Demons & Wizards - Palladium, Worcester, MA - 4 Sep 2019


Event: Demons & Wizards: North American Tour 2019
Written by: ScreamingSteelUS
Published: 13.10.2019


Almost two years have passed since my last concert write-up. I've been to some excellent shows in that time, including an earth-shattering performance from Devin Townsend that really should have gotten some attention, and Kreator and Meshuggah are no slouches, but I'm no Abattoir; I kind of lost interest in writing up shows over time. Even considering the singular nature of this Demons & Wizards tour, I had planned to enjoy the show and selfishly confine its grandeur to my own memories. Demons & Wizards evidently sensed my reticence, however, and gave me such an unbelievable performance that I feel I have no choice but to share it with the world.

Demons & Wizards have always been extraordinary by their very nature, uniting vocalist/lyricist Hansi Kürsch of Blind Guardian and guitarist/songwriter Jon Schaffer of Iced Earth for a unique take on power metal. Schaffer brings to bear the dark, sinister moods and heavy-thrash style of power metal he popularized with Iced Earth, facilitated by his characteristic riffing style, while Hansi contributes his layered, operatic vocals and appropriately sobering lyrical concepts drawn from mythology, history, and literature. Demons & Wizards and Touched By The Crimson King enjoy renown as minor classics, combining elements of both parent bands into a rarefied distillation of despondent magnificence. For such a powerful collaboration to take to the road is itself a special event, only made more precious by the fact that it took 20 years from the project's studio debut for Demons & Wizards to embark on their first North American tour (and the only one, as it has been advertised).

Though previously the band included Iced Earth alumni Jim Morris and Mark Prator on lead guitar and drums, respectively, with the famously prolific Bobby Jarzombek taking over for Prator on the second album, this tour brought with it a new lineup: Jake Dreyer (Iced Earth, Witherfall) on lead guitar and Blind Guardian's Marcus Siepen and Frederik Ehmke on bass and drums, respectively. Keyboardist Joost van den Broek (After Forever and others) is listed as part of the band's touring lineup, but he never showed himself, even at the end, so I'm not sure whether he was ferreted away backstage the whole time or they simply used canned keys. In any event, we were looking at a band that was 60% Blind Guardian and 40% Iced Earth; I would have loved to have Andre Olbrich there, but this is very much looking a gift horse in the mouth. On this historic tour, Demons & Wizards brought with them veteran traditional metal act Lizzy Borden and the #1 export of the Faroe Islands: Týr.

My dad and I faced two major obstacles in our path to witnessing this event. First, the closest show to us was the one in New York City, but like hell we were going into NYC if we could avoid it, so we opted for the Worcester, MA show. The Palladium is some 400 miles away, which is not exactly a quick jet down the road, but it is at least a venue somewhat familiar to us both. Second, I had hobbled myself a few days beforehand by breaking my toe on an ottoman (but I got my revenge by going to see Lawrence of Arabia shortly thereafter*). It's hardly a catastrophic injury (a couple of weeks ago I ran into Nina Osegueda, who rightfully teased me for it), just the sort of banal, consistent discomfort that makes a metal show book-ended by two days of travel a little less than desirable. For once in my life, I was glad that we had seats - and on the mezzanine, no less, quite close to the edge, where nobody expects you to stand up. A choice location, as I not only wanted to keep my foot off the ground as long as possible, I wanted to hear this show and not simply mosh through it.

