Electric Wizard A to Z
From Alice Cooper to H.P. Lovecraft to vintage European porn, this is the DNA of the oddball British doom legends.
A misanthropic, acid burnt nightmare from deepest Dorset, England, Electric Wizard have led the charge for caustic doom metal rebellion for over two decades and, at this stage, are simply one of the finest rock 'n' roll bands around. They're proud carriers of a viral lineage that stretches from the late 60s to the present day, deserving of mention in the same breath as Black Sabbath, The Stooges, or Venom.
And while the band display a devotion to spiritual riff worship unequaled by anyone bar Iommi himself, they are also a group steeped in hidden knowledge; a trove of the darker angles of counter culture, the cauldron of psychotropic cultural gumbo. Sleaze and exploitation movies, vintage horror, 60s Euro porn, the backstreets of 1980s Soho, Detroit garage rock, HP Lovecraft, Andy Milligan—it is impossible to separate the music of Electric Wizard from their cultural obsessions, and it would be churlish to try. This is no kitsch dalliance, however: The band are devotees of the whole glorious mélange of sleaze and basement innovation that so often surrounds the cinema, art, and music of the late 60s/early 70s underground.
The reference points are often oblique. While most bands thank a list of other bands on the back of record sleeves, Electric Wizard offer praise to cult horror actors like Reggie Nalder (the unforgettable face of Salem’s Lot); debauched pulp newsstand publisher Mad Myron Fass (“if I can guarantee a circulation of over 20,000 I’ll publish a magazine on fuckin’ toilet seats”); Spanish horror, exploitation and sleaze master Jess Franco (director of over 100 movies including Vampyros Lesbos and Venus in Furs) and Straw Dogs star Susan George.
Musically speaking however, the Wiz’ were initially Sabbath disciples enamored with both the early wave of US doom (Saint Vitus, Pentagram, and Trouble) alongside the raw sub basement dynamics of later NWOBHM wrong'uns like Venom and Witchfinder General.
Their eponymous debut LP was released in 1995 and combined the bludgeon of Sabbath with an affinity for rolling psychedelic grooves while second LP—Come My Fanatics (1996)—solidified the band's true sound: a nightmarish return trip that felt like nothing else at the time. It was equal parts heavy, dingy, and oppressive, boasting a production value that sounded like it came from a wet cave. Flipping the slow and low ethos of classic doom metal and amping the grot factor to infinity, the record carried an air of hardcore nihilism alongside an occasional Hawkwind-style propensity for raw electronic experimentation (check “Phase Inducer”). But while Fanatics was an extreme album, what followed in 2000, Dopethrone, was a leviathan of heavy virtuosity, crushing black weight for the spiraling midnight vortex. The 00s saw various line-up changes from the original trio of Jus Oborn (vocals/guitar), Tim Bagshaw (bass), and Mark Greening (drums). Liz Buckingham, formerly of Sourvein and 13, joined the band on guitar while the rhythm section rotated a few times and the band recorded more experimental fare in the form of Let us Prey (2002) and We Live (2004). Witchcult Today (2007) and Black Masses (2010) added a dose of warped psychedelic power to an already twisted mix and were both rightly hailed as classics.
Soon to release a new LP on their own Witchfinder Records—and boasting a new line up including Clayton Burgess from Satan’s Satyrs on bass alongside original drummer Mark Greening—Electric Wizard have not exactly mellowed with age. As Jus Oborn recently stated: “Our master plan is this: real metal! We stand for rebellion. We are with the kids. We fight, puke, smoke weed.”
With this in mind, Noisey was granted a rare email exchange with Oborn. Here we take you through an A to Z of cultural references for the Electric Wizard, a cornucopia of bizarre sleaze. The disappearance of Soho, the delight of Susan George, the flooding of the Somerset levels, the glory of Satan’s Satyrs, recording at the legendary Toerag studios—Weird Tales, filth and fury. Come my Fanatics…
A is for Alice. Early 70s Cooper was killer. Disturbing, jaunty melodies, dark themes, guillotines, cheap makeup, rot gut whiskey—what’s not to like? Cooper hit on an interesting duality: dark imagery offset against weirdly upbeat theatrical rock 'n' roll. As Jus Oborn says, “All the original line-up stuff is awesome... at least, until Bob Ezrin ruins them. I think his influence was the worst thing that happened to them... It starts to go downhill with the 'musicals' stuff during School's Out, but I guess the band weren't exactly involved either. It’s like the classic story of the bad old days of the record industry (hasn't changed much really…) But the first four are absolutely priceless...the best is obviously Killer, cos it's the culmination of what they had been trying to achieve... I mean stuff like 'Halo of Flies' is beyond genius; but then work your way backwards to 'Pretties For You.'”
