Demons and Wizards Touched by the Crimson King

Metal collaborations are over hyped, and more often than not, their compositions end up sounding haphazardly written. Not so with Demons & Wizards — the partnership of Blind Guardian’s Hansi Kürsch and Iced Earth’s Jon Schaffer, which actually produces better output than that of their day jobs combined. Five years since their eponymous debut, Kürsch and Schaffer have once again enlisted Morrisound Studios owner/producer Jim Morris to handle the guitar solos, while Iced Earth/Spastic Ink drummer Bobby Jarzombek dominates behind the kit. Opening track "Crimson King” flexes the group’s power-metal muscles with Kürsch’s full-bodied vocals and Schaffer’s Iron Maiden-esque guitar galloping, while the ballad-like "Beneath These Waves” approaches Queensrÿche, especially in Kürsch’s capable melodies. "Terror Train” is thrashier like Overkill, with Morris’s soloing not overly accomplished but wholly appropriate in this context. "Seize the Day” could be a cross between Tesla and Division Bell-era Pink Floyd, and "The Gunslinger” certainly nods to old Kansas before quickly accelerating to Queensrÿche velocity. The standout "Love’s A Tragedy Asunder” takes D&W’s textures several steps further by incorporating the electrics into their acoustics instead of vice versa (like "Dorian”). "Wicked Witch” is completely acoustic, dominated by Kürsch’s swirling double- and triple-tracked vocals. The deft "Down Where I Am” would’ve been an apt finale, but one cover is included: a so-so reading of Led Zeppelin’s "Immigrant Song,” easily the weakest track here and one that throws off the album’s trajectory a bit. Though not as urgent as their debut, Touched by the Crimson King is a staunch entry in their canon, and fans can only pray for a supporting tour. (Steamhammer)