Since I was last there, the Palladium had been refurbished, though I couldn't say to what extent; being on the mezzanine, I had little view of the main hall, and that was where I had spent most of my time on the occasions I attended shows at the Palladium, so I don't have much to compare to. Regardless, our seats were comfortable and quite intact, but at first I did get the unfortunate impression that the quality of sound had dropped in the intervening years. This was my fifth time seeing Týr and I know them as a consistently exciting, proficient band on stage, always worth the money no matter who else is on the bill. They were no different on this occasion, but when they inaugurated the show with "Blood Of Heroes," it sounded as though they were playing in an elevator shaft. The drums were so thunderous that they overpowered the rest of the band, with the vocals struggling indistinctly and the guitars cutting through too infrequently to do the anthemic opener justice. Much of the sound was lost in echo as well, which made me apprehensive about the performances to come; fortunately, the sound gradually tightened up over the course of Týr's set, which leads me to believe that these audio troubles were just growing pains behind the sound board. By the time the band got to "By The Sword In My Hand," one of my favorites, they had recaptured a brutal crunch in the guitars and Heri Joensen's gruff vocals were definitively in control. They barreled along through most of their eight-song set before stopping for their first breath, which struck me as unusual, as I had remembered them being more gregarious - but when Heri addressed the crowd at last, he seemed to be in as high spirits as ever. He also initiated a common theme of the night: being unable to determine the proper pronunciation of the name "Worcester." It is an English name (meaning from England, not merely belonging to the language) and, therefore, pronounced in a manner ill-befitting its spelling: "woo" as in "wood" + "stir." Or, if you are from the area, "woo" + "stah." You can imagine the consternation this causes even for native English speakers.

For the issues with the sound, this particular set doesn't stack up against my previous experiences with Týr, but I count that not against the band, whose musicianship was as tight as ever, even with a recently altered lineup. Their brand of metal, drawing concise structures from traditional heavy/power and melodies from Faroese folk music, is well-suited to an energetic live performance. I look forward to my next chance to dine with them in hell.

After bidding us farewell, Týr handed over the reins to the main support, Lizzy Borden. For me, this was the night's big question mark, and for a few different reasons. First was the issue of selection: how did Lizzy Borden make it into this tour package? They strike me as archetypal of the mid-'80s American metal B-list: too glam to be thrash, too sexy to grow into Fates Warning, too non-British to be NWOBHM. I see little kinship with the melancholy grandeur of Demons & Wizards or the seafaring salt of Týr... yet it's not as though I don't appreciate (or often receive) a little variety on the bill. Just as soon defy any tour package I've seen. Second, the order: why were they the main support and not the opener, as was my initial assumption? Protocol might favor Lizzy's 15-year lead on Týr, but resorting to comparisons of Facebook followers (admittedly an imperfect barometer of popularity) shows a slim 72,000 against Týr's 247,000, and judging by the reaction I can say with certitude that the crowd was feeling more folkish than faux-Kiss that night. Third, the outcome: how would they fare onstage? I had tried a few times in the past, perhaps halfheartedly, to familiarize myself with Lizzy Borden and never got far. Nonetheless, I remained sanguine about the chances of a performance that would alter my perspective; nothing sells a band quite like a great show.

Likewise, nothing settles the matter quite like a forgettable show. My musical suspicions proved correct as Lizzy Borden rolled out a nine-song set of mild metal that did as much to keep me in my seat as my broken toe. Lizzy's voice remains in good shape after 36 years, but his clear mids fall just on the unremarkable side of Geoff Tate for me. The simple riffs and song structures buoying his abecedarian opera drove the evening's momentum into a rut between the hearty singalongs of the opener and the anticipated glory of the headliner. All that kept me interested were the various costumes that Lizzy encased himself in, changing with every song; some really captured my attention, particularly a three-faced mask, and I still don't think I have any idea what the man actually looks like. One of those costumes (debuted for "American Metal") seemed to consist of one or more American flags that Lizzy had wrapped around himself. To our non-American readers, this is something that happens sometimes in this country, and it's as gaudy as you think it is. That getup merited two raised eyebrows from myself, as did the off-the-rack theatrical arena rock that obviously peaked some decades ago; I found them a little too desirous of applause, and the rest of the band enthusiastic cheerleaders of Lizzy himself, which served to sour the spectacle. It grew increasingly apparent that I was watching a worse version of Alice Cooper, Kiss, W.A.S.P., and a lot of other bands.

