It’s been three years since the release of their last full length album Witchcult Today, and now the Wizard rides again with their new album Black Masses. I always wonder whether or not releasing genre-defining albums early in their career is a gift or a curse for the bands that do so; on the one hand, they attain a somewhat mythical status, respected and adored by fans and critics; on the other, their achievements will always be measured in terms of their landmark release, and each later release will be rigorously held up and scrutinised in comparison to their opera magna – usually unfavourably, regardless of its actual quality. This is something Electric Wizard have a history of suffering from. Their first three releases are universally regarded as must-own stoner/doom masterpieces, while the critical and commercial response to everything they’ve released since Dopethrone is best described as “mixed”, and you’d be hard pressed to find a review that doesn’t have something to the effect of ‘Its alright, but its no [insert reviewer’s favourite of the Wizard’s first three albums]’ somewhere in the text.
To describe Black Masses purely in terms of Electric Wizard’s trio of masterpieces would be to sell the album short however, so I’m going to attempt to not focus on that. In truth, there are elements from every Wizard release in here, but rather than a conclusive drawing together and crystallising of their various iterations, the overall vibe of the album is scattered and unfocused, lacking the cohesion of most previous Wizard releases. As ever, the playing is loose to the point of bordering on sloppy, but any fans of Electric Wizard will be used to this by now and won’t bat an eyelid.
The lack of tightness doesn’t detract at all from Electric Wizard’s trademark syrupy grooves, and while the production here is a lot less focused than earlier Wizard albums – the guitar tone in particular being a lot less beefy and compressed – once the band get going, it’s still reminiscent of being wrapped in a warm, fuzzy blanket of sound. In terms of mix, its kind of similar to Witchcult Today, particularly in terms of where Jus Oborn’s vocals sit in the mix – rather than bestriding the mix, he sits somewhere in the middle, his voice sitting between the layers of guitar and bass like oils of different viscosities.
This is quite a diverse album in terms of songwriting, veering between the riff-based groove similar to Witchcult… and Dopethrone (as evidenced by ‘Venus in Furs’ and the title track), and the Wizard’s more brooding side, as seen on tracks like ‘Satyr IX’ and the 8-minute long drone-fest ‘Crypt of Drugula’ – which, while an interesting exercise in soundscapes and stock Hammer Horror thunderclap samples, isn’t a patch on ‘The Satanic Rites of Count Drugula’ from Witchcult Today. Electric Wizard claim they put a lot of time into the production on this release, and it certainly has that ‘messy on purpose’ vibe to it, but in actual fact I don’t think they’ve done themselves any favours, and the album is a little under-produced; sure, it’s heavy, and rough production suits the style, but do the guitars really need to be that poorly defined? Does the mix really need to be that murky? There are some great riffs here, but the irony is you don’t really pick up on them until the 2nd or 3rd spin because they get lost in the soupy fug of the mix.
Black Masses is a decent effort from Electric Wizard, but is ultimately let down by an overly lo-fi mix and a lack of coherence. Nonetheless, the songs on offer here are good, and there are a nice mix of stylistic choices on offer. It’s definitely a grower though, so don’t expect to be enthralled from the first listen. I would like to see the next album take the diversity of music from this one and combine that with better production and a more cohesive feel.
Electric Wizard’s MySpace: http://www.myspace.com/electricwizarddorsetdoom
Rise Above Records’ Website: http://www.riseaboverecords.com