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Electric Wizard - Black Masses

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Artist: Electric Wizard

Album: Black Masses

Label: Rise Above

Review date: Jun. 16, 2011

Life as a stoner guitarist prohibits quick action. Hit a note, let it hang. Savor the sound as the vacuum tubes heat it, making it purr like a motorcycle. Listen to that note hang. Is this the song about the hangman? Naw, that’s the other one. Feel the next note coming ... yeah.

Jus Oborn started with Electric Wizard in the early 1990s, in Dorset, in the same rural isolation that got PJ Harvey going with her own Albion blues. It took a while for the band to puff out a major statement. That came in 2000 with Dopethrone, confirming its status as all-time doomers, just as rivals like Kyuss and Sleep were burning out. But even as a trio, arrests, accidents and attitudes made it hard to hang together as a unit.

Oborn ditched the rhythm guys in 2003 and re-thought Electric Wizard as a two-guitar band. Guitarist Liz Buckingham, also his wife, made their sound thicker and trippier. Doom tracks can be more like construction plans than songs (i.e. “Master of Alchemy: I. House of Whipcord, II.The Black Drug”), but the second version of Wizard doesn’t seem interested in getting lost in the whirl of its own waves. The genre’s fans don’t demand much beyond Iommi-quality riffing and bulldozer crescendos. This album provides all that, plus enough structure and rock-history baiting that it can appeal to people who have never even considered facial tattoos. Kinda like Black Sabbath. After a few months of listening to Black Masses, it seems like a second triumph for Oborn.

The first word in the first song?: Lucifer. He isn’t going to reach for new topics, but in his own cheeky way, he takes ownership of rock’s big tropes. The second song, “Venus in Furs,” never frets that listeners may have heard some similarly titled song about a dominatrix somewhere else. The verse whips away, and when it seems like the torture won’t stop, they find a way to crack the chords in a different direction. Oborn and Buckingham know how to make a riff undulate, but more impressively, they can make it coil up and strike without changing speeds and breaking the mood.

Tracks like “Patterns of Evil” and “Turn Off Your Mind” drone like the work of ’80s dosers Loop and Spaceman 3, but those guys didn’t have the sense of pacing that’s at work here. As much Black Masses flips through heavy rock’s back pages, it doesn’t owe much to any specific period, even contemporary doom. The band is dedicated to analog recording, and they take full advantage of the warm roar, but the vocals are buried far deeper than any engineer could have conceived of in the pre-digital era. The throb is so center stage, it might take some time to hear all the detail. It’s there. This edition Electric Wizard is like the stoner dude who actually gets his shit together. Lucifer must have helped.

By Ben Donnelly

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