Lizzy Borden did have plenty of their own fans in attendance, enough to give the band someone to pay attention to, which at least saved the performance from being terribly awkward. Judging by the audience members around me, my near-total disinterest probably put me in the minority, though I doubt many would attempt to argue that this middle portion was not the weak link of the whole evening. After returning home I did take another dive into their catalogue just to be absolutely sure, listening to Love You To Pieces and Menace To Society, and I confirmed what this show had already made abundantly clear: this band is not for me. Fortunately, their set was only unimpressive, not poorly executed, and did little to alter the tone of the night, even if I felt that we could have stopped after the second song.

Set List:
My Midnight Things
Tomorrow Never Comes
Red Rum
Notorious
Master Of Disguise
There Will Be Blood Tonight
American Metal
Me Against The World
Long May They Haunt Us

With that behind us, nothing stood in the way of Demons & Wizards, and even though my foot was beginning to swell and twinge because of the cramped quarters, I was too excited to care. This tour was being advertised as a special event, and I intended to treat it like the once-in-a-lifetime experience it probably was. As the stagehands set about erecting the scenery - a few headstones, some general graveyard imagery - Rammstein's new album blared over the PA. It seemed to fit the atmosphere even less than Lizzy Borden (despite being a lot better, in my book), but with the anticipation I could feel rolling over the crowd, I suspect no one was all that bothered; we were all beginning to fall under the Wizard's mystical spell even before he arrived. Then "Rites Of Passage" wafted over the system and the lights dimmed.

The band took the stage to thunderous approbation and ripped right into "Heaven Denies," a gut-searing thrasher so tough that it seems to spurn the power metal association; as the song faded into its hushed and forlorn second half, "Poor Man's Crusade" picked up without skipping a beat. When this heavy combination of eerie melodies ceased, it left the room fairly speechless for all of a millisecond - at which point the audience erupted into such applause that Hansi could not get a word in edgewise. Several solid minutes of unbroken cheering preceded Hansi's first formal introduction, including chants of "Hansi! Hansi!" that left the band powerless to move on. At long last, Hansi was able to quell the applause and welcomed us all to an enchanting evening with Demons & Wizards.

Blind Guardian have earned recognition as "The Bards of Metal" because of their trappings of high-culture storytelling - epic fantasy, classic literature, diverse mythology - and because of the vaunted, resonant sound that they have carefully cultivated for the preservation of these time-honored tales. It's an epithet well deserved, I think. But chief among the weavers of heavy metal myth is Hansi, the Bard of Bards, and with Demons & Wizards as with Blind Guardian he carries himself in a manner that suits few other figures in the self-indulgent sphere of metal mayhem; he is the tornado-lung screamer of a dramatic musical ensemble and he sets out to reward our toils with a fiery Wednesday evening blast just as any touring band does for the fifth time in a week, but he is a verse-spinner and a humble storyteller at heart. His gentle audience banter and waggish pokes at his bandmates can set a cavernous hall of sweaty revelers at ease, and his plainspoken narration draws in a crowd of hundreds as if they were travelers grouped around a campfire, listening to ancient songs and stories. Although there are scores of metal musicians I'd like to talk to, to interrogate about musical inspirations and future projects and common interests and the like, to me it seems that Hansi would be easiest to carry on a normal conversation with; for someone so persistently enveloped in realms of high-concept literature, he always comes off as unpretentious and good-natured, as if he were a storyteller in one of those magical worlds as well as ours.

