The Guide to Getting into Electric Wizard
Gaze into the depths of the British stoner doom titans' hazy catalogue, and marvel at what awaits as you descend into the Crypt of the Wizard.
Photo courtesy of Electric Wizard
In many ways, Electric Wizard are more than a band. Yes, they’re a British doom metal institution—but they’re also a celluloid wormhole, a reading list, an aberration in the fabric of space and time who have fed generations of freaks from a bubbling cauldron of cult cinema, bizarre literature, and subcultural reference points from the interzone. This is all great fun, of course. Should you wish, you could spend months—years, even— tracking down ancient Jess Franco movies, discovering the works of Robert E Howard and H.P Lovecraft, and becoming au fait with crackling old Groundhogs and Amboy Dukes records in pursuit of a greater understanding of the Wizard's catalogue.
But what about an entry point to the Electric Wizard discography? Fanatics are a notoriously diehard bunch who enjoy getting lost in the (green) mist, but new fans are discovering the band all the time. Of course, everyone has a favorite era. You’ll find no end of online debate about the supposed superiority of the original line up, in particular the aural talisman that is 2000’s Dopethrone. But to obsess over that album alone, superb as it is (and we’ll discuss it further down the page) is to miss the point. Electric Wizard have never been about a single "golden era" or set pantheon of essential releases; such sentimental concerns are anathema to a band who have long existed far removed from the regular constraints of the music industry, and who are, essentially, more a psychic channel than a group. The truth is that every era in the Wizard's nearly three decades of activity has its own pitch black charms.
For those unaware of the early history, the band were formed in 1993 by vocalist/guitarist Jus Oborn alongside bassist Tim Bagshaw and drummer Mark Greening in Dorset, UK. Oborn had previously played in a death metal band, Lord of Putrefaction, and was a lifelong Black Sabbath and Saint Vitus obsessive with an encyclopedic knowledge of VHS horror and trash culture. Electric Wizard were, from the outset, a product of their peculiar surroundings—of being a band that channelled Oborn's obsessions while being steeped in the ancient occult folklore and anarchic eccentricities of rural British life. While much of the wider doom pantheon has its foundation in gritty urbanism—be it Black Sabbath evoking the greyscale smog of industrial Birmingham, Pentagram and the humid drug blitzed inertia of Virginia, or Saint Vitus and the Los Angeles heat haze—the Wiz’ have always had both feet firmly planted in claggy Dorset mud.
A self titled 1995 debut LP set their stall in fine fashion, but it was 1997’s Come My Fanatics that really hit home, its turgid doom imbued with sleazy cosmic reach and a blackened punkish energy. And while 2000’s Dopethrone is, by common consensus, the heaviest Wizard record, many find equally satisfying thrills in more majestically hypnotic later material such as 2007’s Witchcult Today, or 2010’s Black Masses. Indeed, hypnosis is arguably the Wizard watchword: to fully understand this band, you need to step somewhat outside the world of heavy metal and into a broader church of eclectic heaviness. They’re as indebted to noisy space rock like Hawkwind and Amon Duul II or brash rock 'n' roll like Amboy Jukes, early Alice Cooper, and Groundhogs as they are to Celtic Frost and Saint Vitus. T
heir discography is large, but not forebodingly so; it can be divided along myriad lay lines, and I set out a few personal entrance points below. Don’t know where to start? Don’t worry, we got you….
So: you want to get into angry and direct Electric Wizard?
Let’s face it, Electric Wizard aren’t exactly the first band that springs to mind when it comes to speed—or brevity. 10-minute songs are the norm, and riffs often unfurl at the speed of a bulldozer pushing against a towering wall of grey silt. That said, the more savage and immediate moments in the Wizard catalogue are amongst their greatest. 2000’s Dopethrone, in particular, is imbued with a righteous fury that see’s Oborn spitting out his tales of primordial destruction with a punkish glee. "Barbarian," for example, is based on a tale gleaned from Robert E Howard’s Conan books, and is a particularly intense workout, with layers of blackened sludge and submerged cymbal crashes courtesy of Mark Greening (one of the most chaotic and idiosyncratic drummers in metal history). "Vinum Sabbathi" says it all in three minutes, while "Funeralopolis" is the last word in scuzzy doom aggression.
