Merlin, The Wizard: Reedy Conjurings

Posted in Reviews on March 14th, 2018 by JJ Koczan

merlin the wizard

Generally speaking, I’m not one for writing off entire genres of music whatever that genre might happen to be, but there comes a time in every listener’s life when they invariably have to ask themselves one crucial question: “Is this ska?” A few years back, when everyone was on the collective dudely-parts of The Budos Band, I took a listen, stopped, asked myself that very question, and found that the answer was yes. Needless to say, it was the last time I listened to that particular group. I’m sorry. Everyone has a sound they can’t relate to — for some it’s country, for others it’s heavy metal — and for me, it’s ska. But, when I heard that Kansas City doom rockers Merlin had acquired a saxophonist/second guitarist in Stu Kersting for their fourth full-length, The Wizard — it’s also their first outing with Chase Thayer on bass — I wasn’t necessarily too nervous about it.

The band has always had kind of a weirdo streak, always geared themselves toward storytelling, but as the remaining founders in the lineup, vocalist Jordan Knorr, guitarist/keyboardist Carter Lewis and drummer Caleb Wyles expand from a four-piece to a five- and push into this new sax-laden sonic territory, it once again became necessary to listen to the seven-track/39-minute The Wizard (released by The Company) and ask myself if what I was hearing was ska. Is The Wizard ska? No. It’s not. It’s doom rock with a saxophone. Oh, and a guest appearance of trumpet on opener “Abyss.” That’s it though. Still not ska.

Admittedly, that would’ve been a fascinating if unfortunate sonic turn for Merlin to have made three albums deep. Their last outing, 2016’s Electric Children (review here), was arguably their darkest, and as they returned to Bert Liber to record, collaborate on the mix, and master The Wizard, one can only consider the shift in vibe a conscious decision. Liber (who also donates that trumpet guest spot), working in conjunction with the band, is no mess masterful in setting the depth and spaciousness of The Wizard‘s mix than he was on Electric Children, and songs like the buzzing, tense, guitar and key led “Gravelord” (premiered here) benefit immensely from the space they’re provided in which to flourish. Likewise, the pairing of shimmering guitar and horn on opener “Abyss” immediately sets a different tone than anything Merlin have collectively conjured before, swinging, deftly arranged, and no, still not ska.

merlin logo

Also worth taking into consideration when thinking of The Wizard‘s overall spirit is that at 39 minutes, it’s about 12 minutes shorter than its predecessor, and as it moves through songs like the thudding atmo-jazz of “Sage’s Crystal Staff” or the organ-and-wah laced catchy centerpiece “Golem” and the subsequent post-“Hand of Doom” stonerism of “Iron Borne,” en route to the extended “The Wizard Suite” 11-minute finale, which includes chanting repetitions of “I am the wizard,” a King Crimson-style chase, begins with All Them Witches-style guitar shimmer and resolves itself in chug of increasing tempo that leads to a final crescendo of guitar and sax working together around a twisting progression that ends with thuds and the line “I am the wizard” repeated once more, a quick-fading echo being the last sound of the record itself as it makes a cold finish, having come a long way even from the two-and-a-half-minute galloping doom insistence of “Tarantula Hawk” just prior. All of this, delivered with a tighter approach, gives the listener more to grasp onto as they make their way through.

Aside from its sound, overarching sonic dynamic and willful shift in texture, another key difference in The Wizard is a return on the part of the band to a narrative sphere, from which Electric Children departed after the band followed a storytelling course on 2014’s Christkiller LP (review here). That either matters a lot or not at all depending on how much a given listener wants to interact with this material — for what it’s worth I know nothing of the plot and have received no word of what The Wizard is about (one assumes there’s a wizard in there somewhere); presumably that’s the kind of info one would find in liner notes absent from a digital release but present with a vinyl or CD — but it says something of Merlin‘s overarching progression that they so readily allow for both levels of engagement on the part of their audience.

