Electric Wizard’s landmark 2000 album ‘Dopethrone’ began with the words “when you get into one of these groups, there’s only a couple of ways you can get out. One is death, the other is mental institutions.” It’s a sentiment that seems to have rung true throughout the band’s career; as they continue towards the ever-nearer three decade mark, they seemingly show as little intent to stop now as they ever have done. Those who have followed the band’s career closely will have likely observed something of a growing trend in their work over the past decade. Whilst their first five albums reliably pushed forward (four of which were recorded with a now thoroughly disbanded original lineup which only shares frontman Jus Oborn in common with the band’s current iteration), showing a doom metal band not content to sit within the established confines of the style, 2007’s ‘Witchcult Today’ saw the band find a sound and firmly stick with it. Where that album remained excellent – even if it did suggest that they had hit on a comfortable formula – 2010’s ‘Black Masses’ felt a tad prosaic and less inspired, although it certainly had a few superb tracks.
‘Wizard Bloody Wizard’ is an album which feels very much like a continuation of the band’s recent ethos. Although 2014’s ‘Time To Die’ was actually a very decent offering, it boasted few surprises and ultimately felt like a band playing-it-safe and, to some degree, coasting on past glories. ‘Wizard Bloody Wizard’ is essentially more of the same, offering a rock solid collection of riffs articulated with the sort of campy, B-movie menace that has characterised so much of their recent output – gone is the genuine malice of ‘Come My Fanatics’ or ‘Dopethrone’. Indeed, listening to ‘Wizard Bloody Wizard’ there is a sneaking suspicion, on more than one occasion, that the group’s tongues find themselves lodged firmly in their cheeks – see the unapologetic cheese of the evil chuckle at the end of ‘The Reaper’ for illustration of that.
Taken for what it is, ‘Wizard Bloody Wizard’ is a more than respectable effort. If there’s one benchmark by which any Electric Wizard offering could best be valued, it’s the riffs. Although the album lacks the outright brutality of the group’s earlier work the riffs remain solid, if a touch formulaic. The group seem to be stuck in something of an eternal limbo of ever-changing rhythm sections, seemingly being unable to hold on to drummers or bassists for more than a one-album run. Although ‘Time To Die’ saw the (strikingly brief) return of original drummer Mark Greening, the album also – rather disappointingly – featured some of the sloppiest stickwork on any of the group’s albums. ‘Wizard Bloody Wizard’ sees the debut of drummer Simon Poole, as well as bassist Clayton Burgess – who some may know from doom-punks Satan’s Satyrs. While the duo hardly have to put in prog-rock level performances, there’s no denying that they provide the most technically proficient backing that the band’s core of Oborn and Liz Buckingham have had in years.
There’s little reason to argue that ‘Wizard Bloody Wizard’ is anything but a convincing offering from the band, then. It’s got the riffs, it’s got the rhythm section and it has the melodramatically enjoyable delivery. The album’s problem lies not in any of those areas, but simply in originality – or a lack thereof. No one would expect (or perhaps even want) a radical reconfiguration of the band’s sound or sonic attitude this far into their career, but the point still stands that – even upon first listen – ‘Wizard Bloody Wizard’ feels overly familiar to those with a decent knowledge of the group’s work. Production focuses primarily on fostering a swampy atmosphere of psychedelic hallucinations and earth-shaking low-end. Whilst this is an atmosphere that suits the songs well, it’s far too similar to the sonic approach of the band’s last couple of albums and results in a soundscape that feels indistinct when viewed in the context of their recent output.
Although ‘Wizard Bloody Wizard’ comprises by and large of fairly straight ahead rockers, the band do diverge into more psychedelic territory with ‘The Reaper’; a song which serves to break up the pace of the album nicely and provides some much welcomed variety to the record. It’s not that the song’s eerily trippy atmospherics come as a surprise per se – past Electric Wizard albums have often been similarly adorned with more experimental moments – but the song certainly ranks as the album’s freshest cut.
11 minute album closer ‘Mourning Of The Magicians’ provides perhaps the strongest moment. The group have long been at their best when they’ve given themselves time to stretch out and build up a potent atmosphere over a good length of time. Whilst ‘Mourning Of The Magicians’ perhaps outstays its welcome by a couple of minutes, there’s no denying that the extended runtime gives the band the chance to impress, and the song certainly ends the record on a positive note.
Overall, the impression left by ‘Wizard Bloody Wizard’ is of a solid, fairly accomplished album that nevertheless lacks that certain something which made the band’s early work so essential. In all honesty, ‘Wizard Bloody Wizard’ is as good an album as is reasonable to expect from Electric Wizard in 2017. It’s an entirely respectable effort that delivers the goods to dedicated fans and those looking for 45 minutes of dense psych-doom fuckery. The group’s previous two efforts are, similarly, albums that are sporadically superb but often simply solid – and ‘Wizard Bloody Wizard’ continues that trend with a collection of songs which achieve well what they set out to do but which don’t manage to bowl over the listener in the way the group’s first six records did.