Tuesday, July 9, 2019

Wizzerd spins a tale of high fantasy, a sonorous Silmarillion

Wizzerd's latest, a self-titled double LP that happens to be an adventurous concept album to be the band's sophomore effort, released back on March 29th, debuted at number 7 in that month's Doom Chart.  This is a smokin' hot album that makes love to your ear holes, it penetrates you, it permeates you, it leaves you a sweaty, sticky mess afterward and you don't mind it at all. In fact, you want to drop the needle on the first track, "Druggernaut," and embrace it all again!  Damn, what a ride!

While the entire band, which hails from Kalispell, Montana, had story ideas and input into the project, ultimately, the development of the concept behind the LP is the brainchild of Phoenix (drummer Samael Moore).  It's a high fantasy tale, straight out of Dungeons & Dragons.

The album's narrative goes like this:

"A mysterious figure has usurped the throne of the great king...  The lands are in turmoil and people are dying.  A plague has spread across the lands, from ocean to ocean... but there is still hope!

Four heroes, accompanied by an immortal spirit, are on a journey to kill the usurper, end the plague, and save the land.  They come from the four corners of Great Gaia's Green World:

The Dragon, a fearsome rogue, a legend of his time, he slayed the Grand Elder Dragon of the Great Desert bringing a permanent end to the Age of Fire.

The Warrior, his family was killed in the first siege of the doomed.  Mortally wounded, he dragged himself into the the magickal Ancient Forest where he was blessed by the Dryad of the Elder Wood to become the Protector of the Natural World.

The Wizard, an elderly wiseman, a reclusive intellectual known by no name, who wields the power to bend reality.  He has witnessed mountains crumble, and oceans dry.  He has seen the Apprentice become the Adversary.

The Phoenix, an undying madman, his origins and purpose shrouded in mystery.  He has dwelled where the mountain tops meet the moon, and flown to where the sea meets the sky.

The Wraith, an aeons-old inter-dimensional immortal spirit, whose purpose is to bring about and maintain balance between all realities.  He rides within the AEther, observing all of times most crucial events.

The Wizzerd, the evil ruler who has usurped the throne from its rightful king.  He is the mastermind behind the devastating plague known as "The Doom."  His lust for power driven by KAEOS, has lead him to use his powerful crystal talisman to rob the people of the world of their souls, giving him magickal power beyond comprehension.

Will our heroes bring balance to their world, or will they perish at the hand of the Wizzerd?"

Wizzerd's structure is much like a fantasy novel - the opening track, that is the bonus track on the vinyl edition "Druggernaut," is a prologue.  The meat and potatoes of the story comes in the next three "chapters" or songs, leaving the final six songs to sort of serve of an appendix, or perhaps you can think of it as sort of a musical Silmarillion, as the final six tracks are essentially character sketches, one for each of the four heroes, plus their ethereal companion the Wraith, (ultimately the band's alter egos) and then one for the evil Usurper. Another interesting point fans of Wizzerd's debut album may notice, each of the four heroes, leaving aside the Wraith a more recent addition, represent one of the four regions from the debut album, "Desert," "Forest," "Ocean," and "Sky."  Dragon is desert, Warrior is forest, Wizard is Ocean and Phoenix is sky.

The album opens up with the epic track "Druggernaut," available only on the vinyl release.  It clocks in a shade over 14 minutes and serves as a prologue to the album, telling the tale of a monstrous being of stone, smoke and drug that crashes into a water planet.  The Druggernaut walks across this water world, crumbling into nothingness as he goes, completely falling apart creating the land of Gaia.  Philosophically, the band seems to be playing with the idea that every act of destruction is an act of creation.

This towering tune just oozes cool personality, and to be frank, it is reminiscent of another band that makes music in this genre, in a good way, and that is the mighty Sleep.  But "Druggernaut" is, for a lack of a better term, cleaner than anything Sleep has done.  That's not to say the fuzz isn't there, it is in the form of Jhalen Salazar (aka Dragon) and Jamie Yeats' (aka Wizard) guitars, but Layne Matkovich (aka Warrior) plays his bass so pure and insistent in the mix. It's the stand-out instrument here.
I have to mention Dragon's vocals on this one.  He absolutely fuckin' killed it!  It sounds like a duet, but in actually Jhalen handles all vocals.  Mad respect!

