Saturday, November 1, 2008

Electric Wizard: Hand of Doom has a tight grip on me

The be all, end all of heavy in my book is and probably always shall be Electric Wizard. From Doom setting standards such as ‘Come My Fanatics’, ‘Let Us Prey’ and the granddaddy of them all, ‘Dopethrone’, Electric Wizard are a band who always seem to fucking nail it.

Over the past few years it’s been somewhat tough to keep up with the band. From multiple member changes to the perpetual low profile they keep, being an Electric Wizard fan can be tough at times.

Because of the hermit-like existence, news that the band had completed recording of a new album was like being a kid on X-mas eve, you knew there was a present waiting for you but you had no idea what it was. ‘Witchcult Today’ is an album that succeeds on many different levels. There’s the foundation of the band, which is some of the heaviest Doom ever laid on tape…but it’s the other things accomplished on ‘Witchcult Today’, the "x" factors if you will that makes this album one of their finest yet.

There’s a catchiness to the material that is done without sacrificing any of the “extremity”. The songs where these elements shine through are some of the finest the band have ever written.

As of this writing there’s been another member change with Bassist Rob Al-Issa out and a new 4-stringer in, but that’s just minor details as the band truly revolves around it’s founder. Justin Oborn is not only a mad genius, conjuring up tales of sorcery and invoking all kinds of demonic talismans disguised as songs, but he’s also a unique guy who really only cares about one thing…well make that two things as we discuss here.

Essential past recordings are important, but ‘Witchcult Today’ is a record that stands on its own now and presumably forever.

None But My Own: Congrats on the new album man.
Jus Oborn: Cheers man! All I can is is we really tried on this one (laughs).
Before we get going on ‘Witchcult Today’ I wanted to back track a little to the touring you did in support of ‘We Live’. I know you did some touring with Cathedral but right after that it seemed as if Justin [Greaves-Drums] was out of the band. What happened there?

Well he was out of the band, uh, soon after that tour, so I guess you could draw your own conclusions to that situation…

Was it just the “you learn the most about people on the road” or what?

Yeah, a little bit of that, you definitely know a person after touring with them and another thing was I just wanted the band a little rougher sounding, you know? But we had some good gigs with him it was writing that didn’t work out.

Well the new stuff is unreal as far as it’s heaviness but it’s got this “groove” that just hits you, it’s definitely a memorable listening experience, this record. Do you remember what was the first song written for ‘Witchcult Today’ was?

Um, “Satanic Rites of Drugula” I believe. The idea for this song goes back a long way but the final version isn’t that much different than what we’ve had. “The Chosen Few” is another early song as well, I was writing that while I was working..[laughing] that’s why it’s got that vibe. Working doesn’t bring out the best vibes, you know? So a good riff came out of it, I was just like feeling it “fuck the world”, “fuck this”, “fuck the man” (laughs).

I guess I was just playing the role, like a method actor or something. But if you think about it all the original heavy bands were the same way, pissed off and wanting to be heard…

So once you have the first two songs written did it steer you in the right direction as far as a whole piece of music goes?

Yeah, definitely. When we started jamming with Shaun (Rutter-D) the riffs we had laying around for a few years really started to sound good. Then it took off from there, the vibe of the music was there.

Did the personalities help to solidify this vibe? I know in the past there’s been issues within the band as far as everyone getting along, but how’s the vibe with Shaun?

To me, the idea of a band is something to do with your friends. The people you like to hang out with, like a cult or something! Everyone brings the Doom, the heaviness… everyone is into it! There’s 100% dedication. Liz (Buckingham-G) and I will write the riffs and then we get together with Shaun. Shaun’s got a great attitude, he just wants to play the drums as heavy and as slowly as possible.

Everyone’s into it, that’s what counts.

Was there anything more influential than others during the writing of, well even the past few years for you?

No, not really anything that stands out. Just the same stuff, movies and music but just more and more, and more of it (laughs)! I mean anything to cope with this mundane existence…like dirty comic books from the 70’s and watching fucked up movies. Those things and of course there’s a lot of weed involved. So the music is just a product of my sick mind and the weird thing is some people dig it and that’s pretty weird.

In the middle of writing, do you tend to look at the older material differently? I mean what’s a new album to a band but them trying to improve on what they’ve done in the past, right?

Yeah, agreed. I’m really into the new songs, we had a chance to play them live in Japan recently and the new songs sound really, really good next to the old shit. Right now we’ve got a really killer live set man. I mean we could go out and play a “greatest hits” sort of set (laughing)!

I was going to get to that, but how was Japan and how was Church Of Misery?
It was wild! Everyone say’s that but that’s because it really is! They’re really into Electric Wizard and that blew me away. Church of Misery were wicked! They were really killer live, even wilder live that on record. It was a really good tour, they’ve got that shit down.

Did you go record shopping there? That’s a dream of mine.

Oh man, you can’t stop yourself once you’re there. I mean there’s record shops that are like seven stories high where each floor is like a different genre of music, totally fucked up! And there are tons of these shops like that, not just one or two. They’d even play Electric Wizard while we were in there, we had to go with it even though it was a little strange, but they were so fucking polite (laughs)!

Were you able to score some pot out there?

Yeah, surprisingly! And some of it wasn’t that bad, really. Very expensive though, like three times what you’d pay in America or even Europe…but it’s a tour expense anyway, so it’s not as painful.

