Do not write doom off impetuous child (with your colourful and newly inked arm), for while it may appear ‘unfashionable’ (yet always enticing) to some lovers of extremity it festers and breathes black fumes of anguish deep underground in fetid aural caverns whilst trendy post-hardcore fops flip and flop about in tight jeans and chequered Vans (we, the elder ones, despise and fear their young skin and classless voices). Who would have thought a new British doom mini-revolution would come creeping out from the mouldering red brick streets and avenues clustered around the Mersey estuary? But then the partially abandoned hinterland around and about the once thronged environs of Liverpool and the Wirral have long yielded such fertile psychedelic oddness.
And it is with antique English psychedelia and the onerous Papal threatening power of the tri-tone, not to mention a more-than-generous pinch of seventies folk-prog eccentricity, that Black Magician concoct their gaunt and hollow-cheeked amplified wizardry. And it is with general approval that these ears respond to their multi-instrumental (Robert) frippery and grave air of Anglo-Saxon/Romano-Celtic folk-doom melancholia.
A minute-long opener, entitled ‘The Foolish Fire’, begins the album’s proceedings with a sparse and sinister flourish of keys, allowing a certain mood to be invoked before ‘Full Plain I See, The Devil Knows How To Row’, the first ‘proper’ track (and what a title eh girls and boys!), swoops in on a creaking and arthritis-riddled guitar line of pure gothique morbidity. Obvious comparisons should always be avoided by the experienced and adroit reviewer yet I will not hesitate to point out that British misery masters Cathedral are owed considerable debt here, particular with regard to the low throaty and drawn-out singing of Liam Yates. What particularly works well for my ears is the swirling lavishness of Matt Ford’s gorgeous Hammond organ (RIP oh Jon Lord) which lends more than a bucket full of prime Hammer House pomp and mystique to BM’s robust doom template.
‘Four Thieves Vinegar’ continues to nail the classic baroque doom with grand and studied aplomb. Huge swollen guitar (courtesy of the fabulously titled Kyle Roy Nesbitt) and spiralling organ weave a heady fug around insistent vocal intonations. Towards the end of the track the tempo ratchets up as Liam growls ‘Bring out your dead’ like some shroud-enveloped cankerous boil-infested harbinger of medieval manners.
‘Of Ghosts And Their Worship’ (if you’re listening on vinyl this is track one on side two) is a eerie pastoral jaunt down the overgrown and serpentine bends of a near-silent country lane at dusk. Acoustic guitar and subtle organ meld to evoke delicious childhood memories cowering in my pyjamas whilst soaking up the grainy eeriness of vintage British horror, from the oft-shocking ‘Blood On Satan’s Claw’ to the rural and claustrophobic brutality of ‘Witchfinder General’ and the nausea-inducing sickness of both series of ‘Hammer House of Horror’ in the very early eighties. A word too here to the grotesque tales of the master ghost-story scribe M. R. James whose foul tales provide much in the way of charnel inspiration for these five Mersey minstrels of moribund antiquity.
Fittingly for an album that draws much from the traditions of progressive rock, the last track, ‘Chattox’ (the alternative moniker for Anne Whittle, one of the Pendle witches of the early 17th Century), is a mammoth fifteen minute black-hearted romp through bombastic arching guitar solos and labyrinthine lofty organ. Mournful snail-tempo chord changes create a lurching paean to the grim events of centuries ago that cast a long shadow still upon the windswept Pennine communities of Lancashire. Standard fare indeed for a doom outfit one may say, but BM unashamedly revel in the macabre heritage of English horror and rightly so – it is there for plunder by any self-respecting gentleman-scholar of darkness. The track closes on a thunder-cloud black and monumentally despondent riff that even doomlord number one Justin Oborn would be justifiably proud of.
This is the first release by Shaman Recordings and indeed there could be no better place to start than with this very fine and exceedingly well-crafted long player (which like so many albums in recent years seems to be recorded with the nigh-perfect medium of vinyl in mind). Black Magician do not just peddle plodding copy-cat doom rock like so many braggards and dotards scattered around mainland Europe and North America do. There is nothing lacklustre, cynical or uninspired about this lively and detailed record – it literally oozes the adored influences of decades of study into cranky occult film and literature and classic rock nuances and it does so with such fresh enthusiasm (and diseased tongue-in-cheekiness) as to spread a revitalisation of everything that is great about doom. So raise your clay pipe and rattle your tankards together for a band who have proved that the continued use of the prefix ‘Black’ retains the power to imbue a band with an unequivocal seal of quality.
Scribed by: Adam Stone