I’m not, nor have I ever been, a stoner. This has more to do with the fact that lil’ Eldritch wasn’t cool enough in school to have friends who smoked weed than it does with any particular disdain for marijuana’s effects, and as a result, I’ve never really understood the appeal of stoner rock/metal. I have a great appreciation for traditional doom bands that can mold slow ‘n’ low sounds into something emotionally compelling, but the stoner approach is typically too lethargic and lacking in proper melody for me to embrace as a relatively straight edge bystander. Bearing this stance in mind, know that you, dear reader, may derive significantly more mileage out of Black Wizard’s fourth LP, Livin’ Oblivion, than myself. With its diverse offering of songs, I’d hoped that this release could serve as a proper gateway drug into appreciating the genre, yet despite some interesting ideas, I was left feeling utterly sober.
Admittedly, half the reason I chose Black Wizard for review is that I was curious whether it would earn an automatic 0.0 for being the antithesis of White Wizzard. In reality, Livin’ Oblivion is far from a bad release, let alone one worthy of no points. Its unique approach to the album format makes for intriguing, if somewhat confusing, initial listens. While Black Wizard tries to keep one foot submerged in the shallow end of the stoner metal swamp inhabited by the likes of The Sword, they make frequent detours to stomp a muddy, musky trail through territories as diverse as thrash (“Feast or Famine”), death metal (“Portraits”), and epic traditional metal (“Poisoned Again”). The band incorporates their core sound into these excursions, making for a rather diverse record without ever abandoning their hazy aesthetic.
Many ideas are put forth on Livin’ Oblivion, and each is executed with competence, yet nothing on the record is ever more than just that: competent. It feels as though Black Wizard has too many influences, and in trying to cover such vast sonic ground, they end up spreading themselves far too thin. The melodic lead guitar harmonies sound like pale homages to countless better bands, and the riffs, though plentiful, never strive to innovate, or even to create excitement within established tropes. Perhaps if Black Wizard had focused on just doom metal, or just thrash, they could have refined their approach in one specific genre. As it’s been written, however, Livin’ Oblivion feels decidedly patchwork in its construction, with no tracks that could be considered highlights; its quality level flatlines at “average” from the first second, never once spiking.
Should Black Wizard decide on a more focused approach in the future, they’d certainly have the instrumental muscle to pull it off. The drumming is predictable in its execution (which I expect is a direct result of uninteresting compositions more than lack of effort from the man behind the kit), but guitarists Adam Grant and Daniel Stokes occasionally offer up lengthy solo sections in the most aggressive cuts to provide some much needed instrumental initiative. Grant also handles vocal duties, his performances shouldering the sole shred of uniqueness Livin’ Oblivion has to offer outside of its eclectic nature. With a punk edge that’d be a prime fit for a crossover thrash band, Grant brings a welcome injection of personality to the proceedings that somewhat counteracts the muddy, unnecessarily loud production.
Livin’ Oblivion, despite possessing members that know how to navigate a wide range of sounds, is a disappointing product because it has so much potential to be legitimately innovative. Even with extreme varieties of metal breaking up the stoner metal monotony, Black Wizard somehow fails to excite even from a novelty standpoint, leaving me with an impression so passive it might as well be non-existent. I’d be down to hear what these Canadians can accomplish when not seemingly attempting to please the entire metal realm simultaneously, but as their primary focus is a genre that I never loved to begin with, I doubt they could ever manage to convert me to the Way ov the Reefer.