Posted in Whathaveyou on February 19th, 2016 by H.P. Taskmaster
Pretty courteous if you think about it for Up in Smoke 2016 to give you six months of advance notice that you should get your ass to Switzerland — which, yes, I phrased that way because it might as well be Mars. Still, if you think about starting lineups, Sound of Liberation isn’t screwing around in this first batch of announcements, bringing out big guns in Electric Wizard, Pentagram, Monkey3 and Yawning Man and showing further dedication to Europe’s booming underground with Noon.
I’m especially curious to see how Yawning Man shakes out. The Gary Arce-led desert rock progenitors recently unveiled a new four-piece lineup with Bill Stinson still on drums, Justine Summer Heaven presumably on bass and Malene Arce (LewdFlesh) on… vocals, maybe? They reportedly have a new EP in the works for the summer, so we’ll hear how it turns out, hopefully.
I got sidetracked. That release will hopefully be out by September, which is when Up in Smoke 2016 is set, at Z7 in Switzerland, with indoor camping and more, as the PR wire informs:
UP IN SMOKE 2016! Sept. 30th / Oct. 1st … Electric Wizard, Pentagram, Monkey3, Yawning Man, Noon confirmed!
We are proud to present our UP IN SMOKE INDOOR FEST IV, that will take place on September 30th and October 1st 2016, in our dear Z7 Konzertfabrik! Two days of stoner/heavy-psych/doom music in Basel-area (Switzerland) featuring 20 outstanding acts on two stages with no overlapping sets, and an indoor campsite!!
ELECTRIC WIZARD, which have been announced last fall, will headline one of the nights, and we are stoked to tell you today that Pentagram, Monkey3, Yawning Man and Noon are confirmed as well for this new edition! 2-day passes (e-tickets) are already on sale on our website, on www.z-7.ch and on our Facebook. If you prefer to buy a hard-ticket, our partner Woolheads is selling them!
Enjoy our new design made by Elvisdead, grab your ticket, and stay tuned! More names will come in March.
Posted in Whathaveyou on September 11th, 2015 by H.P. Taskmaster
Seemed likely after the first announcements for Desertfest London 2016 came down the wire that those for Desertfest Berlin 2016 wouldn’t be too far off, and so here we are. Particularly interesting to note that between the two fests happening the same weekend under the Desertfest banner in Berlin and London, as is tradition, only two of the first five acts confirmed publicly for each are shared between them. That is, Electric Wizard and Elder will also play in London, but Berlin seems to have Wo Fat, Mothership (doesn’t seem unreasonable to think they’ll be touring together, though I’ve yet to see dates that would affirm that supposition) and Somali Yacht Club all to itself.
Whether or not that will remain the case we’ll find out over the next few months, but I think it’s fair to say that each fest has begun to carve out its own identity these last several years, and it’s cool to see them start out the 2016 season in the manner they are. More to come, of course.
Desertfest Berlin 2016 – ELECTRIC WIZARD, Elder, Wo fat, Mothership & Somali Yacht Club confirmed!
We are back! Today we are thrilled to unveil the first five bands who are going to play at DESERTFEST BERLIN 2016 (happening from APRIL 28th to 30th), including our first massive headliner: doom titans ELECTRIC WIZARD!! We are already a bit scared and we expect you to be too: get out your satanic ritual kits on and watch out for maybe the most trippiest experience of your life.
Also on board for this next edition, we’re glad to see the return of Massachusett’s ultimate progressive stoner rock trio Elder and to spice up the menu the addition of Texas’ swampadelic fuzz rockers Wo Fat, as well as their state mates supersonic juggernaut Mothership and Ukrainian progressive-leaning stonerheads Somali Yacht Club!!
Find more infos as well as tickets’ links below, and see you all in 231 days!
The very last early bird tickets will be on sale on Saturday, September 12th during Greenleaf & Stoned Jesus’ gig at Cassiopeia (Berlin). Regular HARD TICKETS or E-TICKETS can be purchased on our WEBSITE! Our ticketprices remain the same, that’s 85 Euros for all you newbies! But remember that we were sold out last time about 7 weeks ahead, and we think we may top that this year!
Posted in Whathaveyou on September 2nd, 2015 by H.P. Taskmaster
Desertfest London 2016 will be held April 29 through May 1 in the (black) heart of London: Camden Town. This is the fifth year the fest has been held, and while I’m not sure that was on their minds when they decided to open their season with an opening shot of five band announcements, it works out nicely all the same.
