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Demons & Wizards Touched By the Crimson King

By Mark "The World Eater" Morton, Contributor
Monday, August 8, 2005 @ 10:04 PM


(SPV)

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It’s one thing to rehash one’s previous successes when the formula consists of a historic track-record of 3-4 minute staples (i.e. AC/DC, KISS, Motörhead, Bolt Thrower, etc.), but with some musical styles and artists, fans become prone to expecting a bit of progression with age and experience. I’ve always felt that the purpose of doing side-projects was to explore other musical avenues, embrace unconventional songwriting themes, and express one’s self beyond the confines of his chosen sub-genre – essentially, an experiment in transmuting sound into something that does not sound like one’s priority band! Perfect examples of this include Geoff Tate’s ultra-risky self-titled solo album, Bruce Dickinson’s oddly accessible Skunkworks disc, Mike Amott’s Arch Enemy (yes, true believers, Arch Enemy was originally intended to be a spin-off of Spiritual Beggars, but thanks to a certain ‘gimmick’, it overtook the main project’s relevance), Peter Tagtgren’s frighteningly electro-goth Pain, and the list goes on. A few artists are so prolific, like the schizophrenic Mike Patton or the multi-faceted Dan Swanö that they can carry on a wellspring of projects simultaneously that barely resemble one another, but I’m getting off topic.

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I know I will probably catch hell for this, as, for some reason beyond me, but Jon Schaffer seems to be revered worldwide as some kind of guitar messiah. However, upon close inspection to the new Demons & Wizards CD, the album can be quickly written off as one of those Marvel Comics-made famous “What If…?” scenarios. In this case, ‘What if Hansi Kursch took the Iced Earth job instead of Ripper Owens?’ Don’t get me wrong, Schaffer is a proficient guitarist, but for all intended purposes, he is a one-trick pony, only interested in writing in one formatted mode, with the remarkable exception of last year’s epic song “The Glorious Burden” and scattered moments throughout the first Demons & Wizards disc.

To the project’s credit, the new album is very well produced, and the listener is easily able to hear the crisp distinction between the evenly meshed instruments. However, every song is choked to the gills with Schaffer’s trademark hyper-Maiden-gallop that one begins to wonder if this is actually new material and not leftover scraps from previous Iced Earth writing sessions. Honestly, the leadoff track “Crimson King” could have very well been alternately titled “Stormrider Part II” and “Terror Train” could have easily been assimilated into the Something Wicked This Way Comes album, and no one would have been the wiser. Even the terribly underrated Bobby Jarzombek’s break-neck, ‘true metal’ drum style is buried beneath Schaffer’s single-minded vision. Regarding Hansi Kursch’s performance on Touched By the Crimson King, however, he pulls through with his head held high; seeming to re-harness the energy and passion he had bled into the Imaginations From the Other Side album. I know it’s hypocritical of me to liken his performance to something he’d previously done with his main band, but in this instance, it truly feels like he was only playing the hand he was dealt.

This was another album I had initially been anticipating, based on Jon’s forward-motion on The Glorious Burden and the renaissance-like charm of the first Demons & Wizards release. Unfortunately, nothing on Touched By the Crimson King stands out as truly exceptional, but like I had previously mentioned, die-hard Schaffer fans will swallow it in one gulp.

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