Electric Wizard - _Witchcult Today_
(Candlelight Records, 2007)
by: Jeremy Ulrey (9.5 out of 10)
A benchmark on the stoner/doom scene, Electric Wizard have been lighting it up (literally) for well over a decade now, and after a three year hiatus they're back with a slightly retooled sound. While the Sabbath influences are still front and center, the more obtuse, exploratory nature of the old EW freak outs have been scaled back in favor of equally lengthy, yet -- dare we say -- more accessible songs, with the obligatory solos and free form jamming intact, but here roped in in the service of catchier songs employing more choruses than previously seen. Though they haven't started to sound like High on Fire, one wonders if the songwriting strategies employed by the latter haven't rubbed off a bit on Jus Oborn and brethren, as High on Fire have established themselves as a leading light in the rock-infused extreme metal genre with just such a blend of slightly avant garde instrumentation wedded to hummable, easily remembered songs.

Either way, if Electric Wizard have drawn water from another well, they're still doing most of their liver soaking and lung scorching on another band's watch, and that would be of course the aforementioned Sabbath. What separates them as a mere clone, however, is the way that they deftly spin off into improvisatory territory in a way that the more regimented Birmingham quartet never quite managed.

"Black Magic Rituals & Perversions" is a prime example, a basic instrumental much akin to the types of epic riffs Tony Iommi specialized in, but there's something grimier and less of-this-world, especially midway through when the guitars fade out altogether and ritualistic tribal drumming kicks in beneath interlocked passages of backwords vocal samples. This lasts for the full final six-plus minutes of the song, which is perhaps a few minutes too long, but this deep into the album you should have long since settled into the band's trip and made it your own.

"Saturnine" announces itself immediately as the most '70s sounding of the lot, with a Blue Cheer-meets-Jethro Tull riff, down tuned Sabbath rhythm section and filtered vocals equal parts David Byron (Uriah Heep) and Eric Bloom (Blue Oyster Cult). These two stretched out, jam-laden epics come at the album's finale, furthering the theory that the band were reaching for a more rock-inclined audience, even as the songs are just as catchy as their briefer counterparts.

Circling back to the beginning, the title track is less playful and more ominous, with a descending guitar riff and wolves howling through a thick miasma in the background. Here we are introduced to a slightly different guitar tone for the band, basically even fuzzier and more mired down in the dense mix than what we have become accustomed to. This continues with "Dunwich", despite the dual guitar riff underpinning the song being brighter and more energetic than the title track. Jus Oborn's vocals vary as much as the guitar work throughout the album, using Ozzy's intoning primarily but masking the actual projection of his voice in a bouillabaise of classic British influences. "Torquemada '71" boasts perhaps his most expressive work to date, and certainly the finest on _Witchcult Today_, and the whole thing is resolutely awash in post-Summer of Love fuzzed out bliss.

Regarding the new sonics, the liner notes boast a production job by Liam Watson, who has worked with the White Stripes, but in spite of catchier songs Watson does nothing to make Electric Wizard sound like the White Stripes, and if anything he has balanced out the potential mainstream inclinations of the songwriting itself with a thick stew that everyone in the band has to fight equally to be heard through. In the wrong hands this could be a disastrous ploy, but Watson pulls it off brilliantly, and like I said, with too clean a production and all these verse-chorus-verse songs the band might have faced charges of selling out, so the balancing out of all elements into a memorable yet indie-sounding showcase is probably _Witchcult Today_'s greatest achievement.

Contact: http://www.myspace.com/electricwizarddorsetdoom

(article published 1/14/2008)


GIGS
1/14/2002 A Wasylyk Enslaved / Electric Wizard / Macabre / Horde of Worms Murder! Death! Toke!
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