Demons & Wizards, the band featuring Iced Earth front-man Jon Schaffer and Blind Guardian singer Hansi Kürsch, are currently working on their first new record since 2005. In celebration of the coming new material, the band trekked North America for the first time ever with Lizzy Borden and Tyr as support with a set of 12 tour dates that ended with their headlining performance at Progpower USA XX last Saturday.
Three of our contributors caught Demons & Wizards in three different venues during the tour: Toronto at Danforth Music Hall, New York at The Playstation Theater and the aforementioned final performance in Atlanta, and this article chronicles their impressions of the three different nights.
“I remember actively listening to their first album back in 2001 in my home island country and falling in love with that special sound” – says Antonio Vazquez remembering his experience. “That mix of unique guitar tones from Iced Earth and intricate vocal lines and harmonies from Blind Guardian. Little did I know I would see this project/band play live 18 years later in a Greek neighborhood in Toronto, Canada.”
“The band has been touring for several weeks already all over Europe and the songs could not sound any better. The band members outside of the two founders, composed of musicians from both Blind Guardian and Iced Earth (talk about convenience…) seem to be having a great time playing these songs live. The set-list is naturally compose of songs from both Demons & Wizards albums with the addition of a pair of songs from the founders original bands. It was great to see Hansi sing lines originally sung by Matt Barlow as well as seeing Jon playing some riffs from Blind Guardian.”
“I need to mention how impressive it is to listen to Hansi live. He is probably in the best shape he’s been in the last few years. Highlights of the night included the opener “Heaven Denies”, “Love’s Tragedy Asunder” and the closing trilogy from the first album with “Tear Down The Wall”, “Gallows Pole” and “My Last Sunrise”. I don’t believe they have a better song to close the show than “Fiddler On The Green”. That song resumes everything about what Demons & Wizards is and I have to say, I would have never imagined that Hansi could actually sing live the high notes at the end of the song. Chapeau! In summary, a great show, a dream come true and I cannot wait for the new album to drop next year. Looks like we will still have some demonic wizards and wizardly demons lurking around for a while.”
Jonathan Smith traveled to the The Playstation Theater in NY for the show, and he offered a detailed perspective of the whole night, including the two opening acts:
“The shadows cast by the high rises of Manhattan can be a daunting force unto themselves, but those with the will to venture into the densely populated pavement beneath, from as far Brazil no less, were privy to a truly magical event on September 5th, 2019. For most it was doubly a sign of unrelenting commitment given that another day of work lay between them and their period of weekly rest, but Thursday is as good a day as any to observe the rare coupling of two power metal powerhouses in the singular band that is Demons & Wizards, an outfit that has been on hold in a studio capacity for the better part of 14 years. The band’s style could be summed up as a high-impact anvil to the face, as its co-founding and continuous members in vocalist Hansi Kursch of Blind Guardian fame and Iced Earth guitarist/leader Jon Schaffer bring in legacies heavily connected to American power/thrash and German speed metal, leaving little doubt that a live encounter would be a wild occasion at the least.”
“Though this outfit’s first North American tour had already been raging since mid-August and was flirting with its conclusion by the time New York would see its arrival, the combined anticipation of this first ever event and the credentials of the musicians involved promised a potent explosion of metallic euphoria for all in attendance. The accommodations for the event itself were of a high caliber considering the band’s newness to the area, as the PlayStation Theater’s 2,100 person capacity (standing room only for this concert) also boasted an elaborate stage setup with ample space for enthusiastic showmanship and props for a theatrical undertaking, along with several balcony points with a bird’s eye view. Nevertheless, by 7 p.m. as the theater began to fill, the desired vantage point proved to be the front of the pit, and the writer of this account and his long-time friend/fellow metal maniac had the distinction of being front and center amid a small sea of fans spanning the youngest fringe of the boomer generation to a healthy collection of Gen Z trustees.”
“Not a moment sooner than the stroke of 7:30, opening act and iconic folk metal proponents of The Faroe Islands Tyr took the stage to heavy applause, though the full capacity of the show’s audience had not yet entered the theater. Theirs’ was the humblest presentation of the evening, as their stripped down, 4-piece arrangement was accompanied by small banners and the curtains drawn to obscure the back of the stage. Likewise, vocalist Heri Joensen led his Viking-like quartet in a pithy and efficient manner exercise, foregoing any breaks between songs in order to maximize their 45 minute block and delivering 8 powerful renditions of their unique blend of power, progressive, folk and thrash metal with only a brief thank you to the audience and a shout out to the other touring bands before playing their final song. The performance itself was nothing short of spellbinding, as these elaborate odes to Norse exploits saw a stellar display of musicianship, particularly out of Joensen himself as he provided his signature blend of Hetfield-inspired gruff and folksy clean singing to onlookers while also trading lead guitar segments with fellow guitarist Atilla Voros in a fashion reminiscent of Mustaine and Friedman.”
“The mood took a rather sudden twist following Tyr’s exodus from the stage, for even before the stage crew had finished changing the banners and altering the layout of the stage, the world of Nordic lore seemed to melt away to reveal a new one of darkness and suspense. As the next band took the stage it was clear that despite the extreme youth of all except for drummer Joey Scott Harges, the clock had been turned back from the power metal days of yore to the slasher flick craze of the 1980s. As the opening riffs of a song that was written and recorded just last year yet sounded like it came out of 1985 commenced, a grand throwback to the days of Alice Cooper and Kiss with a heavy metal twist marched onto the stage, forbidding enough to rival Marilyn Manson at his creepiest, yet singing in a manner somewhere between the sleaze of Vince Neil and the grit of Blackie Lawless. Despite the guitars raging with iconic riffs channeling the glory days of Accept and dueling guitar harmonies fit for Iron Maiden, the man of many faces and costumes dubbed Lizzy Borden would steal the show from one moment to the next, a veritable Humphrey Bogart accompanied by a trio of green virtuosos and his brother on the drum kit.”