B is for Black Flag: While Sabbath are rightly held as high priests of doom metal—and their influence on Electric Wizard is self evident—Black Flag are also a vital part of the puzzle. Taking the ferocious violence of hardcore and adding serious low-slung groove, Black Flag guitarist Greg Ginn also solidified his doom credentials by releasing Maryland overlords Saint Vitus on his own SST imprint. Check the entire B Side of 1984’s My War for the sludgiest, most morose slice of punk rock you’ll ever hear.
C is for Corruption: Best remembered as the grand magus of Hammer Horror, Peter Cushing also put his name to some seriously debauched fare. Corruption is one such movie. Jus says: “Corruption was directed by Robert Hartford-Davies in 1968… Peter Cushing's sleaziest and most demented epic. He beheads prostitutes in 60s Soho to collect pituitary glands to help restore his supermodel wife’s accidentally disfigured face. Then ends up with a home invasion ala Clockwork Orange by this demented LSD crazed mod gang, and then everyone is lazered to death by a faulty experimental surgery technique…brilliant.”
D is for Detroit: While you may not immediately associate earlier Wizard records with harsh Detroit garage rock, in recent years it has been an increasing influence—certainly one that was writ large over the filthy black tar chug of 2010’s Black Masses. MC5, The Stooges, Cooper—even the early work of bare-chested, squirrel-hunting ubermensch Ted Nugent—they all share a propensity for foot to the floor rock 'n' roll with (sub) basement production levels that equal total ferocity. “These bands are all so raw and aggressive,” Jus notes. “And they were clearly influenced by UK stuff...esp. early R&B like The Pretty Things and Yardbirds—and Pink Floyd too. Pink Floyd actually toured the states in 1968 and was an underground sensation. They ended up staying at Alice Cooper's (the band's) house for a few days... I think it was a massive influence on them. So yeah, that all filtered down with the classic blues and soul... mixed with aggression and violence. Heavy shit! At the time all the Detroit bands were referred to as 'heavy metal' bands anyway, which is correct… honestly—check out an old Rolling Stone.”
E is for The Erotic Rights of Frankenstein: “Directed by the late, great Jesus Franco in 1973 for the horror obsessed Robert DeNesle… this is Fumetti Erotici come to life, straight from the pages of Oltretomba, Terror or I Sanguinari. It’s a sex and sleaze horror freak out that is still unavailable uncut on DVD (as well as The Demons), only the old UK VHS… So, please someone track that down and let me know.”
F is for the Floods: This year saw some of the worst flooding in recent memory perilously close to Wizard HQ in Somerset. Says Jus, “It was bloody awful... luckily we live quite high up, but we were stranded for a few days. Of course, now we know the fucking government have allowed it to happen by not dredging... fuckin’ arseholes. This is farmland—our farmland, NOT a fuckin’ EU directive. It’s all bullshit... trying to erode our communities and force us into 'urban concentration zones' (their term not mine... fuckin' scary)… Honestly, it's war now.”
G is for Susan George: Star of Sam Peckinpah’s controversial examination of extreme rural violence and revenge, Susan George now breeds Arabian horses. For Oborn and many others, however, she will always be associated with rural brutality: “Dorset and Somerset is very Straw Dogs. My Dad could have been in that gang in the sixties... Susan George was a childhood fave… still is.”
H is for H.P Lovecraft: H.P Lovecraft is inarguably the most influential horror writer of the 20th century. The inventor of the mythical realm of Cthulhu is a master of the short story and moral ambiguity. The Wiz’ paid homage in “Dunwich,” a tribute to Lovecraft's macabre tale of sorcery and indoctrination set in the Massachusetts countryside, “The Dunwich Horror.” The song remains—hands down—the grooviest jam they’ve ever put to vinyl, playing out like Captain Beefheart jamming with Pentagram in a smoky New York Brownstone circa 1972.
I is for Indica: Enough said.
J is for Jess Franco: Franco was a true master of operatic celluloid extremity—his work was luscious, vivid, and deranged. During his life he directed over 160 movies that ranged from straight up horror to weird exploitation to bizarre soft-core porn. He was a powerhouse artist who was driven by a will to create and possessed a constant forward motion.
K is for Kentish Town Forum: 31/03/12—Selling out one of London’s most prestigious venues purely on word of mouth? Yep. The witchcult grows.