Hansi has always been one of my favorite singers, and two phenomenal Blind Guardian shows have heightened the pedestal I've placed him on. His performance on this particular evening was nothing short of astonishing. Plenty of recordings make full use of his prodigious range - a quick trip to Imaginations From The Other Side or Nightfall In Middle-Earth reveal as much, and obviously he was singing songs that were well-known to us already - so I know that he can hit those notes and I revel in them each time I revisit them. Yet, somehow, this time Hansi put so much more soul and wind and passion into every note; it was as if he were reaching new heights hitherto unknown to his fans. He attacked every note with vigorous force, and while he hit the majority of his lines quite cleanly, in some instances he overloaded his voice with so much distortion that I can say, in effect, that I have heard Hansi Kürsch do harsh vocals. Picture those shouts at the end of "Majesty," only wilder, more sustained, and still with discernible pitch. Sometimes you'll hear singers dip into distortion if maintaining clean notes becomes too strenuous, but the vast majority of Hansi's singing was full and dynamic, as if he had just walked out of the studio - it made those harsh parts seem intentional and flattering. Though the impeccable performances of "Heaven Denies" and "Poor Man's Crusade" wrought an auspicious start to their set, I knew that Demons & Wizards had really come out swinging when they reached the midpoint of "Crimson King" and Hansi turned that scream into an earth-shaking roar that almost knocked me flat. Hansi was in peerless voice that night, and every time we arrived at a particularly tasty vocal line in "Beneath These Waves" or "Love's Tragedy Asunder" or what have you I'd think, "I had no idea he had that kind of range!", before remembering that I actually did, because I've heard those songs before - his voice was just on fire. You can imagine "Fiddler On The Green" - and we'll get to that. Now it's time for the Demon.

I fell in love with Jon Schaffer's guitar playing when I first heard Framing Armageddon, and my acquaintance with Demons & Wizards subsequently cemented Schaffer's place in my mind as heavy metal's ultimate rhythm guitarist. Schaffer palm-mutes like the hand of God pressing down on the dome of the sky; he chops up triplets with such precision it's like watching a samurai perform surgery; he grinds out riffs like a high-speed steamroller flattening junk heaps into laminate flooring. In short, I was excited to see him in a live setting (I've never managed to catch Iced Earth on tour). I had waited for so long to feel the full impact of the riffs in "Terror Train" and "Heaven Denies" and "Crimson King"; while Jake Dreyer pulled off some great leads, whatever attention I wasn't devoting to Hansi I had fixed squarely on Schaffer for almost the entire night. He later received his own chants of "Jon! Jon!" to put him even with Hansi, though this was somewhat spoiled by a couple of intoxicated rednecks sitting next to us who made it their business to cheer for Schaffer at every opportunity as if actively putting him in competition with everyone else in the band; this extended to shouting through some of Hansi's interludes and making a few Nazi-themed puns at the expense of his accent that I'm sure they thought were very amusing. Needless to say, we found that thoroughly distasteful, and they were a generally rambunctious pair that seemed to have checked their self-control at the door, but I'm happy to report that the splendor of Demons & Wizards's performance was so radiant that nothing could have spoiled it for me.

The set list contained a few glorious surprises. In addition to performing roughly two-thirds of all the extant D&W material, they sneaked in a few Blind Guardian and Iced Earth classics to commemorate the foundational meeting of the two that occurred back in 1991, shortly after the release of Blind Guardian's Tales From The Twilight World and Iced Earth's self-titled debut. From the BG side came the early classics "Welcome To Dying" and "Valhalla"; from the IE side, fan favorites "I Died For You" and "Burning Times." For those who are not aware, it is a tradition at Blind Guardian not to let the band finish playing "Valhalla." The song fades out with a quieter repetition of its chorus, which serves as a perfect opportunity for audience participation. Custom dictates that the chorus be repeated a couple hundred times - sometimes as long as the rest of the song, five or ten full minutes of chanting "Valhalla / Deliverance / Why've you ever forgotten me?" I've also seen this done for "The Last Candle," for which it works very well, but "Valhalla" is the classic - and though the eternal chorus was not quite as eternal this time (it wasn't an actual Blind Guardian show, after all), we still had our fill of singing. As excited as I was to hear Jon Schaffer lend his trademark riffing style to some of Blind Guardian's most asphalt-tearing speed demons, nothing compared to the unique experience of hearing Hansi sing Iced Earth, especially because "Burning Times" might well be my favorite Iced Earth song (it's a tough choice). "Burning Times" is in sort of an odd key for Hansi, so he did have to get a bit creative with the vocal lines, but the result was something far more sinister than I'd ever expected to hear from his mouth. I would love it if they had the chance to record a few of these crossover numbers in the studio, maybe even add a few more (can you imagine Hansi tackling "Dracula" or Schaffer polishing off "Lost In The Twilight Hall"?) - though of course they're both busy enough with their main bands as it is, and I'm content to cherish the memory of having experienced those songs live.

