In the metal community, race is a somewhat awkward point. Metalheads are largely (though not exclusively) a socially-progressive sort, despite what the epidemic of NSBM would have you believe. Yet look around at any metal festival, and perhaps 1 in a 1000 visitors aren’t of a pallid complexion. The same goes for the musicians; you’ll be hard-pressed finding a whiter group of artists than, say, Nightwish. Of course, on some level this makes sense, considering where the majority of metal comes from. Scandinavians aren’t known for their high levels of melanin.1 Nor is this meant as a condemnation of this phenomenon, rather an observation of it. On a historical level, though, it is somewhat surprising considering the deepest roots of our beloved genre are steeped in black history. The Black Wizards take plenty of inspiration from that history, to the point I felt compelled to double-check they were indeed from Portugal and not Louisiana. But is the roots quest successful or will they need a new 23andme kit?
At its core, Reflections is a relatively simple psychedelic rock album with stoner tendencies. The latter part jumps to the fore on the fantastic opener “Imposing Sun,” which starts off with serenity and builds towards an explosive climax of thickly layered guitars and solos stacked together in a whirlwind of fuzz. The rest of the album does occasionally return to this palate, but mostly sees those bluesy roots take up more of the spotlight. Binding the two sides of the coin together is the excellent Joana Brito on vocals, who possesses a timbre akin to Joan Jett with a delivery like Janis Joplin. She’s absolutely a highlight of the album, capable of crooning sensually and belting passionately with equal conviction, and the manifesto that closes the lengthy “Symphony of the Ironic Sympathy” is something to behold.
The devil is in the details, as they say, but getting the details right is what separates the good from the great, and The Black Wizards get their details right. The songwriting doses the riffs and mystical swamp atmospherics perfectly, and on every transition, the guitar and bass tones change subtly to maximize the effect of the compositions. The details of Reflections‘ layered textures also provide much of the aforementioned black history roots, making the album feel that much more rich and distinct. It’s in touches like the use of a tambourine, in occasional spots of hand percussion, in the psychedelic blues reverberation, and the choral elements recalling gospel in “56th Floor” and soul music in “Symphony…” with the former sporting an addictive gunk rhythm. It’s clearly a labor of love the band has constructed here, the result of a group with a sure and clear vision never taking shortcuts.
The only disappointing feature comes by the band tipping their hand too early. “Imposing Sun” is such a fantastic little gem, with its driving rhythm, complex layers, and perfect build-up to a succinct cascading guitar crescendo, it gives me a massive hankering for more, but the band largely withholds such deliciousness in favor of their hazy, fuzzy blues rock amalgam. This is even underlined by the dreamy blues of “Starlight.” It’s a lovely, quiet track, but it does drag down the tempo a fair amount, especially considering its central placement in the tracklist. How much I still love the album in spite of it should speak to its excellent songwriting and execution, but I do wish it was slightly more balanced in the amounts of ethereal blues-rock and hard-hitting stoner mayhem.
But I can’t stay mad at you, The Black Wizards. Your singstress is much too capable for that, your songwriting too consistent, your eye for detail too great. Reflections is a tremendously solid album, full of personality, that harkens back to deep-rooted influences and mixes a classic sound of blues-rock with thick layers of psychedelic wonderment and a sprinkling of runaway stoner metal. The latter element is so well implemented that it kind of blue balls you at the start, and a more liberal application would have put this one over the top. Nonetheless, there’s a ton to love about Reflections for anyone looking for metal’s furthest roots.