L is for Long Island Cannibal Massacre: “Long Island Cannibal Massacre directed by Nathan Schiff in 1979—I got this recently, and it totally blew my mind. It's a 100 percent amateur production made on Super 8, but it's actually good and works as a 'proper' movie. It's acid burnt and gory to the point of being surreal—we were blown away, kinda like Bad Taste, the first Peter Jackson feature.”
M is for “Mad” Myron Fass: The publisher of an increasingly bizarre array of trash magazine titles—Outlaw Biker Gangs, Occult Sex, Brute, Groupies—Fass had an empire that saw him rule newsstands across urban America during the 70s and 80s. An eccentric entrepreneur who claimed he’d “print a rag about toilet seats so long as it gets a circulation of 20,000,” Fass was an unpredictable pulp master who published thousands of titles over decades. Jus is a life long devotee: “He's fuckin’ crazed... I grew up on all the horror mags: Weird, Terror Tales, Witches Tales etc.... they were so much more crazed and sick and weird. As a kid I didn’t really understand Creepy or Marvel Horror, but the Myron Fass/Eerie publications was primal shit; evil and cheaper too—good for pocket money. Now I collect it all. The detective mags are far out too—also, I love the Stanley Publications shit. Stuff like Ghoul Tales and Stark Terror... They were even cheaper and crummier, but the covers were really evil and wrong and heavy on sexual sadism—even though the stories inside were tame as fuck.”
N is for Paul Naschy: Another titan of Spanish celluloid sleaze, Naschy is a Wizard favorite best known for his Hombre Lobo werewolf series.
O is for “The Outsider”: Rebel music. Turn off your mind.
P is for Psychomania: The greatest British biker movie ever made, Psychomania is an essential part of the late night Wizard celluloid canon. The plot goes like this: A biker called Tom leads a gang called “The Living Dead”. He holds séances at home overseen by his Butler (?) and weird mum. He makes a pact with the devil to return after death. He and the gang commit suicide one by one and stalk middle England. Bizarre folk ballad “Riding Free” equals anything found on the Wicker Man soundtrack.
Q is for Queen of the Night: “Venus in Furs” is a paen to that classic doom trope, the evil woman. This track from Black Masses features some of Jus's very finest wordplay: “Queen of the night swathed in Saturn black, your ivory flesh upon my torture rack... to your leather boots I offer prayer, you rise like a Cobra, evil, dressed in furs.”
R is for Reggie Nalder: Endowed with one of the most recognizable faces in horror (“the face that launched a thousand trips”) Reggie Nalder is best known in the popular imagination for Salem’s Lot. But he also appeared in a plethora of other B movies and even had a brief run in Star Trek. He gets a mention on the back of Dopethrone.
S is for Satan’s Satyrs: While doom has always had an affinity to punk through shared DIY aesthetics, distrust of the music industry, and an emphasis on feeling over virtuosity, Virginia trio Satan’s Satyrs offer the most succinct marriage between the misanthropic bass weight of the former and adrenal rush of the latter. Crazed 60s fuzz box riffs, screamed vocals, and a lyrical universe based almost entirely around the occult, biker gangs, and bondage—come on now, what’s not to like? Clayton Burgess now also plays bass for the Wiz’, as Jus states: “They fuckin rip... I honestly don't hear that much music that has any real energy and aggression these days. In metal we kinda think some dude giving himself a rectal prolapse in the first bar of the song is like 'hhheeeaaavvyy, man.' But y'know, the rest of the world finds it silly. Some metal scares the shit out of them, but it’s the evil, dark and twisted stuff played by scary freaks... You need people screaming 'what the fuck is this racket? Turn it off...' and that’s exactly what I thought when I heard Satan’s Satyrs... Plus they mixed up some sounds that I thought made a lot of sense, but that maybe some people wouldn't get. Y'know... Davie Allen meets Black Flag meets Venom... It's where my head's at.”
T is for Toerag Studios: Toerag Studios, in the heart of Hackney, is analog heaven. The studios gained fame via the patronage of The White Stripes in the early 00s, and Electric Wizard recorded both Black Masses and their forthcoming LP there. Jus says, “We recorded the new LP at Toerag—and at Skyhammer in Cheshire with Chris Fielding, who is an old friend of the band... We also mixed it at Skyhammer. Also I recorded a couple of overdubs on the trusty four-track at The Evil Dead Cottage. Yeah, Black Masses is full-on acid metal. We wanted it to sound hallucinatory... But for this one we needed it more direct—more metal—and I’d worked with Chris Fielding before—knew what he could do for us mixing wise. We were determined to record and mix in different environments.”
