As an ‘economically’ and ‘geographically’ isolated youth, my only consistent connections to the Heavy Metal genre lay within sporadically obtained copies of Metal Edge, Metal Maniacs and Rip magazines. Accordingly, I often found myself making purchases based entirely on the the impact–or lack thereof–of the corresponding cover art. While utilizing such a decision making process occasionally failed spectacularly, the end results were often rewarding. Among the most memorable of these experiences was my discovery of Power Metal icons Iced Earth via Night Of The Stormrider (1991). Quickly becoming an utterly obsessive fan of Jon Schaffer’s various conceptual exploits, this impromptu indoctrination would lead to a long and disturbingly intense love affair. Now, nearly thirty (!) years later, I again find myself indirectly fascinated by the group with the release of the oft-mighty III, the latest–and quite possibly greatest–offering from the iconic Super Group Demons & Wizards.
On the brilliant III (2020), an expertly assembled eleven song collection of Power and Progressive Heavy Metal, each track, beginning with the slow-building–albeit relentlessly pummeling–“Diabolic” and the fist-pumping, mosh-inducing gem “Wolves In The Winter”, instantly commands the rapt and undivided attention of even the most jaded and unimaginative of listeners, myself most definitely included. Driving home each key focal point via a primarily mid-tempo assemblage of multi-octave vocals, blistering fretwork and imaginatively punishing rhythms, the group wastes little–if any–time reminding us of their more-than-considerable lyrical and compositional prowess. Having repeatedly proven themselves capable of the grandiosity only a purveyor of the Power (and, to a lesser extent, Progressive Metal) sub-genres are capable of offering, the depth of their intensities will serve as no surprise for those fully aware of the group’s penchants for over-the-top deliciousness.
Continuing with the haunting, acoustic-shaded Neo-ballad “Timeless Spirit” and the galloping, undeniably soaring–tirade “Dark Side Of Her Majesty”, the unnervingly airtight combination of Blind Guardian vocalist Hansi Kürsch, guitarists Jon Schaffer (Iced Earth, Purgatory, Sons Of Liberty), Jake Dreyer and Jim Morris (of Morrisound Recording fame), bassist Ruben Drake and drummer Brent ‘Deadly’ Smedley (ex-Prodigy, Tempest Reign), steamrolls ahead with what can only be described as a well-rehearsed ease. Effortlessly engulfing the proverbial average listener amid a veritable avalanche of complex, multi-layered tonalities, the group showcases their painstakingly well-documented virtuosic talents while maintaining a maddeningly infectious accessibility. While obviously reminiscent of both Blind Guardian and Iced Earth in the most purest of essences, the group’s initial excursions succeed without borrowing too heavily from either, serving as a testament to their creativity.
Co-Engineered and Mixed by a conglomeration of Charlie Bauerfeind (Angra, Gamma Ray, Helloween), Jim Morris (Cannibal Corpse, Death, Savatage), After Forever alumni Joost van den Broek and Tommy Geiger, other standouts, including the delightfully melodic, hook-laden “Universal Truth” and the oft-exhaustive–if not outright epic–closer “Children Of Cain”, offer a wealth of further evidence in support of the group’s dominance. Easily the long-gestating group’s most potent and thoroughly satisfying effort to date (surpassing both their self-titled debut and the equally ingenious Touched By The Crimson King, 2005), the end result(s) of Kürsch and Schaffer’s unnervingly concerted efforts once again exceed all but the most pessimistic of expectations. While we’re obviously ‘late’ to the ‘game’ with our critiques (III was released world-wide on 02/21/20), the group have once again delivered the proverbial goods, resulting in a true watershed moment for the Power Metal sub-genre.
But is it really that good? Absolutely! A true must-have for any genuine and sincere Blind Guardian or Iced Earth enthusiast, the majority–if not all–of the decidedly overwhelming wares contained herein are seemingly guaranteed to leave their already notoriously bloodthirsty constituents wanting for more. Most definitely not for the faint of heart (or, for that matter, anyone without a genuine and sincere appreciation of all things Power Metal and Power Metal-related), what ultimately separates the group from their few legitimate contemporaries is a ceaseless dedication to crafting lastingly memorable materials. Love ’em or loathe ’em, this is quite possibly as good as it gets. Accordingly, if you’ve once again found yourself in search of a truly authentic, Old School alternative to the painfully mindless din and clatter that so often masquerades as the mainstream, then this, my friends, might just be the high-octane cure-all for what it is that ails you. Trust me, you will not be disappointed.