Metal titans Jon Schaffer (Iced Earth) and Hansi Kürsch (Blind Guardian) just recently decided the time was right for a comeback. Their side project Demons & Wizards has been laying idle since the latest installment Touched By the Crimson King was unleashed in 2005. Starting their comeback by touring and releasing the not too extensive back catalogue as re-masters, a third album is said to be on its way in 2020. That’s a year from now, so better start warming up. What better way than to start with what started the whole project all those 20 years ago - and hold your beard because this is going to be a wild ride of unpopular opinions. The self titled debut album was released in 1999, around the peak of Schaffer’s songwriting majesty with Iced Earth (unpopular opinion) and just after Blind Guardian had gone away from the clarity of their earlier era and heading to more over produced material (unpopular opinion).
The two coming together is an unlikely match, given Schaffer’s sometimes almost thrashy riffing and Kürsch’s style developing into more operatic themes at the time. Needless to say, that part works flawlessly. Schaffer handles the songwriting and Kürsch the vocals and lyrics. Aside from Schaffer’s riffs and songwriting being as top tier as they were around the time, Kürsch adds the operatic quality that sets the album apart from any Iced Earth offering. It’s just as theatrical as is needed, with opening track Heaven Denies setting the stage perfectly. The haunting final two and a half minutes of the song are ballsy and the bass work (also by Schaffer) would fit right into the Horror Show album to be released a few years after. Marching power metal tracks like Blood on My Hands and Tear Down the Wall are mingled with the darker moods of My Last Sunrise and Winter of Souls, developing the style throughout the album.
There are then a few songs that aren’t quite up to the same standard; Poor Man’s Crusade adds little aside from the introductory scream by Kürsch (unpopular opinion). The Whistler, furthermore, is utterly forgettable filler, while Path of Glory is too cheery to fit the rest of the album, while still having some neat guitar parts. Of course it’s impossible not to mention the track that makes Demons & Wizards. The chilling, brutally honest Fiddler on the Green; a Schaffer ballad starting off slow and acoustic with Kürsch’s melodic voice setting a melancholy stage and growing to something that rivals Watching Over Me in the “I’m not crying, you’re crying” department of Schaffer songs. Demons & Wizards is definitely one of the strongest debut albums in the power metal genre thus far, but - unpopular opinion - it was to be surpassed six years later by the “rushed” Touched By the Crimson King. Needless to say, both albums stand as strong now as they did twenty and fourteen years ago. Get with number three already!
Standout tracks: Heaven Denies, Fiddler on the Green, Blood on my Hands