I first stumbled across prolific one-man Australian riff machine Bob Nekrasov and his solo outfit Rebel Wizard on the band’s impressive 2016 opus, Triumph of Gloom. What impressed me most about the album was its cohesively disparate combo of scorching dual guitar harmonies and triumphant heavy metal gallop, ugly lo-fi aesthetic, and black metal core. Due to Rebel Wizard‘s ripping song-writing, impressive riff-craft, and ear for splendidly catchy melodies, Triumph of Gloom earned solid rotation, so naturally I was pleased to hear Rebel Wizard had landed under the Prosthetic Records roster and were ready for wider spread metal domination. That domination is set to come to fruition on the back of their sophomore LP, entitled Voluptuous Worship of Rapture and Response.
Largely picking up from where Rebel Wizard left off previously, Voluptuous Worship of Rapture and Response rips and snarls with reckless abandon and a penchant for slashing guitar heroics, icy riffs, venomous hooks, and hilarious song titles. “The Prophecy Came and It Was Soaked with the Common Fools Foreboding” boasts a ridiculous title, rippling leads, and extreme, blackened thrash edge, setting the album in forward motion. Whether keeping it short, sweet, and suitably nasty with utterly vicious cuts like “Healing the Chakras with Heavy Negative Wizard Metal,” or fusing tasteful shred with horns-raising melodic glee on the headbanging feast of “The Poor and Ridiculous Alchemy of Christ and Lucifer and Us All,” Rebel Wizard knows how to have fun and deliver an abundance of killer tunes.
Nekrasov handles all instruments and vocals with impressive expertise and versatility, but it’s his harsh, spiteful vocals and slick guitar work that leaves the biggest impression when all is said and done. The guitar work is never dull, exuding style while nailing the tricky balance between harshness and accessibility, melody and extremity. There’s a delicacy to Nekrasov’s work, such as the scene-setting acoustic strums of introductory track “Persisting as It Does” and the stretched soulful notes and extended intro of the outrageously titled “Drunk on the Wizdom of Unicorn Semen.” Aside from making the Angry Metal Guy pro-unicorn folk uncomfortable, the song is a glorious headbanger, especially when it kicks into high gear. When Rebel Wizard crafts songs of this quality, the album sounds unstoppable and flirts with greatness. But a handful of great songs doesn’t translate to a great album. A couple of songs drag marginally past their welcome and the songwriting can’t quite maintain the high standards of the stronger songs here. However, nor are there any notable weak links and it is never less than entertaining. The wickedly devious riffs and cracking hooks, coupled with Nekrasov’s endearing passion for traditional and underground metal values, makes for a rollicking and enjoyable ride.
Stronger label backing appeared to have an immediate impact regarding Rebel Wizard‘s sonic make-up, with Voluptuous Worship of Rapture and Response possessing noticeably sharper production values and a cleaner sound overall. But this proved a deceptive change when considering I was comparing this to Triumph of Gloom‘s particularly nasty and borderline chaotic lo-fi production. In reality, the improved production adds a bit more clarity, depth and heft to proceedings, while retaining a rough and unvarnished vibe, exemplified by Nekrasov’s raw, potent, and heavily distorted rasp.
Rebel Wizard is a truly fun and captivating band with one foot planted in heavy metal’s glorious ’80s heyday and the other rooted in the debauchery-laden depths of the black metal underground, creating a weird and wonderful harmony and unique voice in the modern metal scene. Although the material has a gloomy, hateful tone, its caffeinated energy and vibrant bounce is too damn fun to get bogged down in negativity.