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Friday 5 July 2019

A View From The Back Of The Room: Demons & Wizards (Live Review By Paul H)

Demons & Wizards, Islington Assembly Hall, London

Power metal. It’s a variable genre which ranges widely in both style and quality. American power metal is muscular, whereas German power metal is a more frenetic, intense affair. When those worlds collide, the result in Demons & Wizards. Or should that be Iced Guardian? Or Blind Earth? Well, with two thirds of the band from Blind Guardian and the other third from Iced Earth, either would probably be appropriate. If you’ve ever seen Blind Guardian, possibly THE seminal German power metal outfit apart from Helloween, you’ll know two things about their fans. A) They are fervent in their passion and knowledge of the band’s catalogue and B) they smell. Bloody awful. The smell of those who either live in a flat and don’t dry their clothes properly, those who spend all day locked away inside or those who have never ventured into the ‘Men’s’ aisle in Boots.

And so, a mere month or so after the Ed’s birthday, it was time to enjoy his birthday pressie from yours truly. A National Express coach to the smoke and a trip to Kings Cross to our reasonably priced basic but clean hotel easily negotiated, it was time to wander our way to a few hostelries on our way to the venue. Having passed one slightly hipster looking pub, about which Matt remarked “I’m not going in there. It’s full of cunts”, we found several public houses which served beer, and a range of prices to match. Anyway, enough of the pre-gig shenanigans, it was soon time to join the queue of computer techs and laboratory assistants who were stood, blinking in the sunlight like escaped lab rats, in the expectant queue for what was the debut gig from Demons & Wizards.

For those who don’t know, Demons & Wizards were formed in the late 1990s by Hansi Kürsch (Blind Guardian) and Jon Schaffer (Iced Earth). They have released a mere two albums, 1999’s Demons & Wizards and 2005’s Touched By The Crimson King. Both follow the Blind Guardian style, but with a little more of the Iced Earth bicep flex. Whilst the band have been hitting high spots on the European Festival circuit, their appeal in the UK remains more niche and although the crowd was healthy their first ever UK show was not full.

Crippled by a dreadful mix, UK metal outfit Dendera (6) had the honour of opening proceedings. The last time I’d seen the South Coast outfit was at Fuel last year, supporting NWOBHM legends Demon. This was a gig slightly more suited to their high energy level metal, and they gave it a good go to a crowd who slowly responded to the honest endeavour on stage. In front man Ashley Edison, Dendera have a man whose vocals are suited to the power metal genre (even more so with Power Quest).With promising new song Endless Suffering premiered alongside older songs from Pillars Of Creation and Blood Red Floor, Dendera have the chops and the energy to push for more recognition. Having been around for several years, the band are seasoned veterans on the UK circuit and are always worth a watch.

As the clock edged towards 9pm, the day may have started to cool outside, but temperatures were escalating inside the Assembly Hall. Unfortunately, this meant that those with the lovely odours were starting to ripen and it was really starting to pong inside the main hall. Luckily things on the stage were about to help distract from the haze around us. Billed as A Magical Encounter With Demons & Wizards, the next hour and three quarters lived up to the billing. An opening duo of Heaven Denies and Poor Man’s Crusade got the venue excited, with Demons & Wizards (9) prompting much fist pumping and head nodding as the band accelerated quickly to find their groove. Schaffer, stage right, all healthy glow with his shorn silver barnet, goatee and huge rope chain around his neck, dispersed riffs as if they were going out of fashion.

Behind him Guardian powerhouse Fredrik Ehruke did exactly what he does at every show and battered the crap out of his kit whilst alongside him award winner composer and musician Joost Van Den Broek added the keyboards and backing vocals. Stage left, the presence of Iced Earth axeman Jake Dreyer and Guardian’s rhythm guitarist Marcus Siepen who was delivering bass duties. Of course, focus is always on Kürsch and it’s no wonder. Despite these days looking more like a bank manager than rock star, Kürsch possesses one of the finest voices in metal and this was another killer performance from the German.

As Demons & Wizards motored through an 18-song set list, the Guardian faithful became more and more animated with the odd small pit breaking out sporadically. The first cover was however, Burning Times (From Iced Earth’s seminal Something Wicked This Way Comes) with Kürsch comfortably handling the Matt Barlow vocals. Then the first Guardian cover, and it was an oldie but a goodie. Welcome To Dying from 1990’s Tales Of The Twilight World got the first full singalong of the evening, and the stench increased further. Wicked Witch sensibly took the tempo down a notch or two, the acoustic guitar part delivered neatly by Schaffer. The set was superbly paced, and the band slowly wound the pace up again, The Gunslinger leading into adding another Iced Earth cover (I Died For You) before the epic singalong of Valhalla, from 1989’s Follow The Blind which was mighty impressive apart from the chronic halitosis of the fan next to me which had me retching).

Kursch was in mischievous form with his banter, whilst the rest of the band were content to do what they do so well; deliver superb quality music. As the time passed, including the epic trio that close out Demons & Wizards, Tear Down The Wall, Gallows Pole and My Last Sunrise. Suddenly it was encore time and Blood On My Hands segued into a beautiful Fiddler On The Green to close down a fabulous evening. Escaping into the fresh evening air was fantastic, and a note to self to once again learn to breath through the mouth only. Seriously, a can of deodorant should come with every ticket in future. Luckily, the unwashed Guardian fans were usurped by the quality of the music. And for that, I am truly thankful.

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