I’ve been hesitant to call them progressive before — am significantly less so after that blatant “21st Century Schizoid Man” reference in “The Wizard Suite” — but there can be no question that The Wizard brings their sound to new places for them and offers something in style and substance that none of their previous work has offered. That’s not just about the sax, though certainly that’s part of it, but also in the level of songcraft, and the spirit of sureness guiding the listener across various sonic changes, Merlin sound rife with confidence, and especially for a band who’ve put out four long-players over the course of a five-year (to-date) run with singles and other releases posted besides, their level of growth has been underscored by a consistency of songwriting quality that, even here, as they push farther out than they’ve ever pushed before, remains perhaps the most crucial aspect of who they are as a band. The Wizard has its novelty, sure, but fascinates well beyond that, and maybe most important of all, it is in no way, shape or form a ska release. Whew.

Merlin The Wizard (2018)

Merlin on Thee Facebooks

Merlin on Bandcamp

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Merlin Premiere “Gravelord”; The Wizard Available to Preorder

Posted in audiObelisk, Whathaveyou on December 1st, 2017 by JJ Koczan

merlin

Dramatic Kansas City heavy rockers Merlin release their new album, The Wizard, on Jan. 26 via The Company. With it, the band’s passions for sax and storytelling are revitalized in a fashion they haven’t presented since 2014’s Christ Killer (review here), their sophomore outing.  2016’s Electric Children (review here), then, may have been something of a detour in terms of approach, but either way, the thematic take is renewed here in songs like “Sage’s Crystal Staff,” “Gravelord,” “Iron Borne” and the 11-minute finale “The Wizard Suite,” which rounds out with insistent declarations of “I am the wizard” that come across remarkably like death throes.

And maybe they are — I don’t know. The plot of Merlin‘s latest opus remains something of a mystery, but their sound intrigues as ever, and The Wizard is available to preorder merlin gravelordfrom The Company as of today. To mark the occasion, I’ve been given permission to host a premiere for “Gravelord,” which you’ll find below in all its ragged and momentum-driven tidings. On the record, its garage-fuzz assault directly follows opener “Abyss,” and in comparison to cuts like the wah-drenched “Golem” or “Sage’s Crystal Staff,” it’s one of the more straightforward cuts The Wizard presents, with a strong foundation in its hook that forms the basis of what surrounds, which as ever feels chaotic and theatrical without ever actually losing its sense of craft.

That, to-date, has been Merlin‘s specialty. They revel in these dark, oft-obscured themes and take a correspondingly bizarre and quirky approach to songwriting, but they absolutely pull it off every time. Part psychedelia, part classic doom, part heavy rock, they refute easy classification and instead bask in a series of sonic turns that keep the listener attentive and guessing all the while. Don’t expect “Gravelord” to speak for the entirety of The Wizard, but do expect it to rock.

And please enjoy:

Merlin, “Gravelord” official premiere

Chapter II: Gravelord

In the Wizards absence, the world he had once protected has fallen victim to three ancient lords: The Gravelord, The Golem and the Atronach. The Gravelord being the Lord of the Dead has begun tainting the land of the living with his army of the undead…

It’s been 4 long years since Merlin’s last conceptual album, Christ Killer was released. In that time of chaos, band members have came and gone, the cast has changed, equipment has broke, alliances were created and a whole lot of rituals have been performed from KC to Psycho Las Vegas. Merlin have finally deemed it time to bring you their next concept story, The Wizard. Featuring new members Chase Thayer on bass guitar and Stu Kersting on Saxophone and Guitar, Merlin have twisted their sound even further into the realms of the mystic unknown and unfamiliar territory…

Tracklisting:
1. Abyss
2. Gravelord
3. Sages Crystal Staff
4. Golem
5. Iron borne
6. Tarantula Hawk
7. The Wizard Suite

