Still heavier than Heaven, the British metal icons talk about their ambitious new album, how they keep their songwriting fresh, classic horror films and the contemporary era’s take on horror, and more.
BY MICHAEL TOLAND
When metal fans want to bang their heads slowly, there’s no shortage of bands practicing brutally heavy riffs, crawling rhythms and darkened atmosphere – the art of doom. Few, however, have honed their craft to as fine a point as Electric Wizard. The Southern England quartet has bludgeoned its amps and eardrums for a quarter of a century, longer than many of their pers, and its distinctive blend of riffs – both musically, in the Black Sabbath/Blue Cheer tradition, and lyrically, in borrowing imagery from horror films and trash cinema of all kinds – has been as much of an influence on subsequent generations of doom metalheads as their forebears.
Recorded in guitarists Jus Oborn and Liz Buckingham’s home studio, the band’s ninth LP Wizard Bloody Wizard represents a step forward in its evolution, evoking a homegrown vibe and a more melodic, sensual take, without stinting on the group’s signature heavy. We spoke to Buckingham and band founder Oborn via e-mail about the new album, its seeds, and the way the band uses its signature B-film fetish in its songwriting. (Below: the band’s single “See You in Hell”)
BLURT: The new LP has a clarity to the production and is more direct in general, with a bluesier tone to some of the songs. Was that a deliberate contrast to the lengthier Time to Die?
JUS OBORN: Yeah obviously. It’s a new line-up and that always affects the sound of the band. You always try to play to the strengths of everyone involved. Time To Die has a very muddy production and we weren’t that happy with the sound of it, which is one of the reasons we decided we had to do it ourselves this time. The directness is probably down to our decision to make it fit onto a single piece of vinyl – y’know, 20-22 mins per side. We just felt it would be a challenge to try and tighten up our sound a bit.
EW records always have a very sensual sound to them – even as dark, heavy and aggressive as you can be, it’s not abrasive. It makes the records contrast with other “metal” records.
JO: Haha! Yeah, I guess a lot of metal these days has lost its “sexiness.” I think we have always had this more visceral sound. I always considered us a really, really heavy rock band, and rock was always meant to be more sensual. I mean, in the ’50s, “rock & roll” was basically a euphemism for fucking.
Was it more fun recording in your own studio at your own pace? Not that you’ve ever seemed to feel any pressure before.
LIZ BUCKINGHAM: Not necessarily more fun, but definitely better. Previously we had to travel quite far to the other studios, and time would be limited. Doing it at our own house has obvious benefits. We had more time to experiment, the atmosphere was more conducive to creating, and it generally just felt right recording in the West Country.
JO: Fun isn’t a word I would associate with Electric Wizard, but it is definitely more satisfying.
Jus, you’re usually seen as the leader and visionary, but you, Liz, have been in the band for longer than anyone except him. What is the songwriting and creative process like for the two of you?
LB: Jus and I create everything together. We’ve got a rather classic songwriting duo relationship. When I joined, I wanted to add to his vision, not change it, so we work well together in that we both generally desire the same end result. All sorts of things inspire me and I will either write it down or record it, then discuss/share it with Justin, then proceed in the creation together. A lot of stuff we create, we do jointly. Even artwork – a lot is half done by me, half by Justin. It’s just how we work. I’m not egotistically driven – I place more importance on the end result as a whole of Electric Wizard.
EW music often dwells in the darkness, but it never seems to be for the sake of depression or pessimism. It’s cathartic, artistic, even defiant. How do dark subjects help with your artistic self-expression?
LB: We create things we love. Our motives are for pleasure. We like dark things, they give us pleasure, so it’s always a celebration of these things. We hate maudlin “poor me” music. When we’re angry it’s aimed at creating music that makes you want to rise out of it and be like “fuck you,” not wallowing in self-pity.
JO: Yeah definitely. I never saw this type of music as depressing. We try to play dark and heavy music that touches on taboo subjects, and it’s a challenge to write music which is “evil,” but not slip into any minor key clichés. I think wringing those kind of emotions is a bit of a cop-out, it’s like Hollywood. Honestly, the music I find most depressing is country and indie type stuff.
The record begins and ends with “See you in hell” – a closing of the circle. Was that planned in advance, or was it a coincidence?
JO: It kinda happened as we went along. We thought it made sense to make the theme cyclical. I hope it pulls together the whole concept of the LP. I like the idea that it hints that maybe this is it – the end. Or are we doomed to just repeat our mistakes forever? The lyrics are definitely more existential on this LP – autobiographical even.
