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Black Masses

Rise Above (2010)
Rating: 8/10

Since 1993, England’s Electric Wizard has been haunting the underground with their sludge-infested sound. Although featuring only one original member, vocalist / guitarist Jus Oburn, after the other members left to form the critically acclaimed Ramesses, the band (and its revolving lineup) have continued to burn the midnight oil only a decade into the new millennium. Filling rooms worldwide with the smell of cannabis and the sound of the devil himself, the band have again added to their catalogue of stoner classics with their latest Metal Blade Records release, Black Masses.

The first thing you notice about Black Masses is the band’s continuing fascination with the lo-fi late sixties / early seventies underproduction. The band’s fuzz-laden guitars echo and scream and screech in the most occult-ish way you can imagine throughout the album. While tempting to recall early Black Sabbath, the band reaches for a sound that predates even the mighty ones. The plodding and rhythmic ‘Black Mass’ is the perfect example of what I’m talking about it sounds like a phoenix rises from the ashes as it slowly but surely builds itself until it’s running over you with raunchy solos and garbled vocals. The explosive guitar work of ‘Scorpio Curse’ is a moment not soon forgotten either. Easily the tightest song on the album, the vocals take the stage front and centre and deliver the closest thing to an anthem the band has recorded in a long, long time. The darker and slightly faster paced than usual ‘Patterns of Evil’ is a highlight as well. You can envision a room full of headbangers bobbing up and down to it with ease. Even the insanely heavy and distorted ‘Venus in Furs’ offers enough to latch onto to intrigue most new listeners.

Is this as awe-inspiring as Electric Wizard? No. Is it as experimental as Dopethrone? No. Is it as vintage sounding as their last album, Witchcult Today? No. The strength of Black Masses is simply that it reverently acknowledges all three without repeating the past. Don’t get me wrong, this album will likely not appeal for any length of time to anyone that regularly listens outside of the stoner or doom genres, but it also doesn’t sound confined by the band’s hallowed name either. Electric Wizard continue to do what so many bands fear and that is press forward while respecting their own contributions to today’s musical landscape. Black Masses is a beast of an album that is likely the finest stoner album Metal Blade has ever released.

Mark Fisher

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