The night wore on and Demons & Wizards continued to deliver powerful hit after powerful hit: a haunting rendition of "Wicked Witch," a bone-chilling version of "Beneath These Waves," a brutal encore of "Blood On My Hands"... and then we came to the final song of the night. This concert was something I happened to need very much at that point in time, and "Fiddler On The Green" had become my song of the season for reasons unrelated to its impending performance; suffice it to say that the entire show was in some sense leading up to that climax. It is not only my favorite Demons & Wizards song, but one of my favorite songs full stop, and it enjoys renown as one of Hansi's finest exhibitions due in part to a series of high notes that serves as the centerpiece. After being continuously flabbergasted by Hansi's vocal acrobatics that night, I was more eager than ever to reach this part of the show - and sure enough he conquered those notes with a wild, snarling scream that channeled the somber morbidity of that song into visceral pain. It was, in a word, unbelievable.

Set List:
Rites Of Passage
Heaven Denies
Poor Man's Crusade
Crimson King
Love's Tragedy Asunder
Burning Times [Iced Earth cover]
Welcome To Dying [Blind Guardian cover]
Wicked Witch
Beneath These Waves
The Gunslinger
Terror Train
I Died For You [Iced Earth cover]
Valhalla [Blind Guardian cover]
Tear Down The Wall
Gallows Pole
My Last Sunrise

Encore:
Blood On My Hands
Fiddler On The Green

This truly was a special show and a special tour, and due to the constraints of both Blind Guardian's and Iced Earth's busy recording and touring schedules, it seems unlikely that we'll see such a thing again, at least not for a long time. It did take 20 years for one North American tour, so I think we may have seen the last of them as a traveling band. That makes this article a little unusual, because I feel that such concert reports are always in some way designed to encourage fans to attend the shows, or at least listen to the bands; otherwise, I'm just telling you about the great time that I had and you weren't there for, which is also fun, but kind of purposeless. It's a shame that D&W is such a difficult project to pull together with any frequency, but I'm very grateful that I was able to experience such a phenomenal show. It made me a bigger fan of them, for starters, and somehow found ways to make Hansi Kürsch's voice even more improbably brilliant (if you haven't realized by now that he is one of the most skillful and soulful vocalists in metal, you're wrong). And we do have something to look forward to that nobody could have predicted: a third album. Clearly both the Demon and the Wizard still have more than enough fire in their bellies, so one can only hope that Demons & Wizards 3 will be just as brilliant as the first two. Should you have the chance to see another rare performance, you should certainly take advantage of it - I'd fly another 400 miles for this, no question.



 



Written on 13.10.2019 by I'm the reviewer, and that means my opinion is correct.


Comments

Comments: 9   Visited by: 48 users
13.10.2019 - 00:33
Bad English
Masterchief
Best article in 2019, best ms work for long, one of best bands out there, same as IE and old bg
----
Life is to short for LOVE, there is many great things to do online !!!

