posted on 11/2010 By:
Electric Wizard has long been a major player in the doom scene, and their influence in their own style, as well as their ability to pull in fans from metal’s faster and more extreme realms, places them as possibly the most significant band to surface in the genre since the classic outfits of the 70’s and 80’s. It was albums like Come My Fanatics that introduced me to the true value of metal’s slow and massive side in my formative days as a metal fan when I all wanted to hear was blastbeats and double bass, and even years later, I’m still hit just as hard by their best works as I was the first time I heard the thunderous riffs of “Return Trip” or “Barbarian.” While their best and most influential days may be behind them, they’ve remained a consistently solid band since their inception almost twenty years ago, and Black Masses doesn’t do anything to shake this trend. It's more of the same from one of doom’s finest projects; the riffs are cool, the vocals are cool, the lyrics are cool. No surprises.
So why am I not more excited about it? While Black Masses is filled with all of the enjoyable Electric Wizard trademarks, it doesn’t expand or enhance them in any fashion beyond what we’ve already heard, and what’s offered isn’t necessarily stimulating enough to make up for this lack of forward momentum. Black Masses sees the band primarily follow up on the sound and concepts explored on Witchcult Today, purveying a lo-fi stoner/doom hybrid with a more upbeat, straightforward pace than the colossal trudge of the earlier albums. The production has become even grainier and distant-sounding, and it doesn’t work to the band’s advantage in this case. The vocals are a bit piercing to the ears at loud volumes; the guitars feel flat compared to the robust tone of the bass; and the drums are almost inaudible most of the time. While this mix suits the hazy, psychedelic side of the music, it also robs Electric Wizard of the earth-shaking heaviness they’ve been revered for. The band’s style has always been founded on attitude and delivery as much as the actual riffing compositions themselves, but with such a paper-thin mix, the guitars simply don’t carry enough weight to properly deliver on the underlying heft of these tunes. When coupled with the muted percussion, the sonic impact of Black Masses is disappointingly diminished.
Production issues aside, it's also clear that Electric Wizard is treading water on the songwriting side of things. That’s not to say any of the material on Black Masses outright sucks; all of the songs are well-structured, and there are plenty of memorable grooves and ear-snagging vocal hooks to be found. “The Nightchild” and “Turn Off Your Mind” both deliver droning Osborne choruses with long psychedelic freak-outs in classic E-Wiz style, and it's hard not to bob your head when the chugging riff of “Patterns of Evil” and the title track crawl from your speakers. But, at the end of the day, these tracks pretty much show all they have to offer by the second or third listen; there’s really no depth here. All of the songs are played in virtually the same tempo, the structures are mostly typical verse/chorus repetition, and many of the riffs are eerily similar to other Electric Wizard songs, even others on this album. These things never really affected my enjoyment of Black Masses while it was playing, but it didn’t take long for the album’s short legs to affect my desire to keep spinning it. I’m never one to condemn a band for sticking with a tried-and-true formula throughout their career as long as the music continues to sound inspired, but the almost fatigued tone of Black Masses makes the album’s redundancy harder to ignore.
I can’t really label this album a disappointment in the traditional sense, for it delivered pretty much exactly what I expected it to from the onset. It’s another solid slab of rocking stoner doom, with fuzzed-out bass and lyrics about pot-smoking vampires. The disappointment lies more in the realization that Electric Wizard has become a band that I expect to be momentarily satiated with rather than blown away by. Black Masses retains enough of the band’s magic to warrant some spins in the coming gloomy months, but its just not interesting or powerful enough to make much of a lasting impression.
Register to post comments.