Two decades after it’s initial release on Rise Above Records, Harry Bedder reflects on Electric Wizard’s Dopethrone.
By the 1990s, doom metal had come of age. Inspired by the darkest, sludgiest recesses of Black Sabbath’s back catalogue and the stoner rock of Blue Cheer, the style had been codified in the 1980s on either side of the Atlantic by the likes of Witchfinder General and St. Vitus before reaching prominence in the 1990s with Sleep’s iconic Holy Mountain. At the end of the 90s, whilst Sleep themselves were in the process of imploding, Dorset outfit Electric Wizard rose to assume the mantle of ‘the heaviest band in the universe’. As the most prosperous decade in the history of humanity drew to a close, with the promise of a new millennium prompting unbridled optimism (despite the looming shadow of the—ultimately benign–Millennium Bug), Jus Oborn and Co. were gearing up to unleash a more despairing, nihilistic take on the dawn of the 21st century. Released at the tail-end of the year 2000, Dopethrone represents the culmination of a dark personal journey for the band, who were mired in drug-use, run-ins with the law and internal friction.
The result is a remarkably dense and cataclysmic record, underpinned by the undeniably fatalistic lyricism of Oborn. Colossal, low-slung, chromatic riffs crash destructively whist simultaneously dripping with sleaze, Oborn’s distorted vocals hailing a stampede of demons, evil wizards and undead hordes. Mark Greening’s punchy drums cut through the lo-fi, retro production style, combining with the deep-sea sonar of Tim Bagshaw’s bass to create a bewildering, blackly psychedelic morass, topped-off by unabashed use of phase and flanger. The jammed-out feel of Dopethrone reveals the informal approach to producing the album, with few songs complete before they arrived in the studio, and their employment of copious amounts of weed referenced in the bong-rips and fuzzed-out coughing on stand-out track ‘Funeralopolis’. Use of horror and b-movie samples confirm the band’s love of seedy 70s imagery and Oborn’s lyrics reflect the feeling that Electric Wizard are producing the perfect soundtrack for watching the world burn, speaking to the meaninglessness of existence and heralding the arrival of the living-dead.
But it isn’t all doom and gloom, songs such as ‘Barbarian’ and ‘We Hate You’ lock into greasy grooves which have a certain glam-tinged stomp to them and in the midst of full-on space-rock jams such as ‘I, the Witchfinder’ solos ring out with a giddy glee. There is also a certain vicarious pleasure to be found in a record so at-odds with the forward-facing attitude of the early 21st century, so if this is what the apocalypse sounds like, then bring it on!
Header image: Electric Wizard (2017). Credit: Revolver Mag.