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Demons & Wizards (January 2020)


Their coming back was unexpected! And yet, 15 years after their second album, Hansi Kürsch and Jon Schaffer are back with a third opus that the singer of Blind Guardian came to present to you.
DARIALYS - 07.02.2020 - 5 picture(s) - (0) comment(s)
After 15 years of waiting, we couldn't believe it. Very busy with their respective bands Blind Guardian and Iced Earth, Hansi Kürsch and Jon Schaffer had never given up the idea of releasing a third album one day, as soon as they had a big enough window of opportunity. Demons & Wizards did better than Tool in keeping their fans waiting for a decade and a half, but this third opus was worth it.

First of all, I would like to go back 20 years to 2000. At that time, you released "Nightfall In The Middle-Earth" with Blind Guardian, and 2 years later, in 2002, you released "A Night At The Opera". In the meantime, you created Demons & Wizards. Do you regret those golden years?

Hansi Kürsch: (Laughs) No, it was a very exciting time. We started touring more and more. That's one of the reasons why this is only the third Demons & Wizards album in 15 years. It's not that we wanted to release fewer albums, it's just that Blind Guardian and Iced Earth take up a lot of our time.

Looking back, what do you think of Hansi at that time?

Hansi: The album I worked hardest on was Nightfall In The Middle-Earth. We worked on it in a very short period of time. The same day we finished the recording of the vocals, the mixing, and sent it to the label. It was completely crazy. We went to Copenhagen in Denmark to start the promo of the album, and then we went on a tour after that. After finishing the tour of "Nightfall In The Middle-Earth", I was a wreck! I felt really bad, really exhausted, and I was in a very negative state of mind, it never happened to me like that again. At that time, Demons & Wizards had just started and it was less stressful, because it was something I really wanted to do. I then had a big hearing problem. So I withdrew a little bit from it. After we finished our album with Demons & Wizards, we immediately moved on to "A Night At The Opera", but I was doing a little bit better. And then I was lucky enough to become a father. My wife and I had been working on it for a long time, so it was also stressful.



So it's been a stressful time for you.

Hansi: It was very exciting with all these albums coming out. I was able to take some time off when my son was born. Three weeks later, the Twin Towers fell down. Since then, the world has been in a state of emergency. The problem today is that a lot of time elapses between albums because of touring! But being able to work on both Blind Guardian and Demons & Wizards was a blessing. With time, I learned that I needed to take breaks between albums, that is to say between each album, and the other musicians too. We're getting older, I have a family, and after each tour, I want to be able to fully invest myself in my family for 3 or 4 months without having the head at Blind Guardian.

Demons & Wizards' second album, "Touched By The Crimson King", released in 2005, was less well received by the critics. Do you have an explanation for that? Does it come from the style of music? Were you less inspired on this album?

Hansi: Personally, I prefer this album to our first one. Jon (Schaffer, rhythm guitarist and bass player) would agree with you, he slightly prefers the first one, although he thinks "Touched By The Crimson King" is a very impressive album.

As for me, I'm talking about the reception of the audience!

Hansi: I think we had much higher expectations from the first album. People knew what Demons & Wizards looked like now. When we announced the release of the first album, there was a big expectation from the public, but nobody knew what to really expect. People didn't expect anything exactly, except good music. Then the album came out and they liked it. The second album is always the hardest one, for all bands.

Demons & Wizards' third album is about to be released. It's been so long since the release of the second one (15 years) that I guess you don't have any particular expectation? This album may even remind you of the first one!

Hansi : Working with Jon again, things haven't changed much over time. There was so much time between the two albums that I myself didn't really know what to expect musically. It was an unexpected new start for the band even though there's really the influence of the first two albums on the third one, because it's still an album written by Jon and me. We can't deny our roots!

Do you think that the fact of having toured with Demons & Wizards before the release of "III" (the new Demons & Wizards album) explains the good reception of the public? And is it this tour that made you want to release a new album?

Hansi: It was the other way round: we had already announced that we would release an album. That's how we played at Wacken and Hellfest. Even though it's unusual for a band to go on tour before the release of an album, it helped to remind people who had forgotten us, especially young people who might not even know us. Now people know we're releasing a third album. We wrote the songs before the tour. Most of the instrumental parts were actually recorded before we went on tour. The recording of the vocals was done during the tour, so that tour had an impact on the way I approached the vocals on the album.

