Electric Wizard - Time To Die (Spinefarm Records)

When Electric Wizard takes on the grim reaper in a time of great turmoil, you can bet that the results are not going to be for the faint of heart.
Release Date: 
25 Sep 2014 - 11:30pm

Electric Wizard have ascended in recent years to become as influential to doom bands as Black Sabbath were to bands like Pentagram and Saint Vitus in the late 70’s and early 80’s with doom’s first wave.

Big call? Maybe, but let me be clear, I’m not saying they’re “Black Sabbath” in terms of creating a genre of music or in the breadth of Sabbath's subsequent influence on most forms of metal, but the evidence of their influence has permeated throughout the doom genre in the last 10 years especially. You can hear them in pretty much everything that has the “stoner doom” label stamped on it, which is really another way of saying “E-Wiz doom" .

Modern classics like Come My Fanatics and Dopethrone of the original lineup of Messrs Oborn, Bagshaw and Greening have been hugely influential and revered and name checked among doom’s essential releases.

Then something curious happened; noticeably over the more recent work, over the last two full lengths,Witchcult Today and Black Masses with Mr and Mrs Oborn (Liz Buckingham, Jus’ wife, joined in 2004 who has a significant doom pedigree of her own through her work with Sourvein and 13) and a revolving cast of 2 drummers and 3 bass players; The band seemed to be getting…almost, well, popular.

Actually I’m not sure if popular is the right word, maybe accessible is what I’m struggling to articulate here – but some of the barely contained chaos of the OG line up seemed to dilute the fact that while some bands reaching back to capture a ‘classic 70’s vibe” are consciously trying a bit to hard, Wizard have always had a nastier, more honest undercurrent. 

While Ozzy was famously proclaiming “We love you!” throughout Sabbath’s storied 70’s, the Wizard have never made such proclamations.

From their classic second album Come My Fanatics song Return Trip – 'I hope your fucking world, fucking burns away, and I’d kill you all, if I had my way”, to their run of shirts in the early 00’s that have “We Hate You” scrawled on the back, Electric Wizard are not trying win your approval.

 

Yet the fruit of their labour seemed to be building something a little more obvious than the cult following the movies that Jus has drawn inspiration from over the years and whose samples have populated near all of the previous albums work. 

Now into that cauldron of context, read between the lines and look at more recent history with the line-up changes. There’s been a few. The latest has been original drummer Mark Greening coming and going over the course of the making of this new album. Season that volatility with the fact that the Wizard has undergone a very acrimonious split with their long time label Rise Above Records. Finally, a band that has explored specific themes on its other records has chosen the sunny topic of death as this records centre.

What is the result of this concoction? 

I spoke to Chris Fielding of Conan when the band was in Australia recently before I got a copy and Chris is the man responsible for mixing Time To Die at Skyhammer, his studio in Cheshire in the north of England. Chris told me, “It’s quite a different album for them, but it’s still very much an Electric Wizard record”. And that it is, but it is an album that will obliviate the casual listener and thoroughly enrapture the true masochistic Wizard fans that have been there for this whole journey.

You will not hear any relatively sunny riff pieces a la Dunwich, the album opens with running water, the movie samples replaced with a harsher Church of Misery-esque documentary sample and 10 minutes of uncompromising riffing in the form of Incense for the Damned.

There are still the catchy sections in their riffage like the chorus of the title track, but there are a lot of straight out and out doom sections that build a mantra worthy of the reaper and comprised of the heaviness the subject matter entails.

What the record brings that is different from before can be summed up with keyboards, more reliance on real world samples rather than horror movies, some more soundtracky type explorations on tracks Destroy Those Who Love God and Saturn Dethroned and a good deal of teeth baring aggression. These elements really add up to a charged atmosphere that is in my opinion, bleaker than anything that they’ve done before.

There’s still some requisite Wizard bounce at times, there is still some sinister sexuality on Sadiowitch that harks to that sexploitation vibe of previous works, but the mood of the record overall is a balanced exercise in malicious intent. 

The record works against a background of some ghastly (in a good way) keyboard tones that don’t ruin or take away from the heaviness, but rather contribute to the morbidity of the records theme. That means a lot more keyboards than your average COTD (Circle of true doom) fan wouldn't normally tolerate, but I reckon that won’t stop the true brigade at least acknowledging the anger this recording bristles with.

Mark Greening’s return to the kit for the recording is welcome. His style fits perfectly with Jus’ riffing and Mr Oborn has often said as much when Mark first came back to the fold, before things turned sour.

What has changed in the time between Mark’s last time out with Wizard on Let Us Prey is Oborn is now a lot more hands on involved in the production side of the record. Having gained more confidence in the technical disciplines of creating the sonic landscape of an Electric Wizard album, Jus and Chris have worked together to produce a menacing and authentic nihilistic atmosphere that is maintained throughout its hour- odd length.

Speaking of confidence, the vocals have markedly improved over the last few releases and while Jus won’t be taking on Pete Stahl or shattering any layers of innovation in his approach, each song features a subtle change in approach and delivery that again enhances the theme and the overall atmosphere.

It’s hard to compare this record to other doom classics that have hit this year. Pallbearer, Yob and Conan for example have all put together albums that both push the boundaries of the genre in their own individual ways and it seems like we’re in some kind of golden age of doom metal in a way. But that’s kind of the point, Electric Wizard exist as their own entity irrespective of whats going on around them, they’re real and they’re not doing anything for show. This is not a record that is responding to trends or reaching to cover ground they’ve not trod before. It’s an album that is utterly assured and comfortable in its own skin, albeit skin that will soon rot in the earth on flesh consumed by creatures in the soil til only the bones remain. Angry bones.

This is genuine proper nihilistic doom metal. Uncompromising, bleak but layered and complete in it’s artistic vision and yet another amazing album from Dorset’s greatest ever export.

Recommended to digest in a single sitting for an impressive meditation on the end. Get it.