U is for Under the counter: London's Soho neighborhood has changed a lot over the past decade. The glory years of a few decades ago have largely disappeared. Gentrification marches unrelentingly on. Jus was there in the late 80s, however.
“There aren’t really many decent cinemas left,” he remembers. “When I was there in around 88-89 it was the skeletal remains of the Soho red-light district... It was awesome to be honest, ha-ha... All the porn was a rip-off and was heavily censored, but looked hard. All the uncensored stickers were actually printed on... but you could get harder stuff under the counter—Well, round the back in the boot of a car, anyway. A few strip joints remained, which were fuckin great and only a quid a go back then!
“The Reeperbahn in Hamburg is still pretty sleazy, and there is one good place in Amsterdam—but the greats in Denmark and Stockholm are all gone too. The only good places left are in obscure US cities… also Osaka and Tokyo are great too for the old cool 70s shit.”
V is for Venom: The nastiest, filthiest, the grittiest—Newcastle’s finest. Electric Wizard love Venom, and so should you. As vocalist Cronos once said, “We wanted to create... panic. There were a lot of things that we wanted on the album. I remember coming in with a dog whistle to use between all the songs and saying to the engineer: 'I want people’s pets and budgies and cats to go fucking mental and start freaking out.'”
W is for Witchfinder Records: Electric Wizard have a new label. Jus says, “all our demos and bootleg CD-R rent-payers were released via Witchfinder Records since we started the band. Except Supercoven, which came out on our label Bad Acid... but that’s another story. Anyway after the split from our former label, we originally revived the label with the idea of becoming 100 percent independent.... but it's not really possible to release and distribute it ourselves—we’re too fuckin' stoned. I don’t want fans hating us cos we’re not fuckin' Asda Direct or whatever—and a few labels had been really helpful and honest with us. So we decided as we had recorded it ourselves, why not let somebody bigger y'know, get it out there properly for once... Yeah, maybe we'll sign stuff…we'll see, or produce some film shit.”
X is for X rated: As a true connoisseur of artistic sleaze, Jus Oborn is a collector of vintage Euro porn—more than that, he is currently writing a book on it. Here's the scoop: “We love exploitation and sleaze movies in general,” Jus says. “We dig Women-In-Prison films, Giallos, Rape/Revenge dramas, Erotic thrillers, Philippine exploitation etc… I'm also a big collector of 60s and 70s porn. Honestly—it was better, with professional performers. I'm actually working on a book dedicated to 60s/70s porn in Europe at the moment, but it’s been a very hard book to write. Many people involved in the industry are dead or on the run. Others who survived AIDS and the 'witch hunts' are unwilling to talk about it any more. I have a few contacts but mostly performers, and they tend to be a little bit more crazed and unreliable. Unlike the US porn stars of the 70s and 80s, the European and British industry is almost completely unknown. My favorite directors tend to be horror directors though: Jess Franco, Jean Rollin, Mario Bava, Jose Larraz, Robert Hartford-Davies, Andy Milligan, Paul Naschy. I guess I can always relate to the macabre, to the unusual. We actually have a script for a movie with Electric Wizard in it! It’s kinda like the Beatles movies… except ours is fuckin' macabre and morbid. I can't say much… you gotta keep these things ambiguous, but it’s more of a violent rape revenge sleaze exploitation film than a horror film.”
Y is for Yuggoth: The mythical planet of Yuggoth was an invention of H.P Lovecraft - first alluded to in “The Whisperer in Darkness” that was said to resemble Pluto at the far reaches of the solar system. It gets a name check in the first section (“Electric Frost”) of the epic “Weird Tales” on Dopethrone: “From ancient Yuggoth Black Rays Emit.”
Z is for, um, wiZard: A couple of years ago, Electric Wizard curated a film night at Roadburn. Jus had these sage words to say on the subject of “real wizards” in the program: “An 'Electric Wizard' is not fuckin' Gandalf and all that gay elf loving shit.” He then went onto recommend the excellent Simon, King of the Witches—certainly one of the more bizarre movies this writer has ever seen. “Simon is THEE Electric Wizard, a really freaky head movie that features a true wizard. It’s druggy and hard to understand but that makes it cooler, you just have to keep watching it till it makes sense… LSD is recommended!!!”
Harry Sword is a walking encyclopedia of weird shit. He's on Twitter - @HarrySword
Want more heavy, creepy stuff?