The downside to an early magnum opus in your career is that everything you do afterwards will be compared to it. Pearl Jam never lived up to Ten, Guns ‘n Roses have always cowered under the shadow of Appetite for Destruction, Annihilator spent 14 albums getting compared to the first 2, and Electric Wizard could play nothing but Dopethrone for the rest of their lives. When your career consists of fruitlessly building towers of Babel, trying to reach the God you created, it can be disheartening for an artist struggling to move forward. In this case, your best friend is a reviewer who, against all odds, left listening to that unattainable pillar of perfection near the bottom of their bucketlist. I never partook in Electric Wizard beyond fleeting samples, so currently, I should be their number one pal as I endeavored to enter the world of Wizard Bloody Wizard with a blank slate and clean conscience.
The ingredients to Wizard are quite simple. Take one or two lumbering riffs, repeat stuff, and ladle Jus Oborn’s sardonic croon over the top. Bake in the desert sun for a year, garnish with the occasional feedback-laden solo or key change and presto, a new Electric Wizard track is done! Aside from psychedelic interlude “The Reaper” all tracks follow this basic recipe. “Necromania” adds an extra sprinkling of stoner, thundering along at a more nimble pace than the rest of the album, especially the pile driver stomp of the opener. Closer “Mourning of the Magicians” slowly drowns in a cycle of chanted mantras and dragging guitars.
But even though the execution is more than competent, Wizard is entirely uninspired and, frankly, boring. The riffs plod and churn repetitively, little variations barely concealing their one track mind, and I wonder what they attempt to achieve. They don’t inspire headbanging, they’re not heavy, they don’t have the cool factor, they don’t evoke hazy deserts or grinding tectonic plates. They’re just there, doing very little at all. Jus’ sneer has its personality but no passion, performing like an actor who doesn’t care for his own character. It’s rote, perfunctory, inspiring neither joy nor enthusiasm, a quality shared with the guitars. The absence of variation inside or among the tracks are death to the immersion, and I find myself tuning out with alarming regularity.
Despite my vow not to go into comparison with their legacy, I needed to confirm that this is not the sound that had such a huge impact on stoner and doom metal. Indeed, listening to Dopethrone, I find a filthy, grimy, and earth-shatteringly heavy beast of an album. In interviews, the band regaled about their criminal lowlife behavior during that time, and their simple wish to record the heaviest, dirtiest music they could. Now that they have cleaned up their lives, it seems they’ve neutered their music, without the songwriting chops to make up for it. The production is a prime example of this as well: though objectively clearer and more audible with reasonable dynamics, only some fuzz remains of the toxic swamp from which their masterpiece was dredged. Cleaner is not always better.
Wizard Bloody Wizard is not a bad album per se. There are quite a few small moments where inspiration opens a lazy eye, generally in the more spirited solos or in the occasionally clever variations on one of the riffs. The production may be more toothless than good for the band, but the audibility of all the instruments remains a plus, and I have few complaints about the drums and bass. But I can’t abide by a band of this status resigning to a state of spiritless coasting. I’m not saying Electric Wizard should revert to a life of drugs, petty crime and racking up ASBOs, but they need to find again that spirit of rebellion, kick over the stool and work up a sweat. I’ve heard that on stage, they still do. But in their current state, studio recordings do not produce the sensation their heart is truly still in the style they helped pioneer.