That’s true in no small part because of the bands announced. For a first headliner, Desertfest London 2016 unveils Electric Wizard, and they’re joined by a considerable battalion comprised of Conan, Elder, Witchsorrow and reactivated sludge rockers Raging Speedhorn, whom I once saw play — true story — in a hotel bar way off the beaten path at SXSW in Austin, Texas, maybe 2005 or 2006? I mean that show was so far out it might as well have been in Houston. Long walk. They were worth it though, and I don’t think they ever came back to the US, which is fair enough. Hard to beat “Fuck You, Pay Me.”
Anyhoo, of course we’ll have a ton more to come on Desertfest London 2016 by next April, though for now it’s cool to see Elder will apparently be making their way back to Europe. Very interested to find out how London’s lineup will interact with that of the Berlin-based Desertfest. When I see something, I’ll say something.
***DESERTFEST IS BACK WITH A BANG! FIVE BANDS FOR APRIL 2016!***
Hello all! We at Desertfest HQ hope you’ve had a great summer so far and as we sidle into September we’re thrilled to bring you some great news about the fifth annual Desertfest in Camden this coming April. Our first headliner to creep out of the shadows are those mighty legends of true British doom Electric Wizard! Marching behind the standard they bear for us all come Liverpool’s battle-hardened warriors Conan, Boston’s heralded masters of heavy psych Elder, the UK’s blackened doomsters Witchsorrow and those heroes of sludgy hardcore Raging Speedhorn!
Head over to our new-look website to find out more about these incredible bands and stick with us in the coming weeks as we bring you yet more of the world’s greatest doom, psyche, stoner, sludge and all things in between this April in Camden!
When in Rome, you do as the Romans. When in Cali, you get your ass to Amoeba Music. An Amoeba haul is a special thing. It had been five years — half a decade! — since the last time I set foot in Amoeba‘s San Francisco store, right on Haight Street, more or less the birthplace of American counterculture, or at very least where it moved to from the Midwest because it was okay to be weird there. It is a shop we must remember we are fortunate to still have in existence. Places like Sound Garden in Baltimore, Vintage Vinyl in my beloved Garden State, and the three Amoebas in San Fran, Berkeley and L.A. are treasures. Landmarks. Their preservation may not be government-sanctioned, but they’re no less essential as living monuments of our age.
I’d gotten in after two in the morning. My flight from Boston to SFO was delayed… by five and a half hours. Something about a flat tire on the plane that then wound up requiring an entirely different aircraft altogether. Oh, we sat, and sat. Supposed to be a 5PM flight, took off just after 10:30. What a shitter, but at least it took off at all. I slept about 20 minutes on the plane — remember, with the time zone shift, a 2AM West Coast arrival is still 5AM to my very red East Coast eyes — and then crashed at the hotel, woke up this morning and spent the bulk of they day shaking hands at the convention that brought me out here, trading business cards and the like. All the while, lurking at the back of my mind was Amoeba Music, its call resonating like a dogwhistle nobody else around me could hear. I could’ve cried when I got out of the cab and it was there, just like I remembered.
Seems likely there was more vinyl around than five years ago, though I wouldn’t commit to that 100 percent, not really remembering one way or the other, but in any case, I still found plenty in the CD racks; the notion of traveling with LPs, the general expenditure and desire to actually listen to the music keeping me to the more compressed format, and no regrets. Here’s what I grabbed, alphabetically:
Acid King, Middle of Nowhere, Center of Everywhere Black Rainbows, Carmina Diablo Electric Wizard, Time to Die Horsehunter, Caged in Flesh Monolord, Vaenir Parliament, Motor Booty Affair Stoneburner, Caged in Flesh SubRosa, More Constant than the Gods Swans, To be Kind Tekhton, Alluvial Wino & Conny Ochs, Latitudes Wovenhand, Refractory Obdurate
Of those, it turns out the Black Rainbows was a double. I suspected as much, but I spotted it at the front of the clearance section and it was a dollar, so I figured even if I had it, another wouldn’t hurt. Getting stuff like the Acid King and Monolord was nigh on mandatory, the former because it’s San Francisco and that album is incredible and the latter because it’s a RidingEasy Records release and while I’m pretty sure that label is headquartered south of here, you don’t find that stuff every day on the Eastern Seaboard.