Stormtroopers of Death - ''Speak English or Die''

I better die, because I never will learn speek english, so I choose dieing
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13.10.2019 - 10:09
RaduP
CertifiedHipster
Jesus Christ this is the longest concert review I've almost read
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Take off those stupid glasses and kiss me
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13.10.2019 - 11:31
musclassia
I've listened to the D&W albums a handful of times over the years, but the only song I'm really familiar with is Fiddler on the Green. This has probably inspired me to go back and give them another listen next time I'm out and about, great review!
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14.10.2019 - 16:17
Bad English
Masterchief
Does your old man listen metal, promote him in ms
----
Life is to short for LOVE, there is many great things to do online !!!

Stormtroopers of Death - ''Speak English or Die''

I better die, because I never will learn speek english, so I choose dieing
Loading...
14.10.2019 - 17:54
ScreamingSteelUS
Editor-in-Chief
Written by Bad English on 14.10.2019 at 16:17

Does your old man listen metal, promote him in ms

He does. We go to a lot of shows together.
----
Row, row, fight the power
Djently down the stream

I'm the Agent of Steel.
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14.10.2019 - 18:13
Bad English
Masterchief
Written by ScreamingSteelUS on 14.10.2019 at 17:54

Written by Bad English on 14.10.2019 at 16:17

Does your old man listen metal, promote him in ms

He does. We go to a lot of shows together.

Nice man, hope his grand children will Follow
----
Life is to short for LOVE, there is many great things to do online !!!

Stormtroopers of Death - ''Speak English or Die''

I better die, because I never will learn speek english, so I choose dieing
Loading...
14.10.2019 - 22:02
WorpeX
Man, I gotta say, you missed out by going to MA instead of NYC!! I went to the NYC show and it was a trip! The night started with protesters lining the street outside the venue - protesting Tyr's whaling mostly. Then it ended with Matt Barlow himself making a surprise appearance on stage with Hansi to sing "I Died For You". The crowd was wild!! Likely the most unforgettable show i've ever been to. Amazing!
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14.10.2019 - 23:05
ScreamingSteelUS
Editor-in-Chief
Written by WorpeX on 14.10.2019 at 22:02

Man, I gotta say, you missed out by going to MA instead of NYC!! I went to the NYC show and it was a trip! The night started with protesters lining the street outside the venue - protesting Tyr's whaling mostly. Then it ended with Matt Barlow himself making a surprise appearance on stage with Hansi to sing "I Died For You". The crowd was wild!! Likely the most unforgettable show i've ever been to. Amazing!

Man, that sounds amazing. A Hansi/Barlow duet would be incredible to see. More than that, I can't believe Tyr are still drawing protesters for that whaling business; I thought Heri settled that pretty reasonably back when it became a controversy. I guess there are some people with long memories and empty schedules.
----
Row, row, fight the power
Djently down the stream

I'm the Agent of Steel.
Loading...
15.10.2019 - 21:09
WorpeX
Written by ScreamingSteelUS on 14.10.2019 at 23:05

Written by WorpeX on 14.10.2019 at 22:02

Man, I gotta say, you missed out by going to MA instead of NYC!! I went to the NYC show and it was a trip! The night started with protesters lining the street outside the venue - protesting Tyr's whaling mostly. Then it ended with Matt Barlow himself making a surprise appearance on stage with Hansi to sing "I Died For You". The crowd was wild!! Likely the most unforgettable show i've ever been to. Amazing!

Man, that sounds amazing. A Hansi/Barlow duet would be incredible to see. More than that, I can't believe Tyr are still drawing protesters for that whaling business; I thought Heri settled that pretty reasonably back when it became a controversy. I guess there are some people with long memories and empty schedules.


There are some pretty good videos of the song on youtube, I even downloaded an MP3 from one of them so I can listen to the moment again in my music collection! I had actually forgotten about the Tyr thing under I saw the protestors. Thought Tyr did a good job of explaining it. I guess some people are just completely intolerant of other peoples cultures and have way too much time on their hands.

Anyway, thanks for writing this article! Really enjoyed re-living the concert again through your words. Completely agree on Lizzy Borden too. I ended up using it as an excuse to get a shirt.
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