Drugs, sex, every kind of filth…
After years of hibernation, no doubt filled with late-night Jesus Franco-marathons and copious amounts of dope, Dorset’s heaviest are back from the grave. Substantial twists have been afoot in the Wizard-camp since their last outing, 2010’s groovy acid-drenched Black Masses. Drummer Shaun Rutter and bassist Tas have left the fold, replaced by Satan’s Satyrs zealot Clayton Burgess and, returning for the first time since Let Us Prey, drummer Mark Greening. At the time of writing, Greening has once again parted ways with the band, illustrating the tempestuous core of Electric Wizard. A 20-year relationship with Rise Above Records has also come to an end, with Time To Die being released on the band’s own label Witchfinder Records, a subdivision of Spinefarm.
21 years and eight studio albums in, Wizard mastermind Jus Oborn has built up a considerable following of freaks and fiends. From crushingly heavy doom milestones Come My Fanatics and Dopethrone, to the psychedelic grooves of Witchcult Today, Electric Wizard’s discography is full of dark gems. With a reach that extends beyond the damp and smoky cellars of the underground, the band have become ambassadors of doom. The remarkable success is certainly the result of decades of hard work and an excellent ear for bloody great riffs, but in later years, something has been lacking. A strong album in its own right, Black Masses at points felt like entire riffs and sections were lifted directly from the preceding Witchcult Today. The band had found their niche, but for some of us the looming repetition was an ugly omen.
At the risk of sounding pessimistic, there still hangs a heavy drapery of staleness over the first half of Time To Die. A brand new recruit to the machinery of the Wizard, Burgess has disappointingly left the fierce energy of his own band behind, and one suspects he had little to do with the songwriting process. As a result, the bass feels more like an afterthought, mostly rumbling along in the background. The songs on Time To Die are focused around the dual guitars of Oborn and his first lady Liz Buckingham, bringing back the relentless trippy soloing of Black Masses. That’s not inherently a bad thing, and there are a number of complete freakouts here that feel like Hawkwind’s evil doppelgangers, but it also means that it’s more of the same yet again. The main riff of the title track is interchangeable with a number of songs from the last few albums, and the acid horror-tinged lyrics are once again drowning in spacey vocal effects.
On the positive side, the Hammond-organ instrumental “Destroy Those Who Love God” is passionately bonkers, and marks a turning point on the album. It picks up with the faster-paced stomp of “Funeral Of Your Mind”, and keeps up the momentum for the rest of the running time. Greening’s percussion also marks the return of some of the barbarian fury of Dopethrone, and this is probably the heaviest the band has sounded since that mammoth piece of stoner metal. Despite its faults, “I Am Nothing” is a welcome reminder that Oborn once wrote the masterpiece “Return Trip”, which still stands as one of the greatest doom metal tunes ever. In other words, Electric Wizard are not fully on autopilot yet, although those laurels seem to be getting quite comfortable.
Continuing the dynamic of the last few albums, the slow crawling tracks are interspersed with upbeat numbers to break the monotony. Besides the aforementioned “Funeral Of Your Mind”, the single “Sadiowitch” turns up the pace with sleazy results. Dark, acidulous, and glumly malevolent, it plunges into the realms of sexploitation and cultish sadism. A trademark of the band, the obscure aesthetics are almost as important as the music itself, and the gimmick is so entrenched that every note is dripping with the seedy underbelly of satanic porn. Taking the step into the truly cinematic, “Sadiowitch” comes complete with a suitably demented video, marrying the nightmarish sounds with fever-dream visuals. The tales of unbridled satanic ritual abuse, the corrupting horrors of rock music, and moral degeneration bubbles up throughout Time To Die to an unprecedented degree. As most followers of the band would agree, that’s entirely a good thing.
With the immense amount of psyched out effects and mind-bending solos, combined with slow chugging, brain-melting riffs, Time To Die recants the strengths of both Electric Wizard’s early work and the occult flair that the new millennium brought them. There’s something here for fans of most of their catalogue, without directly pandering to their plentiful acolytes. Ultimately, a new record from band of Electric Wizard’s enormous stature will be plagued by lofty expectations. After four years, many were hoping for a psychedelic masterpiece of satanic proportions, and Time To Die doesn’t quite deliver on the hype.
In its stead, we get a solid album that bears the unmistakable mark of Jus Oborn and his esoteric pursuits. As the album trails off with the familiar words “once you get into one of these groups, there’s only a couple of ways you can get out…” (a sentiment Greening must be uncomfortably familiar with) the band comes full circle. Ideally, this serves as a closing chapter in a book that is starting to wear thin, and allows the band to begin anew. To conclude what turned out to be a wordy review; if you liked the last two Wizard-albums, you’ll be satisfied with Time To Die. With a sound that is growing formulaic, however, a fresh start is in order for a band that are losing their momentum.
