The AMG higher-ups fancy themselves benevolent despots. That’s because they allow us relative freedom to choose our own promos and surprise us with pizza and hobo wine office parties now and then. Occasionally they’ll even offer tepid praise after our reviews are published. Sure, the quarterly beatings leave marks, but they rarely break the skin. Then again, if they see us getting too comfortable, they’ll assert their authority by assigning reviews that leave us just enough rope to hang ourselves. They might make brutal boi Kronos review symphonic power metal, or give our morose Muppet a jaunty pirate metal sing-along. For reasons beyond my understanding, they saw the words Glitter Wizard in the promo sump and thought, “Now there’s a stop-bang pooper doop if we’ve ever seen one, and we know just the writer for the job.” Well the joke is semi on them, as the Bay Area, California band’s latest album Opera Villains isn’t half bad (spoiler: it’s half good).
Pinning down the influences on Opera Villains is easy, as long as you limit yourself to the entirety of the 70’s. It came to us ostensibly tagged as stoner metal, but aside from a tangential Black Sabbath influence, this isn’t very accurate. There is certainly Hawkwindy psych rock here, as well as clear debts to New York Dolls glam punk and Cramps-esque psychobilly. Occasional fleeting hints of other artists pop up, such as Led Zeppelin (“Fear of the Dark”) and Ziggy Stardust era Bowie (“Rats”). If your head isn’t already spinning, you can add Stooges garage rock minus the menace. In spirit, if not in sound, there is also a kinship with the kind of twee indie weirdness of post 2000 bands like Man Man. Glitter Wizard have been around for more than a decade, and it’s a testament to these eccentric veterans that Opera Villains doesn’t fall into mindless nostalgia, given its touchstones.
The greatest strength of Opera Villains is its accessibility in spite of its deliberate outlandishness. These are catchy songs that keep you off balance equally with affecting melodies, stylistic change-ups and the odd extended flute solo. Simple shifts in songs make big impacts, whether they be the hand claps-led gear change in “A Spell So Evil” or the emotive cry of “Goodbye, sweet happiness!” in “The Toxic Lady.” Singer Wendy Stonehenge—given name Micah Warren—cycles through a number of approaches depending on the song. He’s (she’s?) at his (her?) best when performing unaffected cleans, falsettos and the low register talk-singing found on tracks like “The Toxic Lady.” Glitter Wizard don’t have an especially heavy sound, but there doesn’t seem to be a 70’s guitar lick that Lorfin Terrafor can’t approximate, and he keeps the overall proceedings buoyant and fun.
There is no single glaring issue with Opera Villains, but there are a handful of lesser ones that keep it from reaching it’s potential. Two pointless and forgettable instrumentals pad out the album’s already brisk 35 minute run time. “Fear of the Dark” and “Rats,” the album’s two ballads, start out captivating with memorable vocals on both by Stonehenge, but just when the songs seem poised to take off, they trail off instead, becoming more like vignettes. The band certainly has the album space to flesh out these ideas, and it’s a shame they don’t utilize it. There is also a looseness to some of the songs that borders on distracting. This is especially noticeable over the album’s second half when Stonehenge switches up vocal delivery to a rough, punky shout. It works well enough in small doses, but by the time “The Hall of the Oyster King” rolls around, it’s more grating. That song in particular is ramshackle in a way that may be charming live, but less so on record, at least until the aforementioned flute solo kicks in. From then on, it’s *chef kiss* magnifique.
I’ve never seen Glitter Wizard live, but I’m guessing that’s where they really shine. This is music meant to be fun, weird and trippy, and it succeeds, but one gets the sense something is a bit lost in translation when it’s set to record. Still, if you’re looking to guzzle a 70’s hard rock long island iced tea with weed undertones, Opera Villains may well be your poison. While we’re at it, if your theatre troupe is staging a production of The Rocky Horror Show and you need a house band, I know a good candidate.1