Conversely, I was looking for a bunch of stuff from Tee Pee — Mirror Queen, The Atomic Bitchwax, Death Alley — that was seemingly nowhere to be found, and I wondered if geographic distance between myself and the NY-based label didn’t have something to do with it. The rule is you take what you can get, and I was happy to do that. The Horsehunter was also absurdly cheap, I’m not really sure why. Between that and the Black Rainbows, it was much easier to justify paying upwards of $14 for new discs and $20 for the Labour of LoveLatitudes session from Wino & Conny Ochs. I was on the phone griping to The Patient Mrs. as I walked around the store that somehow even though compact discs are “out of fashion” prices haven’t come down on them and she reminded me to think of it as a premium for being in a place so awesome. She was, of course, 100 percent right. Issue resolved.
Parliament‘s Motor Booty Affair to feed my continued funk addiction, and Stoneburner mostly because it was there, it’s Neurot and I don’t already have it. The Swans is the three-disc special edition of last year’s To be Kind (review here) that also comes with a live DVD as a bonus. Can’t imagine I’ll ever watch the thing, but it’s nice to have. Speaking of stuff I won’t actually put on, I know for a fact I haven’t listened to the Electric Wizard since I reviewed it (the promo was digital), but I heard something about them having a spat with Spinefarm over money or some such and that the album was subsequently out of print, so I figured better now than five years from now on eBay or Amazon. It will likely stay wrapped, but at least it’ll be in the library.
It’s been six years and I still recall enjoying Tekhton‘s first album, Summon the Core (review here), so to find a copy of the 2009 follow-up to that 2007 debut was cool enough to drive me toward the purchase, and Wovenhand are Wovenhand, which is all the justification that one needs. Speaking of bands who played Roadburn this year, as Wovenhand did, I nabbed 2013’s More Constant than the Gods by SubRosa mostly because I missed them at that festival and they’ve continued to haunt me ever since. I’m not sure if playing the record or having paid for it — like a church bribe — will exorcise that demon, but it seemed worth a shot. I’m sure I’ll let you know how it goes.
Tomorrow is more work stuff, starting bright and early and ending less-bright and late. I may or may not make it to Aquarius Records, as had been my hope, but if this turns out to be all the shopping I get to do on this trip, I can’t really complain. And of course, if you’re in SF, get your ass to Amoeba Music.
Posted in Reviews on April 7th, 2015 by H.P. Taskmaster
Knowing that on a Friday night the Royale would have its dance club going by 10PM, I made sure I was at the venue early. Doors were slated for six for Electric Wizard and Satan’s Satyrs, and the venue would be cleared out before the dance party began. I neither begrudge Royale its double-booking — gotta make money, and the more the merrier as long as you can get away with it — nor mind an early night. While I’ve shown up late for shows in the past elsewhere and been pissed off missing this or that band, so long as the clientele are aware of the situation, an early end to the show isn’t necessarily a bad thing. One might go out to the bar with a group of friends and talk about how much the show kicked ass, feeling good and energetic after watching someone kill it. In my case, I went home and sat with the dog afterwards, but you know, you could go out and do something. If you’re in your 20s, maybe.
Two bands on the bill: Satan’s Satyrs and Electric Wizard. I was maybe fifth on line, which was enough to get me in and allow me to get a spot up front when the doors actually opened, closer to 6:30 than not. Satan’s Satyrs were slated to start at that point, but they didn’t actually go for another half an hour, the Virginia three-piece sharing bassist Clayton Burgess with the headliner. Satan’s Satyrs have been kicking around for the last six years, proffering ’70s boogie and doomly atmospherics — disciples conceptually, if not exactly sonically, of Electric Wizard — and they have two records out in 2012’s Wild Beyond Belief! and last year’s Die Screaming, as well as a handful of other EPs and live releases. Their third record is in the can, having been tracked in February, but the impression they give on stage, other than guitarist Jarrett Nettnin and drummer Stephen Fairfield winning any contest for big hair that might be going on, is of a young band.
