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Electric Wizard – Black Masses Album Review

15 May
Author: Sam

If all the recent disheartening news about Black Sabbath has got you down, I’ve got just the album for you to check out.  Released in the UK back in 2010, Electric Wizard’s Black Masses hit stateside last year, and it immediately joined the cast of bands like Black Pyramid that are making a name for themselves by taking the handoff and running with Sabbath’s baton.  I won’t claim to be a lifelong Electric Wizard fan or even pretend to be familiar with the rest of their back catalog (I was surprised to learn that they’ve  been around since 1993), but I can speak for Black Masses.  (And besides, this is a band that has more former members than it does current ones.  Only one of the current members is an original, and two of them just joined within the last year.)

In any case, Black Masses is a throwback to early heavy metal, particularly of the stoner/doom variety.  I mean, one look at the album artwork should have made this abundantly clear to everyone.  Is there any way a band that calls itself Electric Wizard (might as well be an amalgamation of “The Wizard” and “Electric Funeral”) and uses that stereotypical 1970s smoky, wavy font could sound like anything but retro-Sabbath?  The answer is no, my friends.

This is a dense, hour long block of droning, fuzzy doom.  These eight tracks don’t feature a wide array of riffs or guitar freakouts.  Instead, each riff is taken, elongated, slathered in reverb, and pounded into dust through hypnotizing repetition – a hallmark of the stoner genre.  Electric Wizard isn’t so much concerned with crafting great songs here; this album is about the atmospherics.  There’s not a whole lot of variation throughout, and that’s made more noticeable through the old-school fuzzy analog production qualities.  Every track in the mix sounds mashed together into one, and that includes the vocals which tend to stay subdued and sandwiched in between layers of guitars and drums.  Of course, this focus on mood rather than instantly distinct songs makes the album’s length much more digestible because you are invited to passively let it wash over you rather than anxiously wait on every note.  All told, the album hews much closer to “Black Sabbath” than, say, “Iron Man.”

That’s true too in terms of the lyrical content which is almost entirely based around Satanic and occult imagery.  There’s plenty of talk of torture and witchcraft.  However, despite the prevailing themes of violence and vengeance set against the bloodshot and baked riffs, the music is less concerned with frightening the listener than it is about recreating that feeling of being a teenager down in your friend’s basement, using your tricked-out black deck of Magic cards to beat down on your friends wimpy blue deck while cranking heavy metal tunes about war and dragons (please allow me this moment to stroll down glorious memory lane).  And isn’t that what the heart and soul of metal has always been about?  Black Masses is fishing to reclaim some of those earliest essences, and while it’s certainly a far cry from the classics it seeks to imitate, it’s a decent bridge to the past.

Rating: ★★½☆☆

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-Sam

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