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Retrospective

Revisiting ELECTRIC WIZARD’s Occult, Drug-Fueled Opus, Dopethrone

Posted by on October 20, 2018 at 11:48 am

By 2000, it appeared Electric Wizard could do no wrong. The English Doom outfit of Jus Oborn (Guitar/Vocals), Tim Bagshaw (Bass), and Mark Greening (Drums), were at the very top of their game. On releases such as Supercoven and Come My Fanatics they crafted works that were laden with distortion, nihilism, and samples from cult films such as Cannibal Ferox, Bloodsucking Freaks, and Let Sleeping Corpses Lie.

In November of that year, the trio unleashed their third full length, Dopethrone. It was a culmination of a steady progression that the group had been following since their 1995 self-titled release. The album’s cover art—Satan inhaling smoke from a bong with black towers of an ancient city behind him—beckoned the interest of any casual observer. If the sights were enough to entice, then the sounds one experienced from a first-time listen were enough to incite an internalized self-destruction.

Dopethrone opens with “Vinum Sabbathi," which features a sample from Dale Griffis, one of the major figures in the Satanic Panic scare of the 1980s. Griffis often appeared as an expert on television shows such as 20/20, where this particular sample was taken from. In one of his lines he states, “When you get into one of these groups, there’s only a couple of ways you can get out. One is death, the other is mental institutions.” Interesting to note, Griffis’ expertise on occult matters was highly questionable, and his botched testimony was one of the contributing factors that lead to the conviction of the West Memphis Three.

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“Vinum Sabbathi” immediately takes hold and sets the tone for much of what’s to follow: drugs and the occult. “Now I’m a slave to the black drug, forced to serve this black god,” bellows Oborn. It encapsulates addiction in the form of servitude to a higher being, as well as someone’s failure to achieve a higher plane of consciousness through substances. The track is a strong opener and signals the descent into the abyss.

As with many songs on the album, the following track, “Funeralopolis” begins just as the dust settles from the final chords of “Vinum Sabbathi”, with feedback serving as a segue between the two. Dopethrone constantly ebbs and flows as the album progresses, weaving in and out of discord and mid-paced groove, and nowhere is that more evident than here. It starts with a relatively clean sound. Oborn and Bagshaw gradually move together into murky, distorted synchronicity. The slow tempo of the song intertwines perfectly with its subject matter. “Funeralopolis” is part and parcel to one of Electric Wizard’s most recognizable subjects—nihilism.

It describes Earth as a dead asteroid. Its inhabitants are nothing more than mindless slaves devoid of any value. They are easily some of Oborn’s best lyrics on the album as the song gradually picks up momentum before descending into utter chaos. The final verse, “Nuclear Warheads ready to strike. This world is so fucked, let’s end it tonight!” sets amidst a backdrop of music spiraling out of control, almost as if it’s simulating the panic and disorientation that comes from the world ending.

Drug addiction and nihilism aside, “Weird Tales”—named for an old American pulp magazine that showcased the writing of H.P. Lovecraft and Clark Ashton Smith—is a 15-minute odyssey into the void. The song itself is composed of three sections, “Electric Frost”, “Golgotha”, and “Altar of Melktaus.”The epic begins with raw frenetic energy, then, as if to simulate a descent into madness, gradually slows itself down, until the instruments fade out completely, leaving nothing but a dull, lingering drone. In addition, the track makes a number of references to Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos. For example, the opening lyrics, “From ancient Yuggoth, black rays emit. Evil’s narcotic cyclopean pits.” Yuggoth was described by Lovecraft as a dead planet inhabited by black towers, similar to the ones depicted on the album cover.

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“Barbarian” shifts focus from the Cthulhu Mythos to the work of author Robert E. Howard and his creation, Conan the Barbarian. The song not only recounts the exploits of the warrior king but also contains an indictment of modern society. The repeated lyric of “You think you’re civilized, but you’ll never understand” seems to hint at the savage nature that lurks beneath today’s world, far removed from tribal life. Electric Wizard’s love of cult cinema, explored on other subsequent releases makes itself known in “I, The Witchfinder.” Inspired by the 1970 cult classic Mark of the Devil, it features a sample from Albino, the films main antagonist.

In its own way, “I, the Witchfinder” is very effective at separating Electric Wizard from many of their contemporaries. Take into consideration the polished sound of Cathedral’s “Hopkins (Witchfinder General.)” As a film, Mark of the Devil, is similar to Witchfinder General, as they both depict the infamous witch-hunts that took place in Europe. However, the former is far more abrasive and unrefined. Thriving on what’s best described as “atmospheric discord” the eleven-minute song, multi-layered and abysmal, is Electric Wizard at their very best, creating landscapes that are both bleak and mesmerizing.

After a brief interlude with an instrumental piece entitled “The Hills Have Eyes,” the album swings right back into nihilistic energy with “We Hate You.” A solid declaration of contempt towards the human race, the gloomy atmosphere and brooding pace of the song coincide with Oborn’s misanthropic lyrics. “Black Nebula, seething in my brain. Then your fucking world brings me down again.” While not directly linked to Lovecraft, the song contains a sample from the 1970 film, The Dunwich Horror, based on one of the most important entries in his Cthulhu Mythos. “We Hate You” touches upon one of Lovecraft’s personality traits he was known for—hatred for the outside world, and the people who inhabit it.

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If “We Hate You” was an indication of Electric Wizard’s contempt for society, then “Dopethrone,” the album’s concluding track, is a declaration of self-importance. Spanning just over 10 minutes, it celebrates the use of distorted instruments and drug use. “Rise, black amps tear the sky. Feedback will free your mind and set you free. Rise, black amps tear the sky. Riff hewn altar wreathed in smoke and weed.”

Like so much of the material on this particular release, it builds gradually until arriving at a powerful crescendo. A fitting end to the album, (Although some reissues feature the additional track “Mind Transferal.”) and indicative of what Electric Wizard had achieved. They had ascended to the throne of their own kingdom and set a standard that would be almost impossible to duplicate.

The group returned a two years later in 2002 with Let Us Prey. While still a serviceable effort, albeit a slight departure in sound and with more experimentation, it would be the last from the original lineup. In 2003 Bagshaw and Greening would depart, with Liz Buckingham (Guitar), Rob Al-Issa (Bass) and Justin Greaves (Drums) joining the fold for 2005’s We Live. Without Bagshaw to serve as Oborn’s writing partner, Electric Wizard would ultimately become an entirely different band, but that is another story…

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