I suppose a couple of preconceptions can easily be attached to this long-awaited album from Demons & Wizards. It’s called “III”…it’s their third album – an obvious one. It’s a project by Jon Schaffer and Hansi Kürsch so it will contain Metal that is predominantly a mixture of Iced Earth and Blind Guardian…which of course, it does. But before anyone dares to label or pigeon-hole this album, Demons & Wizards proved on more than one occasion during their self titled 2000 debut and 2005 follow-up “Touched By The Crimson King”, that these two wily stalwarts from different continents always have a trick or two up their sleeve when it comes to their infrequent collaborations. That said, Demons & Wizards always were, and basically still are, nearer Iced Earth with Hansi Kürsch on vocals rather than the contrary. Schaffer has such a distinctive guitar and writing style that it would be a bit of a stretch to be anything else, but Kürsch’s flamboyant touches via his instantly recognisable vocals will always elevate proceedings, and once again they do. This also gives Schaffer the freedom to explore a little more European Symphonic/Power Metal than he normally would, and thus this third Demons & Wizards album begins to grow and expand as its predecessors did.

“III” is bookended by two of the album’s longer tracks ‘Diabolic’ and ‘Children of Cain’, weighing in at 8 and 10 minutes respectively, where both songwriters indulge their penchants for the epic with atmosphere and power thrown around almost at will, giving people what they want, desire and expect from Demons & Wizards. But once you get into the meat of the album, there are more unexpected wonders to discover. It’s so refreshing to hear the fabulous voice of Hansi Kürsch relying on impactful and memorable vocal melodies rather than being swamped by choirs and orchestration as can happen with modern-day Blind Guardian. Tracks like ‘Invincible’ ‘Universal Truth’ and ‘Wolves In Winter’ are an absolute joy to hear as Kürsch is given the room by Schaffer’s guitar lines to paint vocal masterpieces as he used to with apparent ease in Blind Guardian back in the mid-to-late 90’s. Don’t get me wrong, there are occasional choirs on “III” and each song is a full musical arrangement, but the main focal points on each track are both the guitar of Schaffer and the vocals of Kürsch…as it should be.

There’s more though, so much more, like the melancholic monolithic heaviness of ‘Timeless Spirit’ that exudes piercing poignancy, rumbling malevolence and dark atmosphere at every turn. Then there’s the almost AC/DC-tinged ‘Midas Disease’…which turns out fittingly to be Jon Schaffer’s tribute to Malcolm Young, but given the D&W treatment, still fits perfectly with its album-mates. So much time has passed since “Touched By The Crimson King”, and it shows, but in a really positive way. The depth, variation and wealth of songs on “III” is a testament to two people who have done more, seen more, written more, travelled more and experienced so much more than the last time they created anything musically together. This album feels almost like a welcome distraction, maybe even a cleansing process that means they can return to their respective bands with renewed energy and vigour. Of course, I could be reading far too much into it and this is just a great album from two excellent musicians and songwriters…yeah…that’s probably it…

(9/10 Andy Barker)