20 November, 2011

In Praise of Satan, The Almighty Riff and The Debbil's Weed: Electric Wizard, "Dopethrone"

Today's post comes to us from Pink City's M. Martin. Thank you, Mr. Martin.
Dopethrone. This one made-up word alone should tell you exactly what the contents of the album are like. You could write an entire paragraph just on what the word evokes: dope, as in slang for marijuana; throne, a noun which means basically a glorified chair that a king sits in to show off just how kingly and badass he wants you to think he is. A throne symbolizes and embodies power. "Dope" also happens to be a term for someone who is lacking a few points in the IQ department. In this case, "dopethrone" means exactly what you think it would mean: stoned, stupid, and an embodiment of incredible power.

Electric Wizard's 2000 masterpiece Dopethrone is all three of these things. It's also incredibly heavy.

Oh, don't get me wrong: it's not the absolute heaviest album ever made. (My personal nominations for that title are Swans' Cop/Young God and Corrupted's Paso Inferior, not to mention live Flipper, but your mileage may vary.) And Electric Wizard aren't the heaviest band in the world, per se. Electric Wizard don't specialize in making you feel like your life is a complete lie, an insoluble maze where the only places you end up are failure, hatred, homicidal insanity or a despair so complete and catatonic that attempting suicide would seem like a ray of light in the darkness if it wasn't an admission of total defeat (e.g. Swans). And Electric Wizard also don't specialize in immersing you in a sea of unresolved riffs so enormously slow, brutal and sludgy and so utterly incessant that they literally reduce the oxygen content in the air you're breathing (e.g. Corrupted).

But Electric Wizard are extraordinarily heavy in the original, Black Sabbath sense of the word: a rhythm section (Tim Bagshaw on bass, Mark Greening on drums) slamming as one, in a head-crushing stomp that resembles nothing so much as a full herd of bison charging each other multiple times in a row; enormous, multilayered, detuned walls of distorted guitars that sound as unbelievably massive, churning and dangerous as tsunami waves (courtesy of guitarist and leader Jus Oborn); the band, as a whole, totally committed to the almost ritualistic celebration of riffs you would have sacrificed herds of sheep to Old Scratch for; and a vocalist (Oborn again) screeching out, with complete and utter conviction, immaculately retarded mystical tales of wonder and terror that probably took 5 expired brain cells to scrape together.

It's a thing of beauty.

Highlights on this slab of pot-suffused sludge are numerous - practically every song is at the same insanely high level of quality, which is why it's such a difficult album to review - but the three distinct prizewinners are "Funeralopolis," "I, the Witchfinder," and "Dopethrone." "Funeralopolis" features one of the best "quiet to loud" buildups recorded in at least the past 15 years; when the guitars deliberately shift from a slightly dirty, but nearly jazzy clean tone into a sudden mastodontic roar of sludgeola distortion, it's like three Master of Reality outtakes kicking in at once. Later in the song, when the pace of the song suddenly speeds up to Sex Pistols-level midtempo, the resulting power is almost incalculable. This kicks more ass than an elephant moshing in a room full of mice.

"Dopethrone" features an incredible Son-of-Iron-Man riff that sounds even more downed-out, waaaay more detuned, and far, far heavier than even "Iron Man" does. And where "Iron Man" finished up in a tidy 5 minutes and 59 seconds, "Dopethrone" goes on for double that length. At ten minutes, the onslaught is almost completely relentless - with one exception. Halfway through the song, the band lets the guitars and the bass feed back for at least 30 seconds or so with a grunting, roared command of "SMOKE!" (Like I said, the lyrical thought patterns on this album are not too complicated.) Then, after what seems like an eternity, the riff starts back up again - but it's somehow even heavier than before, and then the entire band kicks in with the renewed conviction of religious zealots. Topped off by sustained howls of "DOOOOOOOOOOOOPE THROOOOONE," the effect is indescribably satisfying. You don't really think while hearing it - you sit in awestruck wonder that something like this actually exists.

But neither of these incredible accomplishments quite topple the monster that is "I, the Witchfinder." The first half of the song is an incredibly slow 5 MPH crawl, soaked in the kind of tarpit riffage that Dave Chandler would have killed squirrels for - hell, the first riff alone is more crushing than you could even dare imagine. But then, after Oborn gets done talking about how he, the titular witchfinder, will pierce the poor victim's flesh and eventually kill her searching for DA TROOF about her nonexistent occult origins, the band begins to engage in a buildup. It's big. The excitement is built masterfully. You just know something incredible is going to happen, and not only do you know it, but the band knows it. Then, finally, after a long time of this happening - it seems like it goes on for a minute and a half, at least - the band finally breaks free into one of the most unbelievably hateful, punishing four-chord riffs I've ever heard, playing it again and again and again and again while tons of drugged-up effects and oddly anemic lead guitars chatter away on top of the stomach-molesting noise for minutes on end. The entire song is 11 minutes long, but if the last half of "I, the Witchfinder" were ten minutes long on its' own, it still wouldn't be enough. It's hypnotic - practically gorgeous, in its' own heavy-beyond-almost-all-heavy way.

You know you're listening to a modern classic when the 15-minute track that shifts between enough quality riffs to sustain lesser bands' careers and ends with a mind-destroying five-minute oscillating bass drone doesn't feel excessive, and isn't even one of the highlights.

A lot of stoner metal and doom metal bands try to get close to the practically unreachable ideal of Black Sabbath in their music. With Dopethrone, Electric Wizard got close enough for a kiss, while putting their own unique, individual, experimental spin on it.

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