What's your opinion about this kind of bands? Bands like Sabaton, Powerwolf, or more recently Battle Beast or Brothers Of Metal... Do you think these bands have brought some new blood to the heavy metal scene? Would you say that they are your heirs in a certain way?

Hansi: Well... it's not easy to say. They are successful bands that make people happy, so they deserve all this. They especially bring in young people.

It can also give the younger ones a chance to get to know Demons & Wizards.

Hansi: I don't know, I've heard that yes, some people go back in time and listen to the groups before those. If these bands consider Iced Earth and Demons & Wizards as an influence for them, then people will go and listen to us. Concerning Blind Guardian, I don't think we have much in common with them. In any case these bands do a good job and have been well received by the public. I'm glad that there are bands for this new generation, that's the most important thing. Among the bands you mentioned, I really like the singer of Battle Beast (Noora Louhimo, editor's note). She's a very good singer.

Your new album is simply called "III". Why didn't you want to give it a more powerful title, linked to the artwork and themes delivered by the album?

Hansi: Basically, our intention was to give a number to each album. We made a mistake with "Touched By The Crimson King" which was finally called like that! (Laughs). We thought "III" was a very appropriate title for this album. We like 70s rock, and Led Zeppelin called their first albums "I", "II", "III" and "IV". I think that's where the idea came from. We never paid too much attention to the album titles, but the number 3 is a very powerful number. If you look at the mythology, the Catholic religion, it's a very significant number. It's related to the "profane trilogy" (literal translation of the original term "unholy trinity" as described in John Milton's book "Paradise Lost") which represents the union of Lucifer, Beelzebub and Satan. It's all on the album cover and it's all connected. Also, the album highlights the story of 3 people, so the title "III" made sense.

Did you doubt that the alchemy between you and Jon would be the same as before? On the listener's side, this alchemy seems obvious because everything is very fluid. There's still the freshness of the first album on "III". Did you try to maintain this freshness and this alchemy of the time?

Hansi: No, I think it all came naturally. We never talked about stopping Demons & Wizards, it's just that our main bands didn't give us the possibility to write new songs with this band. During all these years, we kept going our own way and this can be felt in our music, just like it's the case for Iced Earth and Blind Guardian too. But there was no pressure to release this album. We managed to find the opportunity to work together again, knowing that we wouldn't have much time, so we were very focused during this period. We were both very excited to work on this album. I really believe that sometimes you can't decide these things. Every time, we try to release the best possible album, which is the case for all the musicians and all the bands, at least 99% of the time. I don't want to release an album that doesn't appeal to the fans or that doesn't appeal to me. To pick up on the question from earlier, we liked the album "Touched By The Crimson King", otherwise we wouldn't have released it. It's the same for this album. Sometimes, when we write music, we say to ourselves that this song may not please the fans because it's different from the rest, but this time, I think that all the songs can please the fans of all our bands.

There's a real bond between you and Jon. There is a union of your two universes, Blind Guardian and Iced Earth, especially on songs like 'Invincible', 'New Dawn' or 'Final Warning'. There is the powerful sound of Iced Earth combined with the epic and melodic universe of Blind Guardian. Is the DNA of this band a mix of your respective universes?

Hansi: Let's just say it's a cool side effect! Creating something new is our real goal. We want to create a universe that is connected to our respective personalities. That's the idea. The fact that you feel vibes from both groups is just a consequence of that. Our vision is to find a space between these two groups and to free ourselves from these two groups. The musical universe remains the same because it's part of us. I won't be offended if some people say: "it's a band with the singer of Blind Guardian and he uses roughly the same techniques as with Blind Guardian", and I'm pretty sure Jon thinks the same thing. This album is an opportunity for us to express ourselves. The idea I have of myself in this band and the way I feel is not the same as when I'm with Blind Guardian.

The epic side of the songs is striking on this album, so much so that it's close to a book or a movie, especially thanks to your voice which gives it a cinematic side. Was that the goal?

Hansi: I'm glad you said that. Yes, that's still my goal!

Your voice is like that of a narrator, it varies a lot. Is it also your goal on the Blind Guardian albums?