The title track from 2010’s Black Masses is a three chord chugathon with a chanted call and response chorus (a live favorite, naturally) while pretty much the entirety of Come My Fanatics sees the original trio of Oborn, Greening and Bagshaw channelling blackened doom 'n' roll. ‘‘Return Trip’’, for example, takes a circular stoner riff and amps the layers of primordial filth until it sounds like a drunk, rampaging elephant. Best of all is ‘’Wizard in Black," which is purely timeless, its mutant blues, fucked to oblivion, with a guitar tone so bass-heavy, so sub-nautically weighted, that it doesn’t sound like a guitar any more. enter Greening’s out of time jazz fills, and, then, the moment Oborn hollers, "The eyes of god look upon what he's done... and the eyes of man... look up and beyond... I am a god, I am the one!"and everything is lowered another octave, and you’re drowning in a primordial hell broth stirred by a toothless Dorset farmer. That moment, my friends, is one of the finest moments in heavy metal history (the sound engineers at Roadburn seem to think so too, given how often you’ll hear ‘Wizard in Black’ warming up the system in between bands).
Come My Fanatics ushered in a new era for doom, engineering a full-on scuzz attack that felt cosmic in reach and was anchored by a very human rage. It’s a great place to start if you’re looking for Wizard on the attack, but 2016’s Wizard Bloody Wizard is also full of direct gut-punch material drawing inspiration from scumbag Detroit rock 'n' roll like the Stooges, Alice Cooper, and the MC5.
Playlist: ‘’Barbarian’’/‘’Return Trip’’/‘’Wizard in Black’’/‘‘Vinuum Sabbathi’’/‘’See you in Hell’’/‘’Funeralopolis’’/‘’We Hate You’’/‘’Black Masses’’/‘’Wicked Caresses’'
So: you want to get into full on, bad trip, psychedelic hypnosis-inducing Electric Wizard?
You’re spoiled for choice, then. Seriously, Electric Wizard love a repetitious groove. The back catalogue is full of music that hinges on queasy walls of slow-shifting, viscous sound, and 1998’s Supercoven EP (it’s nearly an hour long…) is a case in point. The title track features strange Hawkwind-esque synth layers alongside a riff that unravels to its own crawlspace over 16 minutes, with Oborn’s tortured vocals higher up in the mix than usual. The whole EP demands time and repeated plays to make proper sense. It is a dirge, for sure—one for the hardcore heads—that's bereft of the immediacy of Come My Fanatics or Dopethrone and comes steeped in black despair.
After Dopethrone, the Wiz’ started to further experiment with ever more hypnotic material, and while both 2002’s Let Us Prey and 2004’s We Live are not particularly highly-regarded albums, both are worthy of reappraisal. We Live was the first album to feature guitarist Liz Buckingham (formerly of Sourvein) and the telepathic interplay between her and Oborn is amped to fine fettle on the superlative ‘’Eko Eko Azarak.’’ The album also features former Iron Monkey/Crippled Black Pheonix drummer Justin Greaves, who adds a powerful and tight rhythmic component that fits with the album's bleak hypnotic shudder. 2010’s Black Masses also features some fine trance-inducing material, like the powerfully understated ‘‘Satyr IX’— a beautifully slow-burning funeral march—while Come My Fanatics sees the band experimenting with electronics and dub effects on the Hawkwind/Amon Duul indebted ‘’Ivoxir B/Phase Inducer’.’ 2012’s Legalise Drugs and Murder EP also offered a fine sludgy trawl. The title track—a tongue-in-cheek ode to misanthropy that repeated the title phrase ad infinitum over a crushing riff—is pretty much the last word in uncomfortably- drawn-out-way-too-long Wizard.