The energy in their delivery, their presence on stage, the underlying vigor with which they present their material — it’s something they’ve managed to hold onto despite having a decent amount of experience under their collective belt at this point. They toured Europe last year, played Roadburn twice, and I don’t think that was their first time on the road. The kicker is that in addition to being young, they’re also ridiculously tight. So you’ve got Burgess spinning around on stage, Fairfield bounding around his teased-out coiffure, and Nettnin hitting Iommi poses for the leads, but they’re nailing it. All of it, really. Cuts like “Instruments of Hellfire” and “Lucifer Lives” from Die Screaming were boogie doom ragers, and they played a new song that, had it not been announced as such, it would’ve been easy to imagine they’d been kicking around for a couple years. It was my first time seeing them and they tore it up. Yeah, people were there to see Electric Wizard and it was Electric Wizard‘s show, but I didn’t hear one complaint while Satan’s Satyrs were on stage.
It felt like a long changeover, though I’ll allow that could’ve just been anticipation. I’ve seen Electric Wizard before, when guitarist/vocalist Jus Oborn curated a day at Roadburn 2013 (review here), but in the two years since, he and guitarist Liz Buckingham (ex-13, for New York types) have totally swapped out the rhythm section, bringing in Burgess on bass and drummer Simon Poole, and well, this was their first US tour since reactivating in 2007 — and several years before that — so it felt a bit like an event even before they took the stage. They did so preceded by burning enough incense to give me raised-Catholic flashbacks, which were perfect for Good Friday, and by bringing the lights all the way down for the intro “Crypt of Drugula.” A one-two punch of “Witchcult Today” from the 2007 landmark of the same name and “Black Mass” from 2010’s Black Masses (review here) followed and reaffirmed why we were all there: to worship. The riff, the nod, the horror. A crowd of scumbags and normal heads, hipsters, hippies and crust kids, headbangers and stoners, all of us drawn in by the eerie power and undeniable hooks of Electric Wizard, as beautiful as it is deranged. Altered movie clips playing behind them, the foursome wasted little time that could’ve otherwise been dedicated to Heavy, and they had plenty of that to go around.
Sound at the Royale can vary pretty widely depending on where you stand. It’s a club, remember. After “Satanic Rites of Drugula” came “Dopethrone” and I started make my way back from up front by the stage, found I could hear Oborn‘s vocals better and more of a balance between the guitars and bass. Earplugs pulled halfway out, the wash of noise was near-physical, a push that seemed to have presence. “Dopethrone,” taken from the 2000 album of the same name — 15 years later, its influence continues to spread — got a huge response, and while I’ll never understand people moshing to doom riffs, sometimes you just have to shrug your shoulders. Nothing to be done about it anyway. In back the audio was clear and I could see the screen behind them better, the cover of Dopethrone projected interlaced with ’60s/’70s horror boobage and other sundry whatnots, motorcycles and the like. Come My Fanatics (1997) opener “Return Trip” followed “Dopethrone” and only after that, more than halfway through the set, did they touch on the new album, 2014’s Time to Die (review here), with “Incense for the Damned” and “Time to Die” one into the next. Easy to get lost in that murk of riffage, but that’s the point. A quick second to catch breath later, and “The Chosen Few” from Witchcult Today once more had the room in a trance, the line “legalize drugs and murder” — also the name of an EP the band put out with a track on it based around the line copped from “The Chosen Few” — getting an extra-loud chant from the crowd.
That just left “Funeralopolis” to close out, and when the undulating Dopethrone track hit, there was little doubt that it was the culmination of Electric Wizard‘s set. The insistent riffs of the song’s early going were the night’s most engrossing nod, and the later tempo burst was met with a suitable audience response as it thrust forward into its own destruction into shouts, and noise, the whole set seeming to come off the rails with Oborn shouting out misanthropics as Buckingham and Burgess added to the mound of feedback and Poole attacked his drums to further the sense of chaos. One couldn’t ask a more fitting end to an Electric Wizard show than to have the whole thing dissolve right there on stage. No encore, nothing left to say, they took off. About a minute’s tease later, the lights came up and the early goers at the Royale shuffled their way downstairs and out of the building. I was home before 10:30.
Posted in Features on January 2nd, 2015 by H.P. Taskmaster
It was close for a long time, but in the last week or so, one record pulled ahead to stake a definitive claim on the top spot. Even so, more than the 2013 poll, this was a fun one to watch, three albums duking it out, trading back and forth in the raw votes depending on who happened to submit a list at any given time. In the end, 355 people participated in this year’s poll, which is an average of over 11 per day — there was a significant push at the end — and up from 2013, which now that it’s 2015 will no doubt soon feel like ancient history.
