What is a “wizard rifle,” exactly? It is a rifle that shoots magic missiles? Perhaps a rifle that spawns wizards propelled to impossible velocities (which does not bode well for said wizards, I suppose)? Maybe it’s something simpler, like a rifle made specifically for wizards that stores itself magically inside their hats. Or it could be something more complex, such as a rifle whose first shot pops out a smaller wizard who holds his/her/their own miniaturized wizard rifle, and so on. As I type away about the subject, it occurs to me that this train of thought is likely brought to me by the Borderlands video game series, and perhaps my ruminations on what a “wizard rifle” could be are a reflection of my addiction to those games. Either way, the name alone sparked my imagination violently enough that I had to pick up Portland, Oregon’s Wizard Rifle‘s lastest offering, Wizard Rifle.
Look up at the categories for me, just for a second. See how I put psychedelic rock, sludge and thrash up there together? That’s because Wizard Rifle are crazy bastards, somehow shoehorning thrash’s energetic spirit into the fuzzy prismatic refractions of early Pink Floyd and current Vanishing Kids, then crushing the resulting mass beneath the heaving swagger that is sludge by way of early Mastodon and Boss Keloid, adding a light dusting of Queens of the Stone Age as a garnish. It doesn’t hurt that guitarist/vocalist Max Dameron and drummer/vocalist Sam Ford are talented musicians capable of smoothly blending these disparate styles together. Needless to say, I pressed play without a moment’s hesitation. How could Wizard Rifle possibly fail?
Luckily, this formula is sound and the resulting macromolecule is not only stable, but also robust. Wizard Rifle demonstrates this through the use of smart compositional engineering. The duo undulates between psychedelic desert rock—once again igniting visions of Borderlands cutscenes within my hypnotized consciousness—and thrashy sludge metal against which few listeners possess resistance. What could be the strongest argument for the band is the most lengthy track, “Funeral for the Sun,” which deftly swerves between dissonant sludge rock and thrashened groove before bleeding into a gorgeous passage of airy psychedelia. From there, a blackened trem-picked guitar soars out of nowhere, growing in intensity until you find yourself in the eye of an evil maelstrom, which couples with a neat chorus pulled straight out of the ’60s and ’70s prog scene. The ending brings things back to a relaxing drug-addled stupor, and though it wanders a bit, at no point did I grow uninterested. “Rocket to Hell” provides further proof of Wizard Rifle‘s concept, giving the impression that it’s going to repeat the main riff that appeared in the beginning after a noodly midsection, but then they pull out a sweet doom riff instead after the five-minute mark. Again, on “Caveman Waltz,” a spontaneous thrashy freak-out bisects the Queens of the Stone Age attitude that kicks off the track. What this songwriting methodology does is introduce twisting brambles underfoot that are guaranteed to trip up any given listener, making for a record of deceiving dynamism.
That brings me to Wizard Rifle‘s main drawback: bloat. Once again, a band mixing diametrically opposed styles to create a record greater than the sum of its parts have failed to self-edit their monstrosity. The worst offender in this regard is “Beneath the Spider,” which despite its pleasant desert rocking vibes and tumbling riffs overextends its welcome. “Funeral for the Sun,” while a strong track overall, could use a minute or two cut away from its conclusion as well. Wizard Rifle would lose some of the relaxing qualities of their softer passages that way, but the trade-off is a more impactful number overall, and therefore a stronger record.
Quibbles aside, Wizard Rifle‘s kaleidoscopic self-titled is a treat. Fans of sludge, doom, psychedelia, and related fare will find plenty to love in this record, but those with more aggressive predilections won’t feel left out either. Some might balk at the long track times, but trust me. You’ll find yourself floating above endless forms most beautiful one moment, slaying the dreamers left and right the next.