Pardon a brief rant at the outset – one of the most God damned annoying things in the whole metal genre is that when it comes to the world’s population of metal bands, large and small, fully a third of the field (and that’s a conservative percentage by some measures,) and damn near everybody who doesn’t specifically play thrash, death or black metal, gets stuck with the label ‘RIYL – Black Sabbath.’ Now don’t get it twisted; Sabbath means a whole bunch to the genre, but there’s only two real possibilities here. The first is that the law of probability and basic human common sense (who are not always friends, by the way,) conspire to conclude that this assertion about the Sabbath family tree is total crap. The second, and this has perhaps even more damning repercussions, is that the metal genre is much less diverse than we want to believe, and that metal fans are largely pacified by the same ol’ thing with a new coat of paint every few years. (The second option sends a chill down the spine as it immediately rings with at least a glimmer of truth. I don’t want to talk about it anymore. Let’s move on.)
I tell you that story to tell you this one; every so often, a band appears that is actually fucking deserving of the comparison to Sabbath, a band who ties many influences together but lives at the intersection of blues and doom (and I don’t mean the subgenre) that permeated the musical DNA of the boys from Birmingham. Black Wizard is one of those bands. (Side note: Black Wizard also sounds like somebody who could have opened for MF Doom in like, 2002. Neither here nor there. Carry on.)
What we have here with the band’s fresh album “New Waste” is a heady and ambitious throwback to the simpler days of metal, combined with some modern storytelling and pleasantly acrimonious vocals to create an image of both solid rocking and emotional discomfort. Where Black Wizard excels is in setting an atmosphere without flagellating a deceased equine – the middle third of “Vivian Girls” thuds the same small cabal of distorted chords over and over, centering on the positively Iommi-an point that this is kinetic but single-minded music, complete with intent and purpose. What keeps this and similar sections from droning on into oblivion is that Black Wizard knows when to release the tension of their songs, never letting one idea sit idle for too long.
Yet there are hundreds if not thousands of garage-band caliber would-be Sabbath disciples, so what separates Black Wizard from the throng? These British Columbians, possibly through intent but more likely through accident, also conjure in the mind’s eye the name of the currently defunct Priestess, a rock/metal hybrid band from the other side of Canada, who similarly specialized in injecting some adrenaline into prototype blues-metal riffs. “New Waste” closes with a two song set of “The Priest” and “Final Ripper,” both of which sound like sludgy cousins of the best moments of Priestess’ first record, the connection made doubly appropriate because of the vocal similarities of Black Wizard’s Adam Grant and Priestess’ Mikey Heppner. The two tracks are the album’s two best, combining Black Wizard’s penchant for big, mobile riffs with their deep understanding of the connections with metal’s heritage.
So far, we’ve compared Black Wizard to two other bands and perhaps not done a great job of showing what makes these upstarts unique. The answer, unfortunately for the reader, is that it’s difficult to describe, and best understood by simply hearing the album. With all the inky, swirling darkness that surrounds “New Waste,” there’s still a jaunty sense of fun buried deep in the album’s core, not always easy to detect but perceptible in the swinging toe-tap of cuts like “Eliminator.” The founders of the band were formerly unhappy construction workers, so there may be some catharsis concerning the turn to making music for a living that causes a hint of smile-inducing appreciation to be woven into the riffs of “Revival” and others. Nevertheless, it’s that strain of pleasure that disrupts the serious face of “New Waste” and actually makes the album a better experience for having it.
Now, “New Waste” isn’t perfect. There’s a throwaway or two, and the dice roll of a near-ballad with “Laughing and Lost” was unnecessary, but these are minor footnotes in the grand scheme of the record.
“New Waste” represents a great step for Black Wizard, a pedestal that they can be proud of and turns heads with. It’s a wonderfully enjoyable record for metal fans of many stripes, and welcome relief to fans who are tired of hearing unwarranted comparisons to Black Sabbath. Black Wizard is the real deal.