To that end, Happy New Year and huge, huge thanks to everyone who took the time to contribute a list to the poll. Even if it was one or two records, the simple fact that you felt it was worth your time to type out the names of bands and albums and take part in this thing is unbelievably gratifying to me. I do a lot of the talking around here, apart from comments and the forum, so to have your participation in this really means a lot to me. It’s nice knowing you give enough of a crap to take part.
You’ll find two lists below. The first, measured in points, is the weighted tally. A 1-4 ranking is worth five points, 5-8 worth four, 9-12 worth three, 13-16 worth two and 17-20 worth one. After that comes the raw votes, a measure of what caught the most attention along the way.
After the jump, you’ll also find all the lists contributed to the poll — including my own, which seemed fair since I do a lot of reading on this site, mostly to experience shame at the typos and correct them hoping no one else noticed — presented in the order in which they were received. Thank you all again.
Top 20 of 2014 — Weighted Results
1. YOB, Clearing the Path to Ascend (560 points)
2. Wo Fat, The Conjuring (404)
3. Electric Wizard, Time to Die (367)
4. Pallbearer, Foundations of Burden (334)
5. Conan, Blood Eagle (275)
6. Orange Goblin, Back from the Abyss (254)
7. Greenleaf, Trails and Passes (240)
8. Truckfighters, Universe (237)
9. Brant Bjork and the Low Desert Punk Band, Black Power Flower (235)
10. Earth, Primitive and Deadly (230)
11. Fu Manchu, Gigantoid (225)
12. Blues Pills, Blues Pills (211)
13. Lo-Pan, Colossus (202)
14. Eyehategod, Eyehategod (198)
15. Monolord, Empress Rising (190)
16. Mastodon, Once More ‘Round the Sun (188)
17. Mars Red Sky, Stranded in Arcadia (161)
18. John Garcia, John Garcia (156)
19. Bongripper, Miserable (141)
20. Radio Moscow, Magical Dirt (127)
Honorable mention to:
Goat, Commune (126)
Swans, To be Kind (117)
Monster Magnet, Milking the Stars (116)
Blood Farmers, Headless Eyes (105)
Floor, Oblation (104)
Mothership, II (104)
Stubb, Elephant Tree, Thou and plenty of others also did very well in the voting, but everything else I could find was less than 100 points. Again, it was close for a while between Wo Fat, Electric Wizard and YOB — and Pallbearer wasn’t so far behind them, either — but YOB pulled it out in the end and jumped way in front of everyone else. A lot of number-one votes for Clearing the Path to Ascend, which I can understand completely, since I happened to agree with the position.
On to the raw votes:
Top 20 of 2014 — Raw Votes
1. YOB, Clearing the Path to Ascend (138 votes)
2. Wo Fat, The Conjuring (111)
3. Electric Wizard, Time to Die (104)
4. Pallbearer, Foundations of Burden (89)
5. Orange Goblin, Back from the Abyss (78)
6. Conan, Blood Eagle (72)
7. Fu Manchu, Gigantoid (71)
8. Truckfighters, Universe (66)
9. Earth, Primitive and Deadly (65)
10. Greenleaf, Trails and Passes (64)
11. Blues Pills, Blues Pills (63)
12. Brant Bjork and the Low Desert Punk Band, Black Power Flower (60)
13. Lo-Pan, Colossus (58)
14. Eyehategod, Eyehategod (55)
15. Monolord, Empress Rising (52)
16. Mars Red Sky, Stranded in Arcadia (48)
16. Mastodon, Once More ‘Round the Sun (48)
17. John Garcia, John Garcia (47)
18. Bongripper, Miserable (41)
18. Radio Moscow, Magical Dirt (41)
19. Goat, Commune (37)
19. Mothership, II (37)
20. Swans, To be Kind (32)
And some honorable mentions:
Dwellers, Pagan Fruit (31)
Floor, Oblation (31)
Monster Magnet, Milking the Stars (31)
Mos Generator, Electric Mountain Majesty (30)
Thou, Heathen (30)
The Well, Samsara (30)
A couple ties here make the raw votes list a little more inclusive, and since it’s not like we’re giving out olympic medals, it didn’t seem fair to count out ties and sacrifice other numbers. The top 20 has 23 entries? Yeah, sounds about right. Again, not much mystery ultimately to who came out on top, but it was a more thrilling race than the final numbers might suggest. Cool to see some differences in placement emerge between the two lists as well, Greenleaf and Brant Bjork doing really well in the weighted results since they obviously inspire some strong support, and a couple of others working their way into the raw votes top 20. I’m not really a numbers guy, but it’s been cool putting this together.