The album commences in earnest with "Great Mother Gaia," a balls out rocker. If you picked up the CD or purchased the download, this is where your album begins, and that's not a bad thing, this track will blow your drawers off. And, if you're not wearing any, all the better. If it wasn't for the instrumental coda on this tune I'd swear it was a Ramones or Black Flag cover.  It ultimately clocks in just a second under six minutes, but it has the feel of a Ramones three minute blitzkrieg until the lyrics conclude and the tempo changes pace for the remainder of the tune. 

I love the outro and how "Gaia" blends into the next track,"Kings of Esbat." I believe that's the work of  Wayne Randall (aka Wraith) on synthesizer, organ, audiomancy, and voice.

"Kings of Esbat" was the initial single from this release, back in February. This tune tells the tale of the Usurper claiming the throne.  It builds slowly at first, unwinding with a riffing guitar that climbs during the chorus.  The drums are kind of buried in the mix on this one until an odd little interlude where we're treated to the band's versatility as they bring in a mandolin (Wizard), a violin (Dragon) and a cello (Warrior), but I noticed the drums at this point also, crisply audible for the first time during the song.  I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE the glassy, closing solo on this one.

"The Doomed" is a mid tempo jam, relaying the conditions of the plague to the listener.  Bleak indeed.  "A dark, demonic fright/ Has spread across the land" and "Plague has taken your soul/The Doomed shall soon become us all..." There's no mistaking Phoenix's drums here.  They're bold and out front on this one.  For such grim subject matter, this song is really one of the more upbeat tunes on the album. 
The jazzy character sketch "Dragon" opens side C, and is one of the more catchy tunes on the album, one that'll quickly have you singing along to the chorus.  "Black resin builds in your lungs/This Great War has only begun/Foul demon with vile smoke/He takes your life with every toke."

A drum roll at precisely the five minute mark signals an ass kicking is about to occur.  The tune breaks it into some high octane shit at that stage.  Gone is jazzy first two thirds of the song, replaced with some thrashing Pantera would have been proud to perform.  The lyrics are no longer sung but spit out, then, with about 1:22 remaining, the tempo changes again, into a loose chug and jam.

"Warrior" opens with a verbal telling of the character's tale, followed by the pounding of drums and a rising call to arms until Dragon begins to bellow the lyrics.  The colossal vocal delivery from Dragon on "Warrior" is a treat for your cochlea.  This is the vocal highlight of the album in my opinion, the sheer heights he hits here are stunning.  And the chorus calls of "WARRIOR!" just make you want to experience this one live, with its namesake's rumbling bass and the repetitive shouts.

Next... Did I hear a xylophone on this one?  "Wizard" kind of fooled me.  It was jamming along and I was expecting it to really kick in and cut loose with the crunchy guitar and drums well before it did.  Instead it took an atmospheric turn and put that off for a moment, and the song ultimately is curve ball on an album of mostly balls out rockers.  An interesting change-up pitch.                                     

"Phoenix:" the interwoven vocals and the washboard playing during the acoustic interlude really stood out to me.  Oddly, no washboard playing is credited in the linear notes.  Did I aurally hallucinate while doing repeated playbacks of this track for review?

Was that a didgeridoo?  The organ intro to "Wraith" signals that something very different is about to be unleashed.  Very different indeed.  The crawling, creepy guitar, the gritty vocals, the loping drumming, the synthesizers, everything about this track is unique on this album and it reminded me of something the Devon Townsend Project might have done.

The final track is dedicated to the protagonist, the usurper, the Wizzerd himself.  It's a fast-paced fantasy rocker, very much in the vein of what you'd expect from bands like Blind Guardian, until it reaches the chorus, where it slows down into more traditional doom territory.  After a verse-chorus, verse-chorus run through, the song collapses into a wall of sound to close out the album.

A powerful album, that gets better with each subsequent listen.  After my first two or three listens of it I knew I liked the album, but I wasn't convinced of it's greatest yet.  I was drawn in by songs "Warrior," "Dragon," "Phoenix" and "Wraith."  After I received my vinyl copy and I heard the Sleep-like quality in "Druggernaut," I think my interest in the album stepped up a whole new level.  This album deserves a lot more attention globally than it has been getting, and I'd really like to see it in several end of the year lists, preferably near the top.  I rate this album a damn near perfect score - 98.

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