Subtle only when it comes to revealing their lineup info (their Facebook page refers to them as “some dudes”), Atlanta, Georgia, five-piece Wizard Smoke emit caustic riff-driven sludge underscored with elements of guitar psych and more extreme metal. They made their debut with 2009’s giveaway EP, Live Rock in Hell (review here), and they now follow that with their first full-length cassette/vinyl/download, The Speed of Smoke. In case you’re wondering, smoke moves pretty slow for the most part, and so do Wizard Smoke, who explore familiarly riffy and familiarly Southern ground on these six mostly-extended tracks (the shortest is “Butcher” at 5:29). Fans of Weedeater will recognize a lot of the band’s tonality – Orange and Hiwatt amps put to good use – but the vocals, rather than a sludgy scream, are far back and echoed in a kind of black metal cackle that sets Wizard Smoke apart from the scores of other newcomers to the genre. The parts of The Speed of Smoke that are more directly culled from the band’s influences are still interesting and well done enough to make them worth paying attention to, and with formidable rumble underscoring the dirty guitars and throat-wrenching vocals, there’s plenty about Wizard Smoke that’s their own as well.
It’s a vinyl and cassette release, so naturally The Speed of Smoke is broken into halves with three tracks on each side. “Dead Wood” opens the record and sets the tone of heavy groove and extreme vocals that much of the rest follows. The guitars have a grit to them that’s less fuzzy than some of what’s to come, most particularly on “Butcher,” the next cut, but a few Geezer Butler-style fills add charm and thickness that would otherwise be very much absent from the recording. It’s a rudimentary production, but for a self-release, I’m not going to hold that against Wizard Smoke. Mostly it’s an issue with the snare drum, which cuts through the mix too high while the cymbals don’t sound so much open and vibrant as they do buried behind the guitars. A mixing thing. It comes out more with headphones, but even through speakers, the same applies. It wouldn’t be a problem at all but that it distracts from the riff, which especially in “Butcher” is clearly what we listening are supposed to be following. After “Dead Wood” and “Butcher,” one might thing Wizard Smoke don’t have much in store change-wise, or that The Speed of Smoke is bound for redundancy, but the eight-minute Side A closer “Weakling” puts clean vocals through a vocoder for several verses and it not only shifts the sound, but changes the momentum of the whole album. Screams are included, of course, but even just by moving away as they do from that approach for a while, Wizard Smoke show they’re not going for a Bongzilla-type single-mindedness, and it goes a long way.
Plus, it’s way stoner, which – if the name Wizard Smoke or the album title The Speed of Smoke didn’t already tell you – the band are too. So it works on that level as well. Which is nice.
Side B launches with the 10:49 “Growing,” which starts with echoey guitar lines and organ underscoring, offering a peaceful minute and a half before the guitars kick in and the aggression that permeates so much of The Speed of Smoke renews itself. There’s a satisfying breakdown riff topped with some sub-death growling after three minutes in, and the key lines don’t disappear entirely (it might be a layer of effects-laden feedback), but Wizard Smoke don’t lose sight of their core sound, which is that nasty sludge beneath. “Panama II” (a sequel, perhaps, to the Van Halen song) is fast by comparison, but still following a middle pace as regards doom tempos. The guitars show some melody, and the bass does well to complement, and there’s still that snare, but the song sounds live, and the song sounds pissed, so it works in terms of what it’s trying to accomplish. The second side of The Speed of Smoke is a full five minutes longer than the first, and between them, “Growing” and “Panama II” account for that time. By about halfway through, I’m feeling that stretch, but the song cuts to a kind of weirdo freakout that’s not really psychedelic, but still vaguely ritualized. The riff builds up again, but never quite loses the improvised jam feel that crops up, and it’s another strange turn that does a lot to break up the monotony of Wizard Smoke’s attack. By the time the riff comes back in and fades to just the synth following it, it could just as easily be Cathedral’s ‘70s horror obsession at play as Wizard Smoke’s fuck-all.
“Panama II” would have been an appropriate place to end, but “Witches Brew,” which takes an Obsessed-style doom riff and drags it all through the mud, isn’t a bad sendoff either, as it shows some more harmonic interplay between the guitars. Wizard Smoke have more to do in establishing themselves sonically, and they could do with a shift in production approach to something not necessarily cleaner (because I’m of the school that believes sludge loses its edge when it’s too cleanly produced), but still allows for a properly balanced mix. Although, as I say that, the snare seems to fade up at the end of “Witches Brew” as the song is panned from one channel to the other, so maybe it’s all on purpose and something the band deliberately wanted to do on The Speed of Smoke. I won’t pretend to know either way, but what’s clear from listening is the Georgian five-piece still give a decent showing of themselves across these tracks, and that sludge-heads looking to add something more extreme to their hearing damage have somewhere new to turn for their fix.
Tags: Atlanta, Georgia, Unsigned bands, Wizard Smoke