About not being a numbers guy: All the lists that came in appear after the jump below. If you find some glaring error in my math, or something seems like it really got enough votes to be included in one or the other, it’s possible I just missed it. I hope you’ll point it out in the comments so that if there is a mistake, I can get on correcting it as soon as possible. Your vigilance is sincerely appreciated.
And thank you again so much for being a part of this readers poll. It’s been a really great experience and I look forward to doing it again come Dec. 2015.
Please find everybody’s list after the jump, and have fun browsing:
Here is the Music Player. You need to installl flash player to show this cool thing!
Since I don’t do theme podcasts or anything, the thoroughly unofficial subtitle of this latest one is “SOME of the Best of 2014.” Truth be told, it’s four hours long and I feel like I barely scratched the surface, so definitely the emphasis should be on “some.” By no means is it meant to be comprehensive, or am I claiming that it’s all the best and the rest sucked or anything like that. But some of the best stuff is here, so, you know, I hope you enjoy.
My intent was to make it three hours long, and then I got there and it just didn’t feel done without another hour’s worth of extended psych jams. That’s an odd habit to have. Could be worse. For what it’s worth, I was thinking of this as a companion for some of the year-end coverage that’s already been posted and is still to come. Some of this was inspired by picks from the Readers Poll, the submissions for which are still open. If you haven’t added your list yet, I’d greatly appreciate it.
And once again, hope you dig it:
YOB, “Nothing to Win” from Clearing the Path to Ascend
Fu Manchu, “Radio Source Sagittarius” from Gigantoid
Radio Moscow, “Death of a Queen” from Magical Dirt
The Golden Grass, “Stuck on a Mountain” from The Golden Grass
Monster Magnet, “No Paradise for Me” from Milking the Stars: A Reimagining of Last Patrol
Pallbearer, “The Ghost I Used to Be” from Foundations of Burden
The Skull, “Sick of it All” from For Those Which are Asleep
Electric Wizard, “Time to Die” from Time to Die
Orange Goblin, “The Devil’s Whip” from Back from the Abyss
Moab, “No Soul” from Billow
Sleep, “The Clarity” from The Clarity 12”
Mars Red Sky, “Hovering Satellites” from Stranded in Arcadia
Floor, “Rocinante” from Oblation
Slomatics, “And Yet it Moves” from Estron
Conan, “Foehammer” from Blood Eagle
Druglord, “Feast on the Eye” from Enter Venus
Apostle of Solitude, “Die Vicar Die” from Of Woe and Wounds
Pilgrim, “Away from Here” from II: Void Worship
Blood Farmers, “The Road Leads to Nowhere” from Headless Eyes
Lo-Pan, “Regulus” from Colossus
Elephant Tree, “Vlaakith” from Theia
The Well, “Mortal Bones” from Samsara
Lucifer in the Sky with Diamonds, “Counting Time” from The Shining One
Brant Bjork and the Low Desert Punk Band, “Stokely up Now” from Black Power Flower
Joy, “Driving Me Insane” from Under the Spell of Joy
Greenleaf, “Depth of the Sun” from Trails and Passes
Mothership, “Priestess of the Moon” from Mothership II
Truckfighters, “Get Lifted” from Universe
Mos Generator, “Enter the Fire” from Electric Mountain Majesty
Mammatus, “Brain Drain” from Heady Mental
Øresund Space Collective, “Beardlandia” from Music for Pogonologists
My Brother the Wind, “Garden of Delights” from Once There was a Time When Time and Space were One
The Cosmic Dead, “Fukahyoocastulah” from Split with Mugstar
Montibus Communitas, “The Pilgrim to the Absolute” from The Pilgrim to the Absolute
Posted in Reviews on October 8th, 2014 by H.P. Taskmaster
Eight album’s deep into one of doom’s highest-profile careers, Electric Wizard don’t leave much room for middle ground. Indeed, the massively-influential Dorset forebears seem to delight in dividing listeners, and since their return in 2007 with Witchcult Today, they’ve continued to refine a cultish, horror-obsessed approach to malevolent stoner noise that can be taken one of two ways: It’s either brilliant or it’s terrible. To be fair to the band, who are joined on their latest outing, Time to Die (released on Spinefarm Records after a well-publicized schism with longtime label Rise Above), by original drummer Mark Greening, they’ve gamed the system pretty well. For the last seven years, Electric Wizard have pushed toward a style of doom that drives to be the noisiest, the most threatening, the filthiest, rawest-sounding mess possible. So if records like Time to Die or the preceding 2010 full-length, Black Masses (review here), come across as a wash of wah swirl marked out by samples and the abyssal moans of founding guitarist/vocalist Jus Oborn, well, you have to give it to them — that’s exactly what they were going for. Sure enough, Time to Die is fuckall incarnate. At nine tracks/66 minutes, it’s the longest album Electric Wizard has ever done — 2000’s landmark Dopethrone was their only other outing to pass an hour — and however you might feel about the band, that they’re genius or that they’re hacks, it’s likely only to affirm your position. Recorded by Liam Watson with additional tracking by Chris Fielding, it’s the next stage in Electric Wizard‘s destructive progression, and it carries all the ultra-fuzz, sexualized violence and devil worship that those who follow or abhor the band have come to expect.
