NOTE - Don't worry lovers, I haven't misplaced my diary or taken too much meth again, I'm going to be spreading posts out over the week, so my first article will go up Wednesday, the main glut of posts on Friday and any non-music stuff/announcements/obits will go up Sunday, got it? Love you too!
(Or: Rite on.)
(Or: Come on baby light my pyre.)
It was as I took delivery of the latest Electric Wizard seven-inch, I spun it once and then put it away. I shall enjoy it as a fetish item just as I treasure my unplayed Dark Third double-vinyl, but why do I still buy Electric Wizard records? Somewhere in the midst of Black Masses I realised I don’t like them anymore; some sense of duty to a band that was once so transcendent? Or a tiny vestige of hope that they might be that transcendent again? This forced me to look at myself, and meditate that my diarised musical maturation into the land of the heavy, usually drug-infused English music is not complete without a long look at the band Electric Wizard, and this blog wouldn’t hold off an Electric Wizard article any longer. So because of the release of Legalise Drugs and Murder I’m gonna look back at the difficulties of being an Electric Wizard freak, the Ramesses conundrum and exactly where one ought to draw the line. It’s time to come to terms with my Electric Wizard problem.
Come my fanatics/Dopethrone.
I say problem because any attitude to Electric Wizard as a whole comes at such a high price, I strain to say I enjoy any of the Jus Oborn’s Electric Wizard post-2003 stuff, but I can’t damn the whole band to the also-listened because Come My Fanatics and Dopethrone are two of the best doom records ever pressed. Where the heaviness isn’t just an effect, it bleeds out of the freshly sliced band members and onto the instruments like creeping tar. There’s also the question of Ramesses to contend with. The Electric Wizard recovery group, who are even more skull-powderingly unforgiving than the mothership from whence they sprang. Like a divorced parent discovering their real self while the other sinks into a despair that is increasingly troubling to watch, I can almost accept the divorce knowing what came out of it, but there are certain Wizardisms that departed the outfit as US bombs landed in the gulf and have not been passed on genetically to Ramesses but neither are they acknowledged in the work of Jus Oborn’s Electric Wizard. That be the rural doom to so plagued those early Wizard releases, making the thud that much more brutal because of the exhausted un-Christian muscles that threw the hammer. That dirty, tree-root druidic sensibility infused the music as much as the dopesmoke and in many ways was the highlight of those early albums. Rural people in Britain especially have been face to face with doom for a long time. Not only the history that tangles nearly as much as the dirt in the roots, but the more modern idiom of urbanisation and the lack of farming, as well as the historic grimness. All of this can be heard in Electric Wizard’s early albums in such a sustained and complete expression of southern rural-ness that you just want to get fucking in Stonehenge to prove them wrong, it isn’t all doom and gloom in the country. It can’t be. Oh but it is motherfuckers. All you urbanites who ain’t ever felt untouched earth might not believe this but it is real grim in the country, and now you don’t need to go live there, you just gotta hear it in Come My Fanatics and Dopethrone.
It took me a long time to get into Electric Wizard, I’d listened to some Saint Vitus and came upon Wizard when looking for something to satisfy my apparently endless thirst for mung. But Wizard is where I found my line, at least at first, I loved the sound, but prolonged exposure did something to my mood, it was true doom. Especially Fanatics, that is the sort of shit those righteous members of the Beatles would be playing if they could see their legacy in today’s boy bands. It is that dark. But it is also infused with groove, and a killer guitar tone and a real drum and bass double-act doing their best to keep the audience amused with high-paced cabaret at the back while the guitar ploughs mercilessly through the front row with a hatchet and the vocal performs horrifying but compelling rituals with its own entrails. The album is an intense, mad rave and the songs continue into the eight and nine minute mark for what feels like eternity. I soon came to love it though, Dopethrone was the first record I bought and I caught up on Fanatics later which is the way I would advise would-be electric wizards to go about hitting them, really any pre-2003 Electric Wizard record is going to leave you pretty staggered.
Jus Oborn’s Electric Wizard.
