Fifteen long years in the making, III is the third album by Demons & Wizards, side project of power metal titans Hansi Kürsch and Jon Schaffer. The first two, released in 1999 and 2005 respectively, were children of their times with the main bands’ styles shining through while also getting back to the roots of both. III is the same, but also way different. Expecting III to sound like its predecessors is obviously a mistake since both creative forces have grown and evolved in the past decade and a half, as have their respective song writing styles. Schaffer’s shift toward more catchy, accessible material especially comes through in the first half of the album in songs like Invincible and Wolves in Winter. The more lighthearted, accessible moments found in Invincible and Final Warning are offset by more ominous sounding second half and songs like second single Midas Disease bringing in a dark AC/DC sound, and New Dawn with its oppressively atmospheric feel and great delivery from Kürsch.
Then there are callbacks to older Demons & Wizards material as well; Diabolic opens the album up in darkness unparalleled. It’s reminiscent of Iced Earth’s Damien while hearkening to a more menacing Heaven Denies from the first album. Timeless Spirit and Children of Cain are the other two lengthy songs at nine and ten minutes respectively, reminding somewhat of Fiddler on the Green what with the acoustic guitars and bursts into melodic soloing galore with great performances from guest lead guitarist Jake Dreyer (Witherfall, Iced Earth) who unfortunately doesn’t get to blast enough solos through the rest of the album (looking at otherwise darkly potent Dark Side of Her Majesty). Children of Cain is perhaps the absolute highlight, starting off ballad like but evolving throughout its ten minute runtime to showcase the best of Dreyer’s work on the album, as well as some of Kürsch’s sweet, melancholy side and atmospheric high notes. It closes off on Schaffer trilling the mandolin, and is all that was expected and more of the album capped into ten minutes.
If the album has any flaw it’s that instead of leaning into what could well be an ominous, theatrical sound it plays too safe. That dark, daemonic feel of the opening track doesn’t come back save for a few moments, and the production focuses more on accessibility than on the inherent darkness that Demons & Wizards originally made their signature. Another problem is that the album definitely didn’t need a 65 minute runtime, because there is some filler material on here to get to that length. There’s still plenty of great music found in between the highlights, sweet hooks and those great Kürsch choruses, but the highlights are the most inspired moments by far. The musicianship is top notch and the album is definitely a comeback topped with plenty of power and fleshy moments. The first two albums, Demons & Wizards (1999) and Touched by the Crimson King (2005) were both very honest. Neither were perfect beings, but they were honest beasts and children of their times; in a way III is not, trying most to capture the hype surrounding itself. I want to love this album more than I’m able to, but I feel it will continue to grow. If nothing else it'll be a timeless classic by the time the next one comes out.
Standout tracks: Diabolic, Timeless Spirit, Children of Cain