I’ll say that in the argument between genius or bullshit, the former perspective makes Time to Die a lot more fun. As Oborn and fellow guitarist Liz Buckingham seem to reference “The Phantom of the Opera” in the central riff of 10:45 opener “Incense for the Damned,” the vibe is immediately familiar for its darkness and for the hateful wash that fades in from the Sabbathian sampled rainfall. Of course, half the appeal of Electric Wizard particularly since Witchcult Today has been their ability to balance these chaotic atmospheres with a catchy bounce, and “Incense for the Damned” follows suit in that — bass on the album seems to have been handled by Clayton Burgess of Satan’s Satyrs and someone going by Count Orlof — as does the subsequent title-track and the penultimate “Lucifer’s Slaves,” but if there’s progress to be heard anywhere on Time to Die it’s in how much Electric Wizard have managed to blend their rhythmic hooks with freakouts of bleak, grainy psychedelia, songs like “I am Nothing” and the zombie-incantation “We Love the Dead” leaning to one side or another as the well-constructed overarching flow of the album plays out. “Funeral of Your Mind,” which opens the second platter of the 2LP release and the CD follows the well-placed samples topping the otherwise instrumental “Destroy Those Who Love God,” is the most effective at bringing together these various elements, and though it’s not as memorable as “Time to Die,” it’s a demonstrative high point (low point?) of Electric Wizard‘s ever-purposeful stylistic plunge. The guitars, forward in the mix as ever, ring out depravity in every swirl and Greening‘s drums stomp a far-back snare to ground Oborn‘s vague, effects-laden croon, which leads a gradual descent into the goateed mirror universe evil twin of what might otherwise be called a jam.
Ultimately, how much further Electric Wizard can push their current pursuit before it winds up sounding watered down or loses its visceral edge is a debate for another time. As the band’s third installment of the Oborn/Buckingham era, Time to Die is invariably a sequel to the two most recent albums before it, but though it continues some themes from Black Massesand Witchcult Today — closer “Saturn Dethroned” echoes “Destroy Those Who Love God”‘s gloomy instrumental approach, ending with a return to the rainfall that began “Incense for the Damned,” but the prior two LPs also had titles referring to Saturn — there is a personality on display in its darker, more vicious take, and where Black Masses was more of Electric Wizard‘s psychedelic party record, Time to Die is more twisted and relentless in its mood. Even the shorter, more relatively straightforward “SadioWitch” resides in a pervasive tonal murk, and its feel characterizes much of where the band is at throughout. There may be a formula at work here, but it’s not stagnant, and whether or not Electric Wizard have actually reached bottom is something that only subsequent offerings can tell. For now, their downward-minded progression is ongoing even as their notoriety continues to spread, and though they’ve contributed two generational landmarks over the course of their career in Dopethrone and Witchcult Today, very little on Time to Die seems to indicate they’re ready to live up to the title. For their legions of converted, the album will be another gospel of bleary-eyed triumph, and the rest will likely remain unpersuaded. Doesn’t look to have hurt the band any. It might be time on their next full-length for them to cut a new path or at least branch further off the one they’ve been on for the last seven years, but wherever Electric Wizard go, many follow.