And in 2003 it all kinda came apart, the band broke up quite literally and Jus Oborn (vox) revealed a new lineup, henceforth they would be referred to (by me) as Jus Oborn’s Electric Wizard. The crux was an ill-fated North American tour to support Let Us Prey, the final show of which was announced to be their last. The band did return to the UK to play with Cathedral before Drums and Guitars departed stage left in the form of Mark Greening and Tim Bradshaw, they teamed up with ex-proto-Electric Wizard bassist and master of the gutter vocal Adam Richardson to form Ramesses in the same year. For many people Ramesses are more highly regarded than Wizard as the breathtaking vocal performance from Adam Richardson was the missing piece in the Electric Wizard puzzle. The Wizard carried on and this is where the story kind of breaks apart. Wizard went off to make (and continue to make) a series of fairly mediocre albums that just served to highlight what was missing, and how great the early stuff had been, because despite the continued noise and thunder, there was nothing to disguise the fact that the old bird was dead inside. The only brief respite was Witchcult Today that, while no longer the glory days, at least retained enough genuine high-quality heaviness to tide an easily-pleased head over ‘till he can get to something with a little more soul. The removal of all of the things that weren’t in the music was the key, separating the rural druidic doom with more sound and more production. It seems that in the birth of Ramesses, they also took Wizard’s soul.
We will lead you to glorious times.
Like many who were instantly converted, my first introduction to Ramesses was through the song Black Domina, a seemingly endless eleven minute-high block of super-saturated megasludge on the very edge of bearability, until that jump of about fifty decibels and immeasurable leap in heart rate that hits with all the visceral bruising power of a brawler’s right hook at around the 1:05 mark. Imagine being punched continually for all remaining ten minutes of the song, not battered, feeling that same punch. The whole of We Will Lead You to Glorious Times is like that, as soon as I saw the cover I knew I had to get my hands on that. Utterly unrelenting to the degree that listening to it really is a workout. Adam Richardson’s vocals are the star of the show, trampling you as if by a herd of horses. This record has only the one volume, too loud. The lo-fi production exacerbates the already mungtastic guitar tone which seems to be a single continuous drone, looping and switching and whipping round across each song like a titanic woollen animal.
The the rural emotion embodied by these wah-centric druidic spirits isn’t so much the frustration and doom that came out of Wizard’s frets, it’s something far more energetic and proactive, this is anger. That Om style chanting of “step into the white light, step into suicide” on Black Domina that now echoes in my tinnitus throughout my sleepless nights is no request or suggestion, it’s an order barked by the assembled spirits at some horrifying ritual. Something lit only by the stars and the pyre. Ramesses take the ages-old Wizard doom and give it youth and vibrancy, breathing into it life, and holy unchristened, it sure is angry after all those years of despair.
Sadly, and despite the brilliance of We Will Lead You to Glorious Times, it was short lived. The same fate befell both bands, and it’s so obvious that it’s almost heartbreaking that nobody in the creative clique of either group has spotted it. Production got too good. Money infiltrated the project. Must is the art of turning money into sound and back into money, as somebody once aptly put it, but with both latter-day Wizard and Ramesses too much money has meant a slew of well-produced records that scrub all of the mud off the records, even the little flecks of dirt in the creases of your hands gets washed away. The production is like Listerine made of money that scours clean like a glacier through all of doom. The records are still heavy and I still buy them, and for the record Ramesses have less money and a better sound because of it, but are still too clean, too pristine. Imagine a pagan alter in a disused, broken down church being polished and jet-washed of all of the caked dried blood and the tree roots... that’s what the new sound embodies and I don’t like it. I’m glad Wizard gave us two records so heavy you could pour them into a mould and make a dam, and I’m glad Ramesses was born of Wizard’s spiritual death to give us another, arguably better one, but I fear now that the nightmare is over.
Written under duress by Steven.
ENDNOTE – All yooz looking for the same rural motherfuckery from Fanatics and Dopethrone will be happy to know a new album from Windhand, all the way from Richmond, Virginia in the good old un-druidic US of A has come to your spiritual rescue. You’ll find five pieces of the finest sonic yarp that will totally keep you rolling until you can unearth some even more sustaining local awesome. I highly advise you to toke it.