Sunday, July 23, 2017

Album Review: The Wizards - Full Moon In Scorpio

Black Sabbath set the rules for heavy metal, but forty years later, you wouldn't know that if you didn't read it in a book somewhere. The vestiges of Sabbath's doom and gloom sound have disappeared from the mainstream, having been replaced with a feeling that metal is supposed to be about either being mad as hell or showing off inhuman instrumental abilities. There isn't much room left for heavy songs about heavy subjects, the kind of music that took the blues and turned it into crushing elegies. There are still a few bands that try to do that sort of thing, but they are small bands relegated to the underground. That's where we find The Wizards, who are offering up one of those Sabbath-style slabs of old-time metal.

The easiest comparison to make is to the Dio-era of Sabbath's history. The music here is a bit brighter and up-tempo, like those Dio albums, and Ian Mason's vocals have the power the legend himself put into every song. If you liked "Heaven & Hell" and "Mob Rules", this is an album that could easily appeal to you.

Let's take "Avidya", the opening track. It opens with a riff that has an Iommi-esque sense of melody, but it also moves along with a hint of a Maiden-esque gallop. That makes it interesting, and then the body of the song has big vocals and one of those traditional metal choruses that is rousing without being sing-song. It's a strong track, and a great table-setter. "Calliope" follows a similar blueprint, but it's here that the vocals show their influence more obviously. As Ian belts out another really good song, it's easy to hear both Danzig and Meat Loaf in his delivery. There's the power of the Loaf in his vibrato, and the slight dark blues warble of Danzig's heyday (I won't insult him by saying he sounds like current Danzig).

Then there's "Stardust", which has a similar feeling to "Lonely Is The Word", with that pulsing guitar through the verses. But what makes it stand out is when the chorus arrives, and for the first time the band introduces some heavy backing vocals. It makes that section stand out, and as the riff morphs in the background, the song is able to seamlessly shift from throbbing energy to a slow, sludgy riff and back again.

If we're talking about the album like an old vinyl, Side One is stronger than Side Two, but the drop-off isn't much. "Halftones To Eternity" just lacks a bit of the flare of the earlier tracks, and doesn't have quite as much of an identity all its own. But that lull is short, as the album finishes off with two more excellent tracks. "Who Are You, Mr Gurdjieff?" is possibly the heaviest song on the record, which then breaks into some softer melodies and again well placed backing vocals. It strikes a wonderful balance, and sets the stage for the massive closer, "When We Were Gods". That song builds from a soft guitar intro into a mash of ringing chords, searing solos, and skyscraper vocals. Ian is belting with all his gusto, and the song is fitting as the capstone on the record.

So what do we make of "Full Moon In Scorpio"? It's an album that isn't perfect, but has a lot going for it. Anyone who's a fan of old heavy metal of the Dio and Danzig persuasion should find plenty about this album they will enjoy. In terms of traditional heavy metal, this is one of the better efforts I've heard this year. It's certainly better than what Danzig himself put out, and it's better than the music the members of Dio or Sabbath who are still active have done in the last five years. All in all, it's a good time.

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