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Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Album Review - Electric Wizard: Black Masses

Grab the Ouija board and gather round my friends, because Great Britain’s favorite occult worshipping sons (and daughter), collectively known as Electric Wizard, are back with Black Masses, an album chock full of distortion laced, drug induced doom. The band has dealt with yet another change-up to their rhythm section since we last saw them, a trend that started way back in 2003 when original bassist Tim Bagshaw and drummer Mark Greening both split to form Ramesses. This time its Bagshaw’s replacement Rob Al-Issa who’s called it quits and Tas Danazoglou has stepped in to take his place. The rest of Electric Wizard’s lineup remains unchanged from the 2007 version that recorded Witchcult Today with Liz Buckingham on guitar, Shaun Rutter behind the drums and of course the ever present bandleader, and only original member, Jus Oborn on vocals and guitar.

The album opens with “Black Mass” followed by “Venus in Furs”, making for one of the best one-two punches to open a doom album since Black Sabbath followed up “War Pigs” with the title track on their Paranoid album. And what an apropos comparison to make, seeing as Electric Wizard are perfectly content to wear their Sabbath influences directly on their sleeve. I mean at times Oborn’s vocals are a dead ringer for a young Ozzy and the intentional underproduction of the album gives it a noticeably campy feel, making it seem as though you’ve stumbled upon some long lost recording from 1970 rather than something made in 2010. “Black Mass” is a noisy, rumbling, juggernaut of a song that features buzz-saw guitars, a crushing breakdown and one hell of a chorus (literally) that sees Oborn wailing “Hear me Lucifer”. And “Venus in Furs” keeps that momentum alive with its down tuned and downright evil sounding riff, amazing soloing throughout the song and unbelievably catchy chorus.

It’s track three, “Night Child” where the problem with Black Masses starts to rear its ugly head. The song itself isn’t altogether bad…in fact it starts off as another heavy, sludgy slice of lumbering doom-rock goodness for about four minutes, at which point it should probably come to an end. But that isn’t what happens, instead Electric Wizard continue to bludgeon the listener with the same monotonous riff over and over and over while repeating the same monotonous chorus over and over and over. It’s as if Jus and company seemed to lose their focus after that amazing start to the album, and instead of stopping at the song’s logical conclusion, they decided to drag it kicking and screaming into eight minute territory just for the sake of making another long song, not because they really had anything new to add to it, musically or lyrically.

But the band recovers with “Patterns of Evil” which sees them diving back into the rollicking, lo-fi darkness of the first two tracks. The song just oozes vintage metal with its slightly echoed vocals buried in the mix, its muffled drums, and tinny cymbals and absolutely crushing, fuzzed out guitar tones. I’m telling you, this shit sounds RETRO and it is bad fucking ass. “Satyr IX” is a ten minute dirge that slows things waaaay back down. The song is a complete sludge-fest that lulls you with the same trudging riff for a good five minutes before it finally shifts gears, albeit briefly, just in time for Jus to chant “rise…rise…legions of hatred” before it devolves into four minutes of droning chaos and noise that is the musical equivalent of throwing your eardrums into a blender. This song is an exercise in listener patience for those who aren’t stoned, but if you survive, you’ll be rewarded with the psych-core freak-out that is “Turn off Your Mind”, Electric Wizard’s apparent ode to acid and the album’s highlight in my opinion as it kind of reminds me of Blind era CoC.

“Scorpio Curse” serves as our final taste of the true Electric Wizard sound and it is a seven and a half minute textbook lesson in hallucinogenic doom, featuring another thunderous riff, depressing, apocalyptic lyrics (”this world is dead”) and ending with pure aural bedlam. It is not however, the last song on the album. Black Masses concludes with an instrumental of sorts called “Crypt of Drugula”, a track awash with guitars, lightning crashes and other effects that make it sound more like the soundtrack to a B rate horror movie than an actual song. It would be an interesting album closer if it didn’t carry on for far too long, repeating the same monotonous sound effects for nearly nine minutes.

So with Black Masses, Electric Wizard has given us a bit of a mixed bag. Where the album succeeds, it is truly some of the darkest, heaviest and downright evil doom rock you are liable to find anywhere. And the production on this thing makes you feel like you’re listening to it on an old record player in your parent’s basement…which just adds to the album’s aura, mystique and overall effect. Sadly that effect is broken during the instances where the band wrestles with how or more precisely, when to bring their songs to their logical conclusion. At those times, this album can try even the most seasoned listener’s patience. If you’re an Electric Wizard fan, then it doesn’t matter anyway, because you diehards have already bought the deluxe boxed LP complete with glossy “Crypt of Drugula” comic book. For everyone else, give this a listen and hear for yourself.

Track Listing:

01: Black Mass
02: Venus in Furs
03: Night Child
04: Patterns of Evil
05: Satyr IX
06: Turn off your Mind
07: Scorpio Curse
08: Crypt of Drugula

Band Members:

Jus Oborn - Vocals/Guitar
Liz Buckingham - Guitar
Tas Danazoglou - Bass
Shaun Rutter - Drums

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