Demons & Wizards: Is this perhaps a symbol for the two different characters hiding behind this name? Immediately comes the question of who is the demon and who is the wizard, or better to say, the magician? For one of the two protagonists the question seems to be clear enough. “I identify myself more with the wizard,” explains Hansi Kürsch, whose day-job is frontman and bassist of the German Prog-Elite band Blind Guardian, and now singer of the new, exciting Demons & Wizards project. His statement definitely leaves a clear implication that Jon Schaffer must be the demon. And Schaffer is certainly not an unknown entity in metal circles. As guitarist and main song-writer for the American formation Iced Earth, he has launched numerous acclaimed albums in what is almost the last ten years. But does Schaffer identify himself with these apparent demonic qualities? His musical abilities on Demons & Wizards are certainly verging on the magical.
The first idea for this project dates back to Spring of 1997. Kürsch and Schaffer, who have been close friends for years since touring together with their original formations Blind Guardian and Iced Earth, first composed only one song together (which incidentally re-appears on the debutalbum under the title ´My Last Sunrise`) and then looked for time to give both musicians the necessary space for the realisation of the planned project. They agreed on Autumn 1998 when Blind Guardian had completed their Nightfall In Middle Earth tour and when Schaffer was able to present his friend and partner with the first song-fragments. “There were a whole lot of guitar riffs and a really well produced e-drum,” says Kürsch. “There were also some guitar solos. And that formed the basis I worked on the suitable voices for the pieces on that basis in the Blind Guardian rehearsal room.”
In June 1999 he flew to America for the production preparations. Already waiting for him there were Schaffer and producer Jim Morris. Morris is the owner of the famous Morrisound Studio in Florida. “Jim was involved in the production at the earliest stages but hardly changed any of the basic arrangements of the material. He did that which every good metal producer should do, he piped the cream on the top of the cake. Where necessary he added missing harmonies or second voices, played a few guitar solos and untertook small corrections to the drum programming.” When all the arrangements were complete, the team called drummer Mark Prater into the studio (among others from Iced Earth), who, after hearing the demo-tapes, traditionally pounded out the songs.
The result is as sensational as the attendant circumstances, as exquisite as the reputation which goes before its makers. Of course, Hansi Kürsch´s distinctive voice reminds us of the great prog-hymns which he sang for Blind Guardian, and it also goes without saying that Jon Schaffer´s edgy, powerful riffs have a certain Iced Earth touch to them. But from the work of these two strong personalities a new sound has been born. Mind you, this ist not a new style, (is that at all possible these days?) but a new very individual sound. “The songs have been kept much simpler and more basic than those of Blind Guardian,” says Hansi Kürsch when describing the album. “You can hear each instrumentalist individually. The album´s direction is more metallic and somewhat coarser. In total there are 12 songs on the album, five or six of them are short, cracking numbers which are limited to the set pieces, for example, verse – bridge – refrain. The other songs are each five or six minutes long and a little more complicated, or rather a little more epic, if by no means as projective as the numbers we did on the last Blind Guardian album.”
As well as pure metal tracks like ´Rites Of Passage`, ´Poor Man´s Crusade` or ´Blood On My Hands` the album culminates in a conceptual trilogy which is brought to the audience´s ears by the song titles ´Tear Down The Wall`, Gallows Pole` and ´My Last Sunrise` towards the end of the whole work. “The three songs tell the bleak story of the fictious character Azrael, a gnome. Azrael is the creator of the entire universe. He becomes weary of his creation and wants to undo that which he has done so he and a companion begin a journey through the universe. Azrael dissolves his creation bit by bit, including himself and finally lets his companion return alone to create a new universe for himself.”