Merlin is:
Carter Lewis – Guitars, Synth
Stu Kersting – Guitars, Saxophones
Chase Thayer – Bass Player
Caleb Wyels – Percussions
Jordan Knorr – Vocals, Storytelling, Omnichord

https://www.facebook.com/MERLIN666/
Merlin on Bandcamp
http://thecompanykc.bigcartel.com/
https://www.facebook.com/thecompanykc

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Merlin Announce New Album The Wizard Coming Soon

Posted in Whathaveyou on November 8th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

No solid release date yet from what I can tell, but Kansas City, Missouri, storytelling doom rockers Merlin are gearing up to issue their next conceptual full-length, The Wizard. Set for pressing in a vinyl edition of 300 through The Company, the band’s third full-length follows behind 2016’s Electric Children (review here), which stepped away from the narrative focus of the prior Christ Killer (review here), released in 2014. As to what the plot of The Wizard might be, I haven’t the foggiest idea, but my understanding is one exists, and that’s enough for me to go on at least for today. There’s plenty of time to figure out the rest.

I don’t know how long it takes to print up fancy-looking LPs these days — and goodness these are fancy looking — but an early 2018 release seems to me more likely than not. If the case turns out to be otherwise, I’ll let you know, and either way, I’ll hope to have more on the record, like a review, before it hits, so keep an eye out.

Everyone’s happy when this one walks by:

merlin the wizard vinyl

It’s been 4 long years since Merlin’s last conceptual album, Christ Killer was released. In that time of chaos, band members have came and gone, the cast has changed, equipment has broke, alliances were created and a whole lot of rituals have been performed from KC to Psycho Las Vegas. Merlin have finally deemed it time to bring you their next concept story, The Wizard. Featuring new members Chase Thayer on bass guitar and Stu Kersting on Saxophone and Guitar, Merlin have twisted their sound even further into the realms of the mystic unknown and unfamiliar territory…

Christ is dead.

The Electric children are Dead.

Long live The Wizard.

Tracklisting:
1. Abyss
2. Gravelord
3. Sage’s Crystal Stafr
4. Golem
5. Iron Borne
6. Tarantula Hawk
7. The Wizard Suite

Cast:
Carter Lewis – Guitars, Synth
Stu Kersting – Guitars, Saxophones
Chase Thayer – Bass Player
Caleb Wyels – Percussions
Jordan Knorr – Vocals, Storytelling, Omnichord

Mastered by Bret Liber
Recorded at Red Roof Productions
Mixed by Bret Liber and Merlin
Album Art – Nikki Fenn Art
Album Layout – Josh Wilkinson
https://www.facebook.com/MERLIN666/
Merlin on Bandcamp
http://thecompanykc.bigcartel.com/
https://www.facebook.com/thecompanykc

Merlin, Electric Children (2016)

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Doomier Than Thou: The Wizar’d

Posted in Reviews on February 19th, 2009 by JJ Koczan

You can't see it, but it's there.When first I laid eyes on The Wizar’d‘s Follow the Wizard EP on the “New in Stock” shelf at Vintage Vinyl down the Parkway, I knew immediately it was a doom record and I knew immediately it was one I needed to own. I bought it solely based on the name, knowing nothing about the Tasmanian band or their sound. Nearly three years later, I have no regrets, especially now that I’ve gotten ahold of a copy of the follow-up full-length (there were a 7″, a live record and another EP in between), Infernal Wizardry (Rusty Axe Records).

Next time you?re sitting around, caking on your mother?s cold cream and PhotoShopping yourself into stock photos of blackened forests, just remember that no matter who you are, The Wizar?d is more underground, more cult and truer than you?ll ever be. Fronted by guitarist/vocalist Ol? Rusty Vintage Wizard Master, these practitioners of the dark riff are emasculatingly heavy, playing raw, Sabbathian purple and black tape-hiss doom and offering no solace or escape in either sound quality or pace. Shades of early Penance creep into some of the guitars, but Infernal Wizardry is excruciatingly slow and paralyzingly grim.

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