Jus(R) and ex-Drummer Mark (L) in higher times USA 2002

Have you paid any attention to the press for ‘Witchcult Today’? It seems like I have yet to see a review where ‘Dopethrone’ is not mentioned.

I’ve seen some of the English reviews. I usually just go down to the shops and have a look, and what I’ve seen has actually been pretty good. Yeah, you’re right about the ‘Dopethrone’ thing. It’s funny, when we finished this record and I was thinking about it and I was thinking “this is terrible and it should’ve been more like ‘Dopethrone’” I’ve been hearing that for a long time and I almost started to think that for a minute when the record was done.

But I think the music really speaks for itself, I mean I’m almost "40" I should be able to at least write a decent tune (laughs)! But during the mastering I realized “this is it”, I was really proud of it and I was like “let’s write another album now (laughing)!

If I’m in the right frame of mind I swear ‘Witchcult Today’ could almost be an unreleased Sabbath album. It’s got actual songs and hooks left and right. But it’s bludgeoning at the very same time. A song like “Dunwitch” is almost like “Pop Doom”, which I mean as a total compliment (laughing)!

Well yeah that’s what Sabbath did and it didn’t do any harm to them, did it? I like to remember a song, fuck, it’s something to hum in your head when you’re working in the factory all day.

How was working with an actual producer (Liam Watson) for the first time?

It was cool, the coolest thing was to work with someone who actually knew what the fuck they were doing (laughs)! I’m not sure what everyone else’s opinion on working with a producer, but working with Liam…he’s into music. He’s into trying to make the band sound as good as they can and offer help if it’s necessary.

A few people have asked me if he changed any of our songs but, I mean that wasn’t even on the agenda, that’s not what it was about. He told us many times, “whatever you want to do on the album, I’ll make it happen.” That’s how “Black Magic Rituals & Perversions” happened, every idea we had, he made happen.

You know that “song” for what it is, even though it’s more of a piece of sound versus a traditional song it’s really effective. The drums in there are just beyond heavy and the whole outro is just brutal. The drums are excellent all over ‘Witchcult Today’.

Yeah Shaun has been drumming for a long time…

Is he a current or “recovering” Metalhead?
Oh yeah, he was Metal at birth…he’s probably got a huge steel plate in his head (laughing)! But yeah, he’s an old school biker and he fits in great.

In the past Electric Wizard recording sessions were always memorable in one way or another. You guys have camped both in and outside the studio for ‘Dopethrone’ and ‘Let Us Prey’. Any stories from ‘Witchcult Today’?
This last time we recorded in London, probably the worst district in London…ever

Worst as in ghetto?

Yeah, and we had to get a hotel for the recording because you’d be nuts to sleep outdoors around there, especially there. So we stayed at Motel Hell (laughs) but I did miss staying in the country.

Whose idea was it to record at Toe Rag?

Actually that’s Liam’s own studio he built. You know how most studios are all nice and clean with plush carpeting?

Yeah, sure.

Well this was more like a nuclear bunker! It was cold and filled with grey equipment with huge wheels on them, so yeah it was different.

How long had ‘Witchcult Today’ been kicking around in your head?

The title actually came after we finished recording the album. We had recorded the song, but it didn’t have a title, then it got a title and that became the name of the album. Just something that grew from the lyrics, it’s really my take on a 70’s Satanic Porno Magazine type of thing.

Lyrically you’re going some different places, I think “Satanic Rites of Drugula” is about the coolest fucking thing I’ve heard in years.

(Laughing) Well it’s got to be the best song title, ever, huh (laughs)?! That’s the after effects of smoking weed at 6:30 in the morning and going to work. But really it’s, one one level about Bobby Liebling [Pentagram]..but also it’s the movies and the comic books all mixed together. But there are a lot of lyrics that came together right before I recorded them….I mean you’re at the hotel smoking bong after bong after listening to fucking Doom all day long you start writing and just go wild. So yeah, they came together pretty naturally.

There’s some stuff lyrically that really conjures up some mental images as I want every line to evoke the visuals of the song and what’s it’s about. I haven’t got any messages...none.

Just a minute ago we were talking about the press and I’d like to hear your opinion on ‘We Live’ several years later. I read a lot of current thoughts on it and a lot of shit is thrown on the record. While it’s not my favorite Wizard release, I see it as an important release that sort of kept the band alive. If you hadn’t released something I think people would’ve just thought the band was dead, with the original line-up gone and semi lengthy time span between releases.

I see it that way I see it too. I like the tunes on it, fuck, I think it fits in there [EW catalog]. Maybe it was like you had to clear the slate to start again, and that’s what we did. I like the record but I don’t enjoy it production wise and how the finished product came out.
Are the days of endless touring over for Electric Wizard? It seems like these days it’s one-offs and while you hit em hard, you’re back home before you know it.

Yeah, that’s what it’s going to be one off’s and maybe some bigger kind of shows. We really want to be able to concentrate on the performance and not only that but the production as well too. The lights and all that…I don’t like how shows are presented these days, too gay looking. There’s got to be a way of making them heavier which I think can be done, like a proper horror show…like Venom used to do. We’d love to do something like that! Conan's Axe-Chicago 2002

Instead of the pentagrams you could have the “W” logo with the upside down crosses!
Yeah, and they’d of course shoot fire and flames