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Electric Wizard - Witchcult Today Review

by Mark Hensch

The magic is finally back. It's been a long four years since 2004's Electric Wizard full-length We Live. Though still a strong showing, We Live suffered from the 2003 departure of founders Tim Bagshaw and Mark Greening to found rival outfit Ramesses. With this, the band's sixth full-length, the Wizard are casting a newly reinvigorated spell of bleak, riff-centered stoner doom.

All the trademarks of an excellent Electric Wizard album are here; a lyrical fascination with the Dark Arts, Occultism, and Drug Abuse. Furthermore, the band is turning out some of their rawest, meanest, and fuzziest riffs to date. None of this hurts the surprisingly catchy yet jam-band like atmosphere of the proceedings; Witchcult Today feels like it was done on the spot but somehow maintains a supernatural amount of musical staying power. This stuff is damn catchy, but purist doom too.

The band wastes no time in busting out its ominous, almost eight-minute title track. "Witchcult Today" begins with eerie noises that sound like the idle chatter of ghosts; from this phantasmagorical stew there emerges a grim guitar riff every bit as rocking as it is bleak. Hypnotic yet massive in scope, the guitars confidently back a trance-inducing rhythm section and frontman Jus Osborn's horror-stricken yowls to great effect. The song ends with a prolonged comet's tail solo---fiery, near-infinite guitar licks blazing amidst the general doom and gloom to fist-raising glory.

Thankfully, things only continue to get better from here. Follow-up track "Dunwich" merges Lovecraftian horror, rocking song writing and bad acid trip doom into one potent potion of sound. The ghoulish grooves are undoubtedly some of the best the band has penned since 2000's classic Dopethrone, and skinsman Shaun Rutter deserves a pat on the back for crafting one of the most instantly recognizable doom percussion sections in the history of ever. Despite all this, the best part is definitely the song's eventual descent into mournful, cosmic howls all while Osborn's vocals channel a stoned and scared Billy Corgan---bloody brilliant.

The black humor epic of "Satanic Rites of Drugula" is simultaneously one of the album's most kickass songs and the best idea for a B-horror movie EVER. "Drugula" tells the tale of a vampire whom gets his first, ahem, hit of blood off some badly stoned teens; from there, the vampire in question is doomed to wander the streets dispensing dope-fiends and druggies alike. Besides the awesome concept, this sick monster also contains some of the gnarliest, filthiest, and catchiest riffs since the last Cathedral album. As if this isn't enough to sell just about ANYONE on the concept, the ghostly recurring melody line will raise shivers in any and all, converting them instantly to the darkness of "Drugula."

"Raptus" is a brief but esoteric interlude of psychedelia and mysticism. It is an awesome way of conjuring a meditative state prior to the utterly wicked "The Chosen Few," and for that, I commend it.

"The Chosen Few" itself attacks with creepy incantations courtesy of Osborn while the band launches into a surprisingly pummeling doom maelstrom. Bleak, creepy, and darkly fun, the song sways with a sort of possessed, unearthly rhythm. What starts off as mildly hypnotic off-notes soon turns into prolonged jams of passive, smoldering, and exquisite guitar work---the whole thing is a gloriously smoky anthem to rocking out for the forces of darkness.

"Torquemada 71," meanwhile, is pretty much a buzzed-out stoner anthem perfect for driving an open-top muscle car under the desert sky at midday. It joyously journeys into blissfully open-ended groove and low-end guitar-wanking, leaving one feeling like they've had one hell of a ride.

One hell of a ride, that is, until the gargantuan "Black Magic Rituals and Perversions" takes center stage. Crushing, in-your-face drums pound relentlessly behind half-whispered incantations and freaky guitar feedbacking; the entire affair is less a song and more a droning ritual. As it slowly dies into an unnerving, barely discernable quiet, the song ends abruptly. It is as if some unnamed portal to another world has been opened, and to tragic effect at that.

Said tragic effect is the equally destructive force that is "Saturnine." "Saturnine" melds such a wide-array of pulverizing and slow riffs to churning percussion and teeth-rattling bass over the course of its eleven minutes that one almost has to bow down before it. To put it bluntly, "Saturnine" is a mammoth black hole sucking scuzzy riffs and cosmic gasps of sound over churning percussion into its boiling, dark mix. It all makes for an excellent, jarring end to the album.

At this point it is apparent that Witchcult Today is not just an artistic statement, but a turning point for Electric Wizard as a band. The very name itself implies an intense union of people concerned with the present and its soon-to-pass future. If this is it, Witchcult Today showcases a mighty doom outfit bound to get many more followers. Behold the black magic now.

Electric Wizard's Witchcult Today
1. Witchcult Today
2. Dunwich
3. Satanic Rites of Drugula
4. Raptus
5. The Chosen Few
6. Torquemada 71
7. Black Magic Rituals and Perversions
8. Saturnine

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