By the time this review hits the shaman, it would have been two months since the release of the last album by the stoned gurus that are Electric Wizard. I would like to say this album is their best to date, unfortunately it isn’t. I would like to say from the start how I was blown away by the majesty of this masterpiece unfortunately I wasn’t. In fact, this release initially left me cold, in fact I would go as far as to say I hated it on first listening.
Since learning the same overrated ToeRag recording studio was going to be used for ‘Black Masses’ I had hoped Jus and crew would correct the lo-fi vibe of ‘Witchcult Today’. Sadly in line with their previous album, a conscious decision has been made to leech every ounce of heaviness from ‘Black Masses’. Instead of a tombstone bearing night of the living dead guitar tone roaring the secret truth about how to play doom correctly, apparently a mosquito session with distorted buzz-saw banjo was decided upon. To add insult to injury a second guitar was reduced to being a mere concept by lacking any distinctive presence. Drum production invited one to imagine that the kit had been replaced with tupperware and then moved to the broom cupboard so as to obtain a gritty embedded “pitter-patter” effect.
Like many, my expectations were high, I don’t think anybody actually thought they would be able to reproduce ‘Dopethrone’ or ‘Come My Fanatics’, but I do think people expected more than they had received with the release of ‘Witchcult Today’. ‘Witchcult Today’ leapt into the charts upon its release, propelling the band to new heights in popularity despite the god-awful demo quality of the album which left many die hard fans questioning whether the Wizard had finally croaked it.
Similarities do persist however beyond the production quality of ‘Witchcult Today’ and ‘Black Masses’, so let’s briefly discuss tempo. Gone are the crushing detours, those heavy digressions that allowed for the opening of the mind to the outer limits of occult exploration. ‘Black Masses’ does not signify a slow motion horror torture porn flick for drugged addled deviants, but a more ostentatious and confident mid-pace by day frolic around stone circles and graveyards, while the vicar and a representative from English heritage look on in mild bewilderment.
Thousands may have been paid to do this recording and given the end result I would be asking for a refund from the studio, but there is after all more to this album than just bad production. There are of course the songs some of which are truly great tunes.
‘Black Mass’ kicks off the album, the listener is launched into a driving leather clad satanic biker scenario, Jus’ guitar growls in splendour and threatens to breach the murky underpass of Lucifer’s extended belly. Film noir this is not, instead we have film Satan sponsored by Hammer House. The chanting sequence is particularly exceptional evoking the same ecstasies as “you’re an angel witch, you’re an angel witch”…
‘Venus In Furs’ follows the same vibe but this has more of a distinctive appeal with the main groovers Jus and Liz throwing their paisley riffs into the blackened circle. Magnificent in her furs Venus again typifies the film focus of the album. Make up! Lights! Action! from the seventies makes this an immediate hit. Any likeness to previous Wizard songs just goes to show their belief that a harmony can continuously be revamped in furs. Phasing effects wash this into a psychedelic haze making the whole song disappear into a wash of colours. Grab your afghan coat and head out to Stonehenge.
‘Nightchild’ introduces something completely new for the band, lurching in march style rhythm the grave breaks open as the band struggle to break free. Under darkness this song musters a host of black and white images of Nosferatu staring at the moonlit sky. Bound to the night the vocals work to bind this song together and give the tune a sense of direction. Solos only add to the grave stomping momentum of this number.
‘Patterns Of Evil’: Straight back into heads to the floor headbanging doom, ‘Patterns of Evil’ emphatically tells everyone that the masters have not retired. Classic Wizard riffs emerge in the shape of those hanging notes that together tear up the world to create a classic verse, making this a firm favourite. Reports from the Electric Ballroom show last year told of surf divers and mosh pits, I can imagine this being one of those songs that made everyone lose their inhibitions. Throw yourself in throw yourself down…
‘Satyr IX’ signals a serious departure from all previous songs Wizard have ever done. The long intro perhaps isn’t as immediate as one would have hoped. There is of course the fear that with overdubbed oscillator this song won’t amount to much, but wait…Jus comes in singing and the whole songs takes a new twin horned turn towards the setting sun and ultimate damnation. Certainly an extremely clever way to draw people in because the riff does not change, but remains on a continuous monotonous loop. It is therefore left to the master of the realm to create an avalanche of the greatest proportions. Vocals and solos galvanise the covens as they begin to gather in the night.
‘Turn Off Your Mind’ (azathoth): Immersed in a vat of psychedelic drugs ‘Turn Off Your Mind’ reminds me of Arzachel at their very best. Again the hook and the groove are the drugs that are slipped into the listeners drink. It is on a song like this where the production really suffers because there is so much happening and yet most of it is left to the imagination since you can’t make it out. Probably more than any other song on the album, this gets to the root of Electric Wizard now, “I wish I was there in the 1970s”.
‘Scorpio Curse’: brings us back to a more ‘Witchcult Today’ style song, lurching from crypt to the grave, this number is one of the slower tracks on the album. Perhaps of its placing on the record, one knows the album is running out of time and this song in particular gives the impression the band have already started to get ready to leave the studio. Probably the weakest song on the album ‘Scorpio Curse’ comprises of quite a few rehashed Oborn riffs coming forth to scream “remember me!” It’s certainly good to see some old favourites again but this time around they are looking a bit moth eaten.
‘Crypt of Drugula’: I’m not sure what the point was to this, in a similar vein as their one sided 12″, Electric Wizard set off on a ten minute journey of not doing very much, with no direction, no meaning, no sentiment, means this track amounts to nothing. Electric Wizard aren’t able to do Sunn or Asva and should leave this to those bands who can actually create imaginative and foreboding soundscapes.
Anyone who reads this review will think that I have a split personality, at the offset you may have thought I was intent on hating this record, but in fact I was attempting to convey a process where hate turned into love despite its shortfall in production. Those of you have had the pleasure of seeing Electric Wizard live will know how incredible they can make the guitars sound. Moreover that tone is unique to Jus and crew, so why settle for less. If thousands of pounds are going to be spent on a recording why not try to capture the immensity of the beast? Is that really too much to ask?
Scribed by: Pete Hamilton-Giles