Hansi: On the album "Beyond The Red Mirror" (from 2015, editor's note) and on "A Night At The Opera" (2002, editor's note), you can feel it more because they are albums where there are more details. There are a lot of orchestrations, André (Olbrich, the band's guitarist, editor's note) has a more melodic approach than usual on guitar. Vocally, I have to adapt. I'm recording more tracks on vocals. I do the same on the Demons & Wizards album but I think it's less noticeable because the music is more "compact", a bit more compressed, so it's less audible. The big advantage of this Demons & Wizards album is that it was released after "Twilight Orchestra : Legacy Of The Dark Lands" by Blind Guardian, because this album gave me the opportunity to experiment with different characters in my singing. The "narrative" side you were talking about is even more forward than on the Demons & Wizards album. On "III", I'm in my comfort zone because I was able to experiment all this before.

The track 'Timeless Spirit' has a more atmospheric and airy side than the others. There's even a progressive touch that reminds me of bands like Yes and Pink Floyd. Do you agree? There's also a melancholic side, as if you were trying to mix atmospheres.

Hansi: Thank you! I agree. On 'Timeless Spirit', there is a classic 70s rock side to it. It's a genre we are passionate about. What we like on the first two Demons & Wizards albums are the atmospheric elements, like the end of 'Heaven Denies' (on the first eponymous album, editor's note). Before we started writing the album, we talked about all that. We wanted to explore the influence of Pink Floyd. When Jon went off on a trip into the desert he felt very inspired. 'Timeless Spirit' is about that. That's also why I asked him to do the lyrics. I wrote the melody of the song based on the elements of the desert landscape he saw. He doesn't want the lyrics to be too precise for people to be able to interpret them as they wish, but my interpretation is that if you face your previous incarnations, then you're safe.

That's very interesting! Diabolic' is the first single and it reflects much more the sound of Demons & Wizards with a long and melancholic intro, the rise before a quieter moment. Was the purpose of this single to say: "We are Demons & Wizards, we are back stronger than ever" ?

Hansi: Yes! That was our intention. We really waited before writing a song like 'Diabolic'. With Blind Guardian, in many cases, it's often the last song you write that opens the album. This is true on the album "Beyond The Red Mirror" with the title 'The Ninth Wave' which is the last song we wrote. We try to put ourselves in this state of mind. That was also the case with 'Diabolic'. We already had all the necessary ingredients for the album, and we were missing a song to open the album, a song that would be a wink to our state of mind at the time. Diabolic' was the best song on that level. We wanted to make our comeback by putting in a first track that was recognizable, in a way, even if some aspects are surprising, like the atmosphere, which is brutal, to give the listener a glimpse of what he'll be able to listen to afterwards.

The last track, 'Children Of Cain', brings the melancholic and dark side of the album back to the fore, with a folk side to it. Was it important for you to show this sensitive side of the band?

Hansi: Yes, it was. For me, this song is the best song on the album. It's the one that gave me the most pleasure when I worked on it with 'Midas Disease'. This song has a world that I wanted to explore in terms of vocals. On each part, I found 2 or 3 potential vocal lines, all very good. The voice is a bit lower and darker. I wanted it to be melancholic, a bit sad, and I wanted it to be reflected in the lyrics that tell a story that happens in a dystopian society. This imaginary society is very similar to ours. There are just a few small things that change. Killing your brother in that society is an established way to become an adult. It's even the only way. If you refuse, you can't be a member of this society. We're following one of these characters who is about to commit this ritual. At that moment, he has the vision that he is the reincarnation of Cain, so he decides to kill his whole generation, which is a crime. He is then banished from society, but there are ups and downs in the story. There's a lot of gayer moments in history. I tried to make it felt in the song and in the lyrics.

Some songs are quite different from the rest of the album like 'Midas Disease'. It's a straightforward song, and it's quite surprising. It could be reminiscent of AC/DC with its simple riff, W.A.S.P. or Twisted Sisters on vocals. Is this song a kind of tribute to old school heavy metal?

Hansi: Yes, you can almost say it like that. Anyway, the idea was to write a very direct and punchy song from the beginning. For Jon, there was also the will to do a tribute to Malcolm Young (rhythm guitarist and founding member of AC/DC, editor's note). I also consider this song as a tribute to AC/DC. For my part, I tried to pay tribute to Brian Johnson and Bon Scott (the two emblematic singers of AC/DC, editor's note). There's also an Alice Cooper side to it and a 70's atmosphere in general. What you say about W.A.S.P., a lot of people told me that too. Jon often says that on certain keys, my voice sounds a bit like Blackie Lawless's (from W.A.S.P., editor's note), but I didn't aim to be inspired by his singing.