Playlist: ‘ ’Supercoven’’/‘’Eko Eko Azarak’’/‘’Satyr IX’’/‘’Legalise Drugs and Murder’’/‘’Ivoxir B/Phase Inducer’’/‘‘The Chosen Few’’
So: you want to get into cult movie-referencing Electric Wizard?
Electric Wizard are diehard movie fanatics, inspired by horror, exploitation, and trash culture beyond measure (check Noisey’s Electric Wizard A-Z for a more thorough examination of this side of things). It’s an obsession that frequently carries over into their recorded output, as well as into their singular iconography. The Wizard back catalogue is packed with songs directly inspired by specific movies. 2007’s Witchcult Today—itself perhaps the most instantly accessible Electric Wizard album to the casual listener—contains the only track they’ve ever recorded that could reasonably be described as "funky" in the form of ‘’Dunwich;" based around the 1970 Roger Corman film The Dunwich Horror (itself based on the H.P Lovecraft short story of the same name), the song features the Wiz’ at their jauntiest. Nothing else in their back catalogue sounds anything like it.
Black Masses, meanwhile, has "Venus in Furs," inspired by the Jess Franco film of the same name and, according to Oborn, serving as an ode to the classic trope of "the evil woman who will lead you to doom." Let us Prey featured ‘‘House of Whipcord," which is inspired by the demented 1974 British trash classic of the same name that the story of an underground "house of corrections" run by a retired judge and his sadistic sisters. The 2006 reissue of We Live, meanwhile, offers ‘‘The Living Dead at The Manchester Morgue’’ as a bonus track, paying tribute to perhaps the greatest zombie movie of all time.
Electric Wizard don’t stop there, however. They are also responsible for their own infernal celluloid character creation, "Drugula." He features in ‘‘Satanic Rites of Drugula’' from Witchcult Today, and again on Black Masses ‘‘Crypt of Drugula.’’ The rough idea behind the character is of a bloated, hungover Dracula waking up in 1970s LA and finding himself thrust into the midst of a seedy coke and aviators scene… c’mon, somebody has to make the movie.
Playlist: ‘’Dunwich’’/‘’Venus in Furs’’/‘’The Living Dead at the Manchester Morgue’’/‘’House of Whipcord’’/‘’Satanic Rites of Drugula’’/‘’Crypt of Drugula’’/‘’I, The Witchfinder’’/‘’The Hills Have Eyes’’/‘‘Patterns of Evil’’
So: you want to get into the super rare EP’s and early split vinyl releases?
God help you. We’ve already mentioned the excellent Supercoven and Legalise Drugs and Murder EPs, but there is also a cornucopia of excellent music available on limited edition EPs and split discs too... and you’re going to need deep pockets. Most of it is rare, expensive, and tricky to track down, though it’s certainly worth the effort. The 2008 split twelve-inch with Finnish doom kings Reverend Bizarre, for example, saw them contribute the epic ‘‘The House on the Borderland,’’ which was based on the 1908 weird fiction classic by William Hope Hodgson (himself a primary influence on H.P Lovecraft).
1997’s Chrono.naut is one of the most highly sought-after pieces of vinyl Electric Wizard have put out (along with Supercoven, a definite "unholy grail" item) but it’s worth taking the effort to hunt down, as it finds them at their most direct and groovy. hinging on a riff worthy of Fu Manchu and a lyric about "driving through space and time…..Chrononaut, yeah!" A 1995 Rise Above split single with Our Haunted Kingdom (who shortly afterwards became Orange Goblin) saw the Wiz’ contribute the rolling and chaotic ‘‘Demon Lung." Rarer still is 2008’s ‘‘The Processean’’ single; limited to 500 copies sold at the Rise Above 20th anniversary show in 2008, it’s a funeral march of bleak portent, all wet cave drums and swirling guitars. Happy hunting!
Harry Sword is observing the Satanic rites of Drugula on Twitter.