Electric Wizard suffers from a curse that afflicts any band fortunate to have an album deemed a “classic” in its catalog. These Dorset natives happen to have two: their second and third records Come, My Fanatics… and Dopethrone remain genre-defining records within the doom metal subgenre, spawning more than a couple imitators and rightfully earning them the cheeky title of “The Heaviest Band in the Universe.” I think it’s fair to say that Electric Wizard knocked it far out of the park with those records, and the problem is always rooted in following up.
Subsequent records saw the group making solid, if unremarkable, rehashings of the drug-addled doom sound previously perfected, making tweaks here and there in production, THC dosage and levels of satan worship, leaving us off with Black Masses four years ago. Far from touching the sublimity of their best work, Black Masses continued the Wizard’s stylistic shift as they drifted further and further away from the fearsome tar-black distillate that rightfully earned them such a hyperbolic title. That record has its fans, but I admittedly remain firmly in the camp of those who were uncharmed by the comparatively brittle tones of their recent output.
Exciting, then, were rumors of a return to the heaviness of their earlier material on their newest record, Time to Die. Featuring the return of original drummer Mark Greening, Time to Die is nothing if not a conspicuous callback to the addicting, bad-trip stoner doom of years past. The very first riff on opener “Incense for the Damned” is even cribbed from Dopethrone, taking the first measure of the tectonic tritone ending riff of the “Weird Tales” suite, and the record ends with an extended cut of the sample that began Dopethrone’s “Vinum Sabbathi.”
If nothing else, Time to Die is a more than excellent exemplar of the ‘Wizard’s mastery of tone. Guitarists Jus Oborn and Liz Buckingham work in tandem with newcomer Clayton Burgess on bass to create pure sonic filth, especially on the characteristically nihilistic “I Am Nothing,” featuring a verse so rotted that it might prompt the listener to check his/her speaker cones for ruptures. Special mention must be made for Burgess’s contributions in particular, who sports a tone you can practically smell. It provides a vile counterpart to the already unseemly sounds of Oborn and Buckingham, laying fertile ground for a solid doom record.
Time to Die is a triumph of tone and timbre, but unfortunately it’s the songwriting that doesn’t quite live up to its putrid promises. The brilliancy of their best material can be attributed in no small part to its reductivity, but it is this lean approach to songwriting that often threatens the songwriting here. Cuts on the latter half of the record like “Funeral of Your Mind” and “We Love the Dead” are all slog and no swag, and by the time “Lucifer’s Slaves” rolls around, the experience becomes a chore. Even some of the record’s better cuts like “I Am Nothing” and the title track feel light on ideas, seemingly relying on tone alone to carry them.
As I write this, I realize that Electric Wizard are stuck between a rock and a hard place when it comes to reviewers like myself. In theory, there’s no reason why an admirer of their earlier, so-called “classic” material wouldn’t like Time to Die; every identifiable characteristic employed on, say, Dopethrone is reproduced here with sincere accuracy. The difference is novelty – their output a dozen years ago was created without the frame of reference that modern groups live in today, perhaps dooming to failure any attempt to fully capture an old sound like that. That’s not to say, however, that Time to Die isn’t a solid record in its own right. I think the Wizard has made a step or two in the right direction. Having said this, I am looking forward to an iteration of this kind of filthy heaviness sporting a more focused concern for songwriting in lieu of pure tone.