What do you expect from this album? And what are your projects? With Jon, you are both very busy with your respective bands, Blind Guardian and Iced Earth. Can we expect a live album for example? Another Demons & Wizards album?

Hansi: I hope this album will be a great success. This is what will condition the future of Demons & Wizards in the near future.

So depending on the reception that will be given to this album, it may have short-term repercussions on Blind Guardian? If this album works well, will it be able to postpone the release of the next album of Blind Guardian?

Hansi : No, it won't. Neither the Blind Guardian album nor the Iced Earth album will be postponed. Now, we will both go back to our main bands. We will stop promoting this album when it is released and immediately go back to work with our respective bands. We have events that will take place throughout the year with Demons & Wizards, but no gigs because we won't have the time.

There are no tour plans, but what if this album is a big success?

Hansi: 2020 and 2021 will be dedicated to Blind Guardian and Iced Earth. It's already planned. We are going to record an album with Blind Guardian, and as soon as we start touring, we won't be able to stop playing to do something else. If the album is as successful as we hope, we might not wait 15 or 20 years before releasing the next one! Then maybe we'll be able to consider going on tour with Demons & Wizards.

Today, we don't generate any more money from album sales. Only the concerts bring in money. What would be the point of releasing another album with Demons & Wizards if there is no tour?

Hansi: I'm very old school so I disagree with you. You can still make money today without playing a concert. I'm living proof of that! We haven't toured in the last three years with Blind Guardian! We dedicated our time to Demons & Wizards. Blind Guardian has not been back on stage since 2016 and we will not play again before 2021!

But maybe you made money with your old records too, more than with your newer ones!

Hansi: Yes and no. Streaming isn't that bad. Every six months we have a little money coming in, enough to factor it into the calculations. I'd be lying if I said that physical format albums sold as well today as they did ten years ago! That's not the case, that's a fact.

I don't realize at all how much money a band like Blind Guardian can earn with streaming over a year. When you see that a streaming listening earns 0.001 €...

Hansi : 0.007 € ! (Laughs). It's that with Blind Guardian, we have ten or eleven albums that generate, let's say, 50 million listenings a year, if you count Apple, Spotify, etc. Maybe we only have 30 million, I don't know. You have to divide that by the number of songs, let's say 10 songs per album.

Let's say at €0.001 per listen, that generates €50,000 to Blind Guardian per year. That's still not enough to live on!

Hansi : No, it's not enough. But we mustn't forget the physical market! We sell a lot of physical albums!

So you manage to make a living from your music?

Hansi: Yes. We have to integrate other sources of income as well. There's merchandising for example. With Blind Guardian, we toured constantly for almost 2 years for example, then we stopped for 4 years. We made money in addition to the revenues from album sales and streaming. That allows us to live without depriving ourselves too much. Jon and I don't depend on Demons & Wizards for a living. We do it for fun, because we can do it.

As Blind Guardian is coming back, do you plan to come back to France in a while to promote your next album?

Hansi: I hope so! I'd really like to. I really like to play music, and it's the only thing I can do. If you asked me to become a salesman in the bank or a teacher, it would be worse for me than selling fewer albums than 20 years ago! I think there's still a physical record market. Some people are still very interested in that, otherwise there wouldn't be any more records. Labels like Century Media or Nuclear Blast are like us, they want the record to keep on living. They want to sell physical albums. If I have to go on tour to make a living out of music, I will, but not for very long, because I need to get back to my normal life, to get back to my private life. That's what keeps me creative and having fun.

Merci beaucoup !

Hansi : De rien !

Thanks to Noise for his contribution.

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Iii (2020)
After a long sleep that one might have thought eternal, Demons & Wizards makes a miraculous comeback by regaining the class and magic of its first album. Read all reviews regarding DEMONS & WIZARDS
DEMONS & WIZARDS: details on 'III'
Read all news regarding DEMONS & WIZARDS
Grammy Award nominees are back, Highly Suspect are once again in the spotlight !
Technique and musicality are on the program of this reunion of three exceptional musicians.

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