Written by: Nameless_n00b_04
What makes a wizard? Is it a long devotion to the craft, a willingness to delve into places long lost, long forgotten? Or is it in keeping a tradition alive, holding true to what works with an unwavering devotion? For The Wizards of Bilbao, Spain, the latter seems to be the path of choice. Their third album Rise of the Serpent is, from its opening moments, a heavy metal album in the most classical sense. But is this spell woven with care and crafted with the deft touches of a wizened sage? Or is it the flailing, messy, magical pyrotechnics of a novice sorcerer’s apprentice?
The guitar work is where The Wizards perform their best magic on Rise of the Serpent. Most of the riffs offered up by guitarists George Dee and Phil the Pain are cut from the Iron Maiden cloth. Like on album highlights “Destiny” and “Strings Synchronize,” the guitars are laden with a with a galloping pace and rich twin guitar harmonies. While these are the band’s strongest element, they aren’t adept at just one school of heavy metal sorcery. In addition to the Maiden stylings, the guitar work journeys into other territories like hard rock swagger (“Circle of Time”) and Sabbathy doom (“VOID [Visions of Inner Death]).” Dee and Pain’s solos don’t set the world on fire, but they’re dynamic and fun to listen to, and the band employs some flourishes of acoustic guitar during choruses and the album’s other big moments for some added depth.
However, the rest of The Wizards are a bit less magical. Vocalist Sir Ian Mason is Rise’s make-or-break element and its most prominent barrier to entry. Mason’s performance is inconsistent, and he often sounds like he’s straining during the album’s faster tracks. Opener “Apocalyptic Weapons” and follow-up “Destiny” showcase him failing to hit the upper range of a warbling impression of the late, great Ronnie James Dio. Slower songs like “Distorted Mirrors,” “Aftermath” and “VOID” fit his vocals better, especially the latter where his voice twists and winds over the slow riffs, channeling Ozzy. On the rhythm side, bassist Baraka Boy gets a few moments here and there but gives an otherwise unremarkable performance. Dave O. Spare’s drums never rise above simple rhythms to keep the beat, and in some cases, they overpower the guitars and vocals rather than complementing them (see: “Apocalyptic Weapons”).
Even the album’s highlights are marred by some strange production choices. Among them include the loud drums, the way Mason warbles the chorus of “Destiny,” and a goofy, “spooky” voice echoing the otherwise quite good verse vocals in “VOID.” But nothing blemishes the record as much as the track “Age of Man.” It’s supposed to be the big single, but it’s memorable for all the wrong reasons. The verse and chorus sound like they’re from two different—and bad—tracks that were Frankensteined together in the recording studio. The riff has none of the swagger or drive that most of the other guitar parts on the album do, while the chorus is just the entire band singing “this is the age of man” ad nauseum. Aside from being repetitive and grating, “Age of Man” is a bizarre choice for a single as it doesn’t sound similar to the rest of the album.
The Wizards sit squarely in the middle of the mage/sage experience dichotomy. These Spaniards display flashes of competence, and there are some good songs to be found on Rise of the Serpent such as “Strings Synchronize” and “VOID.” But the rest of the album is inconsistent, unremarkable and, at times, bad. The Wizards have potential for sure, but they’re going to have to make some changes to their approach if they want to create something truly magical.