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Five years after the release of their masterful debut, power metal duo Demons & Wizards have united again for their second effort, Touched By the Crimson King. Fans should not be disappointed, as this album follows up with even more power and beauty, and showcases the wide vocal powress of Hansi Kursch, and the many talents of Jon Schaffer on guitar. One could even go so far as to say that this team works better together than they do with their own highly-famed bands. Many guests appear on this album, including a pianist, cellist, and 3-part vocal chorus, adding an important element that even Hansi and Jon could not provide on their own. Taking into consideration the flawless production and spectacular cover artwork, we have an album that is nothing short of a masterpiece.
Touched By the Crimson King, is, as the title suggests, based largely on Stephen King's best-selling book series, The Dark Tower. This theme works perfectly to create an atmosphere of mixed evil, sadness, and bombast. Each song holds a specific tone that never fails to affect the listener, and is especially pleasant for fans of The Dark Tower, who can relate to some of the lyrics. This is particularly apparent in the opening track, "Crimson King", which demands attention from the first notes of the chorus. A strong, powerful song which is possibly the best on the album, it feels almost as if Walter O'Dim himself is singing the verses to you. Similarly, the lyrics to "Terror Train", come directly from King's world and are conveyed in a minacing, convincing manner by Kursch. Also notable are the soothing, emotional vocals found on "Wicked Witch", and the thought-provoking lyrics of a bonus-track, "Spatial Architects". Meanwhile, the chorus to "Love's Tragedy Asunder" cannot fail to remain in your head for hours after hearing it.
The mix of heavy songs and ballads convey a great amount of feeling, which shows through strongly in the gorgeous, often-present use of acoustic guitar. Schaffer is not to be underestimated, for every riff and solo is carried out flawlessly. Though the song structure is usually not extremely complicated, it is, nevertheless, very entertaining and well carried-out. The percussion is preformed by a guest, but still manages to be up to par with the rest of the instrumentation, and works with the rhythm guitar very nicely throughout. The bass is not particularly spectacular, either, but does it's job efficiently.
"The Gunslinger" is a particularly interesting album highlight. It starts off calmly yet beautifully, and then breaks into a loud, fierce verse. This contrast lasts through most of the song, and can be heard on other parts of the album as well, adding interest. In contrast, songs like "Beneath These Waves", and "Seize the Day" slightly bring down my opinion of the album as a whole, with annoying choruses and boring guitar work. The longest song on the album, "Dorian" is also the least captivating, and tends to lose my attention after a few minutes. The beautiful ballad "Down Where I Belong", however, greatly makes up for what was lost. The final track on the album is a well-executed cover of Led Zeppelin's "Immigrant Song", which, though not spectacular by any means, does justice to the original.
Despite occasional flaws, Touched By the Crimson King remains an essential part of any power metal collection, as well as a welcome addition even for those who are unfamiliar with metal. If you have an opporitunity, do not pass up the purchase of this fine 2005 release from the artists called Demons & Wizards.