Neither massive nor chaotic…
If the headlong dive into ambient esoterica on Revelations of the Black Flame and, to a lesser extent, Demonoir, was 1349’s attempt to rid themselves of the “that other Norwegian black metal band with Frost on drums” tag then Massive Cauldron of Chaos serves as a statement that Ravn and co. no longer have such scruples, as this album is nothing if not a very conservative back-to-roots affair. Well, for the most part anyway…
With nary an ambient interlude in sight, Massive Cauldron of Chaos hearkens back to the sound and style of yore but it is not a complete re-tread of Beyond the Apocalypse and Hellfire (the latter remains the band’s coup de grâce as far as I’m concerned). Though the basic elements are intact – lots of tremolo picked riffs, Ravn’s trademark hissy rasps and Frost pummelling his kit into next week – the songs are composed in such a way that the oft neglected melodic dynamics of their sound now occupy an equal footing with their more feral side. The result is a more balanced effort overall but with an attendant drop in intensity as a less welcome side-effect. Massive Cauldron of Chaos is not a mellow album by any stretch of the imagination but there is a definite sense of measured restraint at play here, though you’d never guess it considering the face-tearing qualities of “Cauldron” and “Godslayer,” that bookend the album in Marduk-friendly fashion that recalls the speedy exploits of yore. That said, the tracks sandwiched between the aforementioned throwback songs largely see the band eschewing unbridled aggression in favor of slightly more restrained and riff-driven material that variously dabbles in old school Teutonic speed metal (“Slaves”), equally archaic Hellhammer-like rhythmic chord slamming (“Chained”) and even a quasi-throwback to the sweeping melodies of Satyricon’s classic “Mother North” on “Mengele’s.”
“Slaves” is no doubt a special track, imbued as it is by both primal grooves as well as sporadic bursts of jangly melodies that almost give it an ‘artsy’ dynamic. Another surprising aspect is the increased focus on melodic leads, with the solo sections on quite a few tracks bordering on downright flashy (albeit in a black metal context, of course). It’s all quite entertaining but I cannot deny that the unhinged ferocity of their early material is sorely missed on here and the band’s decision to fall back on 80’s-style speed and groove elements causes the album to feel overly safe at times – a bit disappointing considering they had four years in which to craft this album. On a strictly formalistic level the structural integrity of the album is beyond reproach, as is the musicianship, but after a four-year wait I simply needed a little bit more from 1349. As it stands, Massive Cauldron of Chaos is a workmanlike affair but hardly essential listening.
…not quite seduced.
In Flames has never been the kind of band to play it wholly safe with their material. They have essentially evolved throughout their career adding in nuances of melody and experimented with alternative metal stripes here and there, losing a good portion of their older fan base with these changes throughout, but garnering new ones along the way. The shift towards big poppy choruses, synths, and melancholic alternative vocals didn’t frighten me like it did many others and I would even say that I was somewhat impressed with the movement towards more aggression on their last album Sounds of a Playground Fading. Yet even I was a bit shocked at the massive leap of style that presented itself on their latest album Siren Charms.
At the basis, Siren Charms is a culmination of various things we’ve heard before from the In Flames catalog. In many ways it’s a similar record to A Sense of Purpose with its use of synths, simplistic writing structures, and vocal work. It just doesn’t half ass the alternative elements anymore. There is very little indication that this band was considered melodic death metal to be found here and even at their most aggressive on “Everything’s Gone,” it just sounds like one of the weaker tracks from their transitional album Reroute to Remain. In a way, I have to give them props for not bullshitting around on this album. It’s a straight up alternative metal record and they play it in full in that manner.
Yet even shifting one’s listening lens to approach Siren Charms as an alternative metal record doesn’t make the record a sure fire winner. The album has a few moments here and there, the industrial coating on “In Plain View” or the stuttered melody that opens the title track, but even then the album simply lacks punch. It’s almost utterly stuck in pseudo-ballad territory for the majority of its run time and the lacking energy sinks the album. A good portion of this ‘sleepy’ aspect of the record has to do with the significant lack of riffs on the record – melodic or not – and it drags the album down. You can only get away with intertwining melancholic guitar lines for so many songs in a row before it feels like it’s smothering you in angst and tired song writing.
That being said, there are some half way decent tracks that wormed their way into my psychosis. The album (finally) picks up right at the end with the last two tracks finding some sort of propulsion to get the album going. For the alternative metal sound, “Filtered Truth” might be the best track on this album and it’s just too bad that it didn’t pop up early to keep the energy from tanking so badly about mid record. To appreciate those few tracks though, you have to wade through the rest of Siren Charms, a task not all that easy to do.
Like the title would suggest, In Flames seems intent on luring its listeners out to sea and then drowning them with mediocre song writing and less than energetic performances. As a long time fan of the band, I’m not entirely against their shift towards a modern metal sound with alternative elements, Reroute to Remain and Come Clarity reside as two of their best in my opinion, but Siren Charms couldn’t work its spell for me. As if In Flames hadn’t alienated its audience enough, this album will go down as the worst of their long-standing career. This would be hard to recommend even for the most die hard of fans.
Dubbed by their countrymen “the Japanese Black Sabbath”, Ningen-Isu has been active in their homeland since forming in 1987. Despite the band beginning to gain worldwide acclaim, their name is still not commonly known among metalheads outside of Japan. The Metal Observer was recently granted the opportunity to interview these Japanese legends on the heels of releasing their eighteenth album, Burai Houjouo, in June of 2014, which could very well be one of the band’s only, if not THE only, interview in English.
Metal has had its fair share of oddities and curiosities, and more than once, as it happens, like a two-headed beast fighting over a shared body, we come upon two bands of the very same name, an unusual instance that often spawns tensions and lawsuits. TMO has gathered the 10 most prominent of these cases, looked into how they came to be, and then at whether or not a solution was ultimately found.
It can be bizarre. It can also be off-putting. But it’s an entirely new realm of the sub-genre that can afford some great new bands and masterpieces to listeners. The power metal scene has really blossomed since the arrival of X Japan in the ’80s, and since then it’s been taken to new heights and limits.
Hans gets up close and personal with Swedish melodic death metal band Meadows End and the whole band joins in to give some insight.
“What is freedom of expression? Without the freedom to offend, it ceases to exist.”
― Salman Rushdie
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