“To state that Borden presented a formidable act for Demons & Wizards to follow would be an understatement, despite the shorter duration he had at his disposal. True to his roots as a shock rock turned heavy/power metal icon and a showman as only the 80s could produce, he greeted the audience with a different costume at the onset of each song, changing out all but his platform boots and leather clad clothing beneath in rapid succession. Among his array of outfits was a masquerade ball getup on steroids for “My Midnight Things”, a triple-faced mask out of a Hindu nightmare for “Red Rum”, a crimson Roman legionnaire’s cape for “Notorious”, and draped in Old Glory for “American Metal”. The coup de grace, however, came with the onset of “There Will Be Blood Tonight” when he re-entered the stage in a white cloak, skull mask, and wielding an axe comparable to the one that his namesake allegedly murdered her father and stepmother with. Following a shocking simulation of wounding himself in the mouth repeatedly with the axe and spitting blood upon his white cloak to the pulse of the instruments, he entered into the song with his white-painted face revealed and joining the audience at ground level with a bucket of fake blood to paint audience members’ faces with during the instrumental breaks.”
“Sufficiently jazzed up by the highly theatrical prelude to the main attraction, the audience had grown from a steady rage to pure elation as the stage crew cleared out all the equipment employed by Lizzy Borden to reveal a picturesque graveyard scene comparable to the one featured on Demons & Wizards’ eponymous debut. As the combined forces of Iced Earth and Blind Guardian instrumentalists reached center stage and the opening riffs of “Heaven Denies” thrashed forth, elation turned to sheer pandemonium bordering on Beatlemania as Hansi Kursch entered and began the first verse, his voice often obscured in the front rows by out of tune shouts of the lyrics by the most avid of onlookers. The song selections proved to be varied in character, but an overall heir of high-impact explosiveness dominated the band’s set, often blurring the lines between power and thrash metal with such offerings as “Poor Man’s Crusade”, “Terror Train” and “Touched By The Crimson King”; inspiring greater animation amongst the occupants of the pit that brought occasion for a few crowd surfers and a ratcheted intensity of movement, though an actual mosh pit was rendered impossible by the sheer number of persons crammed together at the fore.”
“One might have guessed that the apex of the headliner was set with the array of faster offerings from their two studio albums, but the fever pitch would be amplified to an absolute meltdown when chants of “Iced Guardian!” were greeted with several auspicious song selections out of the Iced Earth and Blind Guardian catalogs. The speed metal-infused mayhem of “Welcome To Dying” and “Valhalla” saw Jon Schaffer well within his element and current Iced Earth lead guitarist Jake Dreyer up to the task of emulating the idiomatic solos of Andre Olbrich, while Hansi Kursch and his Blind Guardian compatriots in the rhythm section proved more than competent at emulating the slower and more punchy air of “Burning Times”. However, the moment that truly shook the foundations of Broadway would be the band’s rendition of the seminal Iced Earth ballad “I Died For You”, as following the first pass of the chorus, original vocalist of said anthem Matt Barlow made a surprise appearance and proceeded to give a select audience a rare duet rendition of a song that helped to make his career with an equally capable vocal titan.”
“Following a most welcome and fulfilling encore that included a poignant rendition of one of Jon Schaffer’s greatest ballad compositions “Fiddler On The Green”, a sense of triumph permeated the afterglow as the stage crew began tearing down the set and the audience made their exit. Many would be conversing in loud, yet haggard sounding voices after 90 minutes of screaming non-stop as to how stoked they were at the spectacle they witnessed. Old friends greeted one another, including myself and my partner in crime as we bumped into one of our old Iron Maiden tribute band’s most devoted followers known affectionately as Metal Mike, himself also a Philly native who had made the trek and braved the traffic of the Lincoln Tunnel to support these iconic metal bands. It was a night of victory, a night of fellowship, and above all else, a night of splendor where the hard work and dedication that goes into creating and recreating this virtuoso art form was reciprocated by the boisterous cheers of a diverse group of people who understood the depth of that dedication. Though the tour would ultimately conclude in Georgia two nights later, on September 5th, metal belonged to Manhattan and to those who traveled there to witness it first hand.”
“There’s no much more anyone could add to describe a night with Demons & Wizards after reading the Jonathan’s write-up” – laughs Joel Barrios who witnessed the final night, with the band closing the famous annual Atlanta metal gathering. “I’ve been attending the Festival for the last 6 years, and I’ve been part of the Festival crew as one of the team photographers for the last three, but besides that I cover dozens of shows a year, so these eyes have seem a good amount of live shows. This performance was surely one for the books, one of the most exceptionals I’ve had the chance to behold. The ProgPower USA audience was ecstatic and chanted Hansi‘s name for minutes, to the point that he looked dumbfounded and didn’t even know what to say. They did the same to Jon later on in the set, there was a true spirit of joy in the air, and a special connection between the crowd and the band. When they attacked the Blind Guardian‘s song “Valhalla – Deliverance” another remarkable moment happened: the band stopped playing and the audience chanted the chorus for minutes, non-stop, it sounded like a gigantic voice had risen from the shadows repeating the same phrases in some sort of a metal spell. It was truly magnificent.”
“It might have taken Demons and Wizards almost twenty years to reach this side of the pond, yet I believe I echo the metal community when I say that I’m crossing my fingers to hope they return again before long.”