Review: Black Wizard – Livin’ Oblivion
Don’t call it a “Blizard.”
I’m by no means a prolific writer. My inbox is pretty much where promos go to die. The problem isn’t that there’s nothing I like – I come across cool shit all the time. The problem is that even if I really want to write about something, I have a hard time actually getting around to it, and that’s not because my schedule is packed, I’m just awesome at procrastinating. Case in point: it’s been a good two months since I first heard Black Wizard’s new record, Livin’ Oblivion, yet you’re only reading this now. I have not been idle in the meantime; I listened to the album quite a number of times. I liked it a fair bit. Then I liked it a lot. Then I grew tired of it. Then I found myself humming its melodies, begrudgingly at first, then with longing, so I came back to it. I’m basically in a relationship with this thing, so it’s about damn time something comes of that.
Like I said, I did like it a fair bit from the get-go. I feel like any mélange of stoner, doom, and heavy metal can just as easily be awful as it can be great, so I was initially guarded, but the awesome drum fills right at the beginning of the first song were enough to intrigue me, and the animated vocal performance had a big part in convincing me to stick around. Good thing I did, because second song “Feast Or Famine” gave me a quite literal thrashing that was all the more pleasant for how unexpected it was. After a brief, unceremonious intro, the song hits the ground running with a metal af riff complete with d-beat. No doom here, all straight action, and the singer showing off more of his spectrum. That screaming in the chorus was equally as unexpected as the shift in tempo. To cap it off, the entire second half of the song belongs to the guitarist, who goes absolutely haywire with a solo that any of the big four would have been happy to pull off in their respective heydays.
Another highlight in a similar manner is sixth song “Portraits”. Think Metal Church at their heaviest, or an 80s thrash band trying to re-invent themselves in the 90s. As you may have guessed though, these types of songs are not the heart of the album. In-between these two ragers, you get mid-tempo doom numbers that, while reminiscing about the greats of the genre here and there, never fall into the trap of sounding like a pure retro rock act. Yeah, you’ll probably be reminded a bit of Sabbath and Candlemass, especially regarding the prevailing vibe of sinister darkness, but Black Wizard have a way of oscillating between genres and adding so much of their own flair that these moments really remain mere nods. “James Wolfe” is a plodding affair heavily streaked with sorrow from the moment the guitar first outlines the chorus. The chorus proper, then, starts out with the singer screaming again, only to fall back down to the somewhat laconic tone he strikes in the verses, making for an arc that seems to hint at the futility of… well, you know, everything, kinda. At least that’s what it makes me think of. Next, the title track manages to sound markedly different again, dabbling in a similar atmosphere, but conveying it in a more upbeat manner (without fully losing the doomy inertia, mind you). Here, the singer comes pretty close to an Ozzy impersonation, and yes, I’m going to continue to mention him for pretty much every song, because his performance all throughout this album is absolutely amazing. There’s already been plenty of screaming by this point, but check out the wonderful, mostly quieter “Cascadia” to get a glimpse of the soft, nasal croon that is the other end of his spectrum.
This, side by side with the aforementioned chorus of “Feast Or Famine,” shows off the two extremes, but the real magic happens in between the two. Very nearly every song has a catchy vocal line, be it in the chorus or the verses, and the way these are sung – soft, strong, pleadingly, forcefully; always different, really – will help to drill them into your brain even more. It’s only fitting that a band that manages to sound so different from song to song should have a singer this versatile. Truly a match made in heaven. By this point, we’re well into the second half of the album, and I’m far from feeling bored. Unfortunately, that time will come, but before that, there’s “Poisoned Again,” which once more comes up with elements unprecedented on the record so far. Both the vocals and the melody that follow the first few lines of lyrics give this a vibe that is strangely… uplifting, somehow. I can’t help but feel like we’re off on some grand adventure here. While the euphoria doesn’t remain this strong through the whole song, it’s enough to set it apart.
Alas, as with any relationship, it’s not all roses. By the time “Heavy Love” rolls around, I’m still totally on board with the chorus and most of the rest of the song, but somehow, a wee bit of staleness sneaks in somewhere. I can’t quite pinpoint it, but my passion for the album cools off a bit here. Unfortunately, this is not the end of it. Ennui sets in more fully during the last song. I said before that Black Wizard don’t sound like a mere by-the-numbers retro rock act; for some reason, on this song, they pretty much do. The riffing hardly does anything for me, the small doses of psychedelia they inject here and there seem haphazard and rote, and you know what? Not even the singer can save this one. He displays almost nothing of what makes him great, instead largely going for a nasal sing-songy voice that I could get from any band that recently discovered their dad’s record collection and promptly bought bell bottoms and an Orange amp. I feel like both the band and I are trying hard to remember the good times here and get some of the magic back, but by the time the guitar starts just noodling incessantly instead of banging out another killer solo, I am thoroughly checked out.
But hey, that means Livin’ Oblivion still comes out to about a 7.5 out of nine in terms of killer-to-filler ratio, which is pretty damn impressive. If you’ve any love at all for the doom metal grandfathers and can stand to occasionally bang your head faster than five times per minute, you should probably get on this. As for me, I hope the honeymoon phase lasts a lot longer, and award this