In nearly two decades of churning out the heaviest doom metal in Dorset, England, Electric Wizard haven’t messed with a good thing. Sometimes referred to as “the heaviest band in the universe” for good reason, Electric Wizard has made great strides in taking the funereal doom of Black Sabbath, Pentagram and Saint Vitus and lending it a few extra tons of impenetrable heft. Yet, gradually, the band has nonetheless evolved over time, having shifted in lineup numerous times, leaving vocalist Jus Oborn as the only remaining founding member of the band. The sonic evolution, however, might not be as dramatic, but with 2007’s Witchcult Today, the band turned up the tempo and showed a tendency to swap the kush for acid, resulting in a heady and heavy psych-rock sound that sounds truly magnificent on latest effort Black Masses.
Every bit the apocalyptic knights that rode in on thick marijuana smoke and Sabbath riffs on their 2000 classic, Dopethrone, Electric Wizard has delivered an album with more urgency this time around. Their riffs remain fierce and sludgy, and Oborn bathes his vocals in reverb and delay, piling additional acid-rock effects onto their dense and churning low-end assault. Still, this is an Electric Wizard album, and nobody’s going to be mistaking them for the breakneck metalcore acrobatics of Converge anytime soon. Nonetheless, a little extra speed here goes a long way, as evident in first track “Black Mass.” Oborn and fellow axe-wielder Liz Buckingham practically threaten to break the dials off their distortion pedals, with fuzz running thick and meaty, while Oborn’s manic reading of the song’s title is as catchy as it is eerie.
Oborn’s vocals turn a bit higher pitched and, frankly, evil on “Venus In Furs,” which, despite the name, is not a Velvet Underground cover. It is, however, a highlight, reaching a stunning harmonic critical mass as Buckingham and Oborn’s guitars interlace around the three-minute mark. “The Nightchild” is simply massive, its bassy and burly riffs plowing like bulldozers, while “Patterns of Evil” is headbanging fodder of the highest order, literally, figuratively, et al. Then there’s the stellar “Turn Off Your Mind,” which sends the listener on a journey down a river of hellish backward guitar squeals and Oborn’s catchy-yet-terrifying vocal shrieks. But closer “Crypt of Drugula” is a vastly different beast, bearing little of the accessible, horn-throwing psychedelic doom that makes up the remainder of the album. Instead, it’s a droning, harrowing piece, juxtaposing the crackle of thunder with a plodding, tribal beat and Sunn0)))-like abstract guitar rumble. That it comes as a surprise still speaks to the band’s creative arsenal, as well as the fact that Electric Wizard remains essential listening on Halloween.
Keeping the lengthy tradition of doom metal alive and thriving, Electric Wizard has merely strengthened their wicked ways on Black Masses. It’s a thick and sludgy record, a noxious cloud of riffs and thunder. And yet, despite the ever-thickening slabs of overdrive and noise, it’s also one of their most accessible. After all, when Satan arrives on earth, he’s bound to do so in an attractive package.
Black Sabbath – Master of Reality
Pentagram – Relentless
Sleep – Holy Mountain
Stream: Electric Wizard “Black Mass”
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.