Which songs on the record are the ones you’re most proud of?
JO: Well, it’s a new LP, so right now we are proud of them all. I guess I’m pretty proud we got a solid Detroit groove on “Necromania.”
You’ve made records for over 20 years now. Did you think EW would last this long?
Do you feel any kinship to the rest of the heavy rock scene? Even when EW was lumped in with the so-called “stoner rock” bands, y’all stood out on your own.
JO: We play with a lot of cool bands that we dig a lot, and like I said, we consider ourselves just a really dark and heavy rock band. I guess I feel a lot more of a kinship with older bands, though: Stooges, Venom, Cooper, Sabbath, Hellhammer, etc. But yeah, I guess we have always tried to do our own thing. I never liked the idea that we should be attached to a scene or genre – maybe it’s a geographical thing? The music I like is usually unique and reflects the band and their environment.
The band is well-known for its love of vintage horror movies. What are some favorites?
JO: Well, we love mainly exploitation and sleazy movies, not just horror – I guess what would be called “drive-in” movies. It covers a lot of subjects, y’know – biker movies, women in prison, drugs, kung fu, porno etc. Favorites would be a list of at least a couple hundred movies. All-time greats would include: Psychomania, The Dunwich Horror, The Sinful Dwarf, All The Colors Of The Dark, Vampyros Lesbos, The Devil Rides Out, The Last House On The Left, The Living Dead At The Manchester Morgue [AKA Let Sleeping Corpses Lie and Don’t Open the Window], Devil’s Angels, Witchfinder General, The Touchables, Vampyres, The Great Rock’n’Roll Swindle, Defiance of Good, Simon, King Of The Witches, The Torture Chamber Of Dr. Sadism [AKA The Blood Demon, The Snake Pit and the Pendulum and Castle of the Walking Dead], etc., etc…Honestly, it’s impossible.
LB: …Scream…And Die! [AKA The House That Vanished], Deviation, Alice Or The Last Escapade, Shiver Of The Vampire, Ich, Ein Groupie [AKA Higher and Higher], Mephisto Waltz, Switchblade Sisters, Bury Me An Angel, The Witches Mountain (El monte de las brujas), Le Diable Probablement, The Night Evelyn Came Out Of The Grave, Invocation Of My Demon Brother…
Do you pick out certain movies and decide to write a song based on them, or is your horror movie knowledge more of a general background that always informs the writing?
JO: I don’t think we ever try to write a song based on a movie. It’s more metaphorical – the lyrics are more about us, really. For instance “Dunwich” [from 2007’s Witchcult Today] was meant to use the theme from Lovecraft’s book as a metaphor for isolationism and teenage rebellion in a small rural town, which is where I was raised. I hope our lyrics have a deeper and darker meaning – we are probably more influenced by horror comics and occultists like Aleister Crowley, etc. I think we dig the aesthetic of old horror movies, especially the more psychedelic and tripped out ones, and I really dig the poster art and advertising blurbs: “Cool as the grave from which they rise” – “fighting for survival in the decayed remains of diseased universe” – that kinda stuff.
Horror seems to be having a resurgence in the public consciousness, though it’s a different style than the old-school 60s and 70s horror flicks. What do you think of today’s horror movies, like It Follows, The Babadook, It Comes At Night, The Witch, etc.
JO: No, sorry, I don’t really care for those movies. Some were ok, but I guess it’s not what I like in horror films. I wanna see dungeons, laboratories, hunchbacks, werewolves, screaming virgins – -that kinda stuff. I also prefer a more unhealthy combination of sex and violence – haha!
LB: I saw The Witch, which was alright. I liked the end scene the best. A lot of those movies don’t really have the things that appeal to me. I prefer a more subtle creepy, spookiness and mystery. I don’t like the modern shock tactics or the subject matter a lot of the time.
Liz, you had your own musical history prior to joining EW, including Sourvein. How was joining EW different than your past experience?
LB: Well, my previous bands were bands that either I started myself and/or was the only guitar player and primary songwriter. Even with Sourvein, that had existed in another form before me, I had to start from scratch writing songs, etc. Electric Wizard was already a well-established band, so I came in having to learn someone else’s songs, and there was baggage from the past – two things I wasn’t used to. But other than that, it wasn’t that different. Once I started to contribute creatively, it wasn’t all that different to past experiences.