Welcome To The Newest From Electric Wizard, Time To Die
Never mistake Electric Wizard for being soft. Leader Jus Oborn and company have made a career enveloped in occult images, bleak lyrics, and being uncompromisingly evil. The band takes their name from two Black Sabbath songs, “Electric Funeral” and “The Wizard,” and, like their name, their music pays a similar homage, honing in on and playing up the theatrical campy side that made Sabbath so infamous in the 70s. Unlike their similarly minded predecessors, Sleep, who takes Sabbath’s sound and meditates on the religiosity of marijuana, Dorset’s 4-piece meditates on the violence that a culture in fear of subversive or deviant behavior can inherit. The resulting sounds are landscapes in slow evolution towards a never-far-off apocalypse.
It’s not easy being evil for so long. The band has had a tough time finding creative ingenuity after 2000’s bona fide classic Dopethrone. Their last two albums, 2007’s Witchcult Today and 2010’s Black Masses found the band in lineup flux and a scaled back approach. On their latest record, Time to Die, the Wizard returns with original drummer Mark Greening, retuning and reformulating ideas from their early work.
The callbacks to their previous work are unmistakable. On Dopethrone they open with a clip from the news program 20/20 quoting “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.” Time to Die opens with its own clip, a television news sample outlining the story of Rick Kasso who, in 1984, infamously murdered Gary Lauwers in Long Island, NY. Kasso is somewhat a legend, known as the “Acid King” because of the murderer connection to recreation drug use and Kasso’s love of heavy metal. This dark brand of self-awareness frames the record both in imagistic and thematic terms.
Superficially, Time to Die hits all of the necessary check marks we’ve come to expect based on their “classic” output. Slow plodding detuned blues riffs. Check. Scratchy distorted vocals. Check. Song lengths that rarely go below seven minutes. Check. This is a band that indulges in clichés; however, are the songs captivating?
The first three songs, “Incense for the Damned,” “Time to Die,” and “I am Nothing” work as mirrors to one another. All three are played at a crawling pace and pretty standard verse chorus structure before devolving into either a heavy breakdown or violent spaced out wah wah jam. “Incense” gets the former treatment, breaking down after six minutes into a punishing doom riff with Oborn screaming at the top of his lungs before picking up with the original riff and transitioning seamlessly into the title track. “Time to Die” mimics “Incense’s” riff in 3/4 time; building up tension, and releasing with beautiful results.
The vocal hooks are standard Wizard: Oborn screams “Bring your baby / It’s Time to Die” over and over ad nauseum. There are three examples of that exact same vocal structure using the name of the song as the hook. “It’s Time to Die,” “I am Nothing,” and “Funeral of the Mind.” However, in all three songs, the repetition of vocal structure doesn’t really distract from the overall feeling. All of these tunes go from being heavy songs to really heavy songs and the tonal ranges from monochromatic darkness to a soundtrack for a nuclear explosion. The vocals really help and add dynamics to the songs’ structural layering.
“Funeral of the Mind” is the most dynamic composition off the entire album, clocking in at a comparatively slim seven minutes and sees the band being heavy, catchy, and even more importantly, moving from one thought-out riff to another. “We Love the Dead” and “Sadiowitch” are the points where the album probably lags the most. “We Love the Dead” is a slow burner, which clunks along but offers very little in the way of growth. “Sadiowitch,” despite its brevity and hooky chorus, seems lazy, repeating the chorus for most of the song’s length and goes nowhere interesting before fizzling out. “Lucifer’s Slaves,” however, redeems both missteps in another epic slow burner combining a really killer Blue Cheer/Black Sabbath riff and a simple doom turn that pulls and releases at exactly the right times.
I wouldn’t call Time to Die a return to the glory of its most celebrated records, nor would I call it a continuation of the mediocre output of late. It’s an album caught somewhere between a band that’s looking at the past and recognizing their strengths, and a band that wants to push their sound but doesn’t know how to break out of their comfort zone. This album could have trimmed itself of its missteps and still had over 50 minutes of music, but Electric Wizard is a band about excess, and that excess can come with a price. Thankfully, most of the album doesn’t fall into the category, but when it does, the songs only lose their appeal because the rest of the songs are so strong.