epic fantasy metal of Blind Guardian, the wizards, with the darker and heavier American metal of Iced Earth, the demons. And that succeeded very well and virtually we're dealing with a 50-50 mix between the two. Just take away the Blind Guardian background choirs and more complicated metal approach and instead add the basic raw sound and heavy crunch riffage from Iced Earth and you pretty much have it.
Kürsch's appreciation of Stephen King has manifested itself before in his career (Somewhere Far Beyond and Tommyknockers for instance) and once again his literary realms are explored lyrically. This time it's the The Dark Tower series that's the base of inspiration and songs like the title track (also a reference to William Blake goes out here) and The Gunslinger can be derived from those. Once again Kürsch also returns to the Wizard of Oz (previously visited in Imaginations From the Other Side) in the semi ballad Wicked Witch and even Oscar Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray is getting a salute in Dorian. So far so good and so far nothing really new and that goes for the whole deal actually. Not much differs here compared to the former album. The wizard Kürsch as usual performs absolutely flawlessly managing the entire spectra and continues to prove that he belongs in the elite leagues of metal vocalists. The demon Schaffer maintains his stamina and delivers his standard crunchy guitar triplets which he seems totally reluctant to abandon and the same can be said about his composition style. The only more striking difference between Touched By The Crimson King and the debut is that this new outing puts the acoustic guitar more in the centre of attention and seen throughout the whole album a greater number of calmer parts and slower songs have been recorded. The lack of real striking solos is also a prominent issue and that's a real downside in my opinion but that goes for both releases.
Otherwise there's definitely more than handful of really high class material here. The opening Crimson King is introduced by a very dramatic intro with angel sounding operatic choirs and of course the upcoming chorus is catchy as ever. The calmer middle section sets a fine aura to an otherwise speedy track and with an opener like this you realise that the high expectations have great chances of being met. Terror Train is the fastest track here and also the fastest Demons & Wizards' tune so far, mixing the sound of mainly Night of the Stormrider and Imaginations From the Other Side. Great riffing from Schaffer on this one! Other more up-tempo outings of fine calibre are The Gunslinger, Love's Tragedy Asunder and Dorian. The latter contains a very enticing traditional riff and the song in its entirety has a very epic air all over. Love's Tragedy Asunder begins with a calm acoustic guitar and strings before the transgression to the faster part with heavy guitar riffing from Schaffer takes place. Another great song and also one of the strongest on the release. Calmer instalments like Seize the Day and Wicked Witch are very acceptable mainly to Kürsch's vocals but they don't rival the masterly Fiddler on the Green from the debut or classic Guardian songs like The Bard's Song or A Past and Future Secret. The closing cover of Immigrant Song pays tribute to classical Led Zeppelin and I think the duo pulls that one off quite nicely as well.
The production by second guitarist Jim Morris is quite similar in style to the latest Iced Earth release, The Glorious Burden but slightly spiced with some touches of Imaginations From The Other Side. In other words it's a high quality exertion but it could have been a little fatter and especially the drum sound. The album really would have lifted several levels with a more bombastic thundering drum reverberation that of course would be specially fitting in the more up tempo power metal charged numbers. The more focus on acoustic and calmer parts could have been a bit reduced too and the prominent issue of absent solos is a real shame. After all it's metal I want to hear and even though the calmer solemn inputs provide a very nice atmosphere some more metal replacing at least a couple of these wouldn't be totally misplaced. The premiere release also had a more pronounced medieval touch and was generally faster in pace as well which are features that perhaps crowns that album as the slightly better still.
Nevertheless there are enough world class goods here to
satiate the faithful followers of both Blind Guardian and Iced Earth.
I still choose to hold back the quote a bit though mainly due to that
it delivered and lived up to the expectations but at the end of the
day it feels a bit too predictable and familiar. Kürsch and Schaffer
have done a real good job for sure but the little extra surprise twists
I ultimately would have hoped didn't really occur. Whether or not this
was the last Demons & Wizard album though remains to be seen. I
most certainly hope not but perhaps another five year period will tell