Let’s get one thing straight from the off: Portland Oregon’s Wizard Rifle are bonkers. Like, well bonks. It’s like they’ve run so far away from their Rocker that Phil Lynott hasn’t even had chance to even write the damn song yet. Excuse me, Mr Lost Property Man, has anyone handed in any marbles, perchance? Stark, and indeed: raving
Anyone who’s dipped into the avant garde/sludge/noise-worshipping back catalogue of Kitties and Pie! and Speak Loud Say Nothing will know that not everything is as it seems with these gun-toting Gandalfs. Their caustic mathrock ensemble has been pushing the envelope of cosmic heaviness since early 2010, melding the fuzzy, seismic grooves of Big Business to the flippant randomness and startling melodies of Sonic Youth, Battles and Karp. Previous full length effort Speak Loud Say Nothing had everything from monster riffage, to haunting dual-vocal harmonies to frenetic drum fights and sizzling psych-jazz solos. So it’s armed with a thesaurus and a patient ear that I scoop up the already well-heralded Here In the Deadlights and try to do it some element of justice in its definition.
It’s clear that expanding the line-up from a duo (Sam Ford on drums and Max Dameron on vox/guitz) to a trio with the injection of some chunky low-end in the form of bass-player David Boe has done Wizard Rifle some favours in anchoring down some of their schizophrenic madness into something that’s altogether more absorbable. Boe’s bass consistently builds platforms from which Dameron can spring forth with his pained falsetto wail and stuttering riffs; a padded cell if you will for him to bounce back off Ford and return to something that still loosely resembles a song. The most radio-friendly cut Buzzsaw Babes is probably the best case in point as Boe leads the founding duo from a ballsy intro into a minefield of Torche-sized riffs and Fugazi-channelling screeches. Dameron’s guitar may be shrill, but it is beautiful and barbaric too, locking you into a groove to which you cannot dance, cannot sway and can only sit grinning in a silent knee-hugging lotus position of joy.
Paul The Sky Tyrant is heavier; soaking up some of the riffs that Årabrot and The Melvins left in a puddle on the recording room floor and rehashing them into a punk-infused space-rock gem. Later on there’s a more bludgeoning section of out-and-out stoner metal to appease fans of High On Fire and The Sword, before the bottom of the track drops out completely into a choppy sea of swirling, hypnotic jazzcore. Similarly, opener Crystal Witch begins with some swirling atmospherics and space shuttle garbage dumps of electronic enlightenment before Ford opens up his kit and slams around some near djent-scale rhythms to reveal an underbelly of crazed King Crimson-style boogie.
The two premier picks of this mad hatters’ tea party however are the concluding cuts of Psychodynamo and Beastwhores. The former begins mysteriously; gathering Ford’s rolling snare taps like a gentle breeze before cupping Dameron’s aching whisper into its lap and soothing you the listener almost to sleep. It’s not long though before the riffage lands and Dameron and Boe take us away on a tram ride of dynamically psychedelic jazz-doom. As the riffs chug by, the bass bounces off Dameron’s commanding, yet shaky grimace as it spews down the mic – a little like what would happen if Mike Patton decided to cover the Beatles Helter Skelter, whilst on acid.
Beastwhores sends us out with a bang as Boe’s bass gate crashes a Rick Wakeman tribute band’s show with a cheeky glass of Pimms and a bowler hat doffed to one side. The percussive interludes hint at a sinister take on Budgie or Rush before walls of riffs rain down like Tetris blocks upon this parade of startling, menacing tranquillity. Beastwhores builds up in tension and then releases like a missile like no other track on Here In The Deadlights, which leaves a ringing, quaking sense of lasting impact as the gleesome threesome frazzle away from the speakers and back into their vinyl-bound cage.
Wizard Rifle may have reigned in the lunacy a notch or two and added a shitload of low-end rumble, but this complements their unashamed mixture of influences and styles no end. The only way to avoid getting caught in their deadlights is to shut up, get on board and listen hard for dear life. Not one for the one-track metal-minded this, but thoroughly enthralling from the rabbit hole to wake-up call.
Scribed by: Pete Green