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Regarded as Electric Wizard's best album, "Dopethrone" is certainly their best known. Does the actual thing itself match the hype that's been spun about it? Too often the mythology that surrounds a particular recording is the last thing a band might want: newbies come with certain expectations generated by overblown hyperbole they see in online websites and blogs or in printed media. Eventually a person's gotta realise you can't avoid the album if everyone talks about it in hushed tones and eggs you on to hear it too.
Certainly you can see "Dopethrone" as a refinement of the previous "Come My Fanatics" to the extent that the first self-titled album might be viewed as a prequel recording to the corpus of Electric Wizard works proper. The subject matter is varied and ranges from pessimism about humanity and where it's headed; the escape into drugs as a way of relief from the depressing reality of human society, only to discover that drug addiction is its own prison; hatred leading to violence and perhaps suicide; and fantasy worlds of sword-and-sorcery rule and witchcraft as commentary on human nature and social behaviour. There's some influence from H P Lovecraft, in particular the famous short story "At the Mountains of Madness" with its hint of the return of the race of Cthulhu and ancient gods from outer space, on one track.
The music is generally grimy, crusty stoner doom metal with a thick, rough, fuzzed texture, relaxed percussion and bleached vocals. After a short, somewhat repetitive introductory track which presents the basics of Electric Wizard's style, we get down to business with "Funeralopolis", a raw and bleeding guitar dirge about Earth as a scorched post-apocalyptic rock inhabited by zombie bipeds: we just haven't realised we're the walking dead yet. The song builds up to a fierce, maddened and dangerous beast with Jus Oborn's voice increasingly becoming inhuman and ferocious. Likewise the third track "Weird Tales" is a complex critter with inventive instrumental passages, guitars scrawling circles of noise and fuzz or trailing long serpentine tails of scree and space ambient effects, and a general dark mood invading the song in parts. True, the song doesn't always hold together very well but I have the impression that at this stage in their career EW didn't care about writing songs with conventional song structures but were allowing the music to travel where it will and they following its spirit more or less intuitively.
After that 15-minute slab, the album bounces back and forth between lighter material like "Barbarian" and meatier tracks. "I, the Witchfinder" is a strong sludge doom track musically with sinister mood and slow burning tension. The instrumental passages soar high into a psychedelic firmament of bleached swirling acid shades and burning atmosphere. Lyrics leave something to be desired: it seems a rehash of stereotypes about the real-life self-styled witchfinder general Matthew Hopkins seen through the prism of Michael Reeve's 1968 film that starred Vincent Price as the villainous witch persecutor. (The film is worth seeking out as it's really about the effect of repression and persecution on innocent people in Oliver Cromwell's 17th century police state society and the depths the victims are driven to, to the extent that they become no better than their persecutors when they seize opportunities for vengeance. This is something EW could have picked up as it fits into the scope of their lyrical concerns.) The final two tracks are no slouches either: "We Hate You" is hard-edged, maniacal sludge doom seething with venomous hate against humans and "Dopethrone" is a mighty slab of encrusted-grime sludge that's at once self-referential, Lovecraftian in parts and dedicated to the Tao of Weed. The band conducts a blasphemous ritual summoning a dark deity from beneath the waves to rule Earth!
The album does appear to be untidy and all over the place but that's how stoner doom / psychedelic music should be. It would be strange indeed that a recording influenced and inspired by dope-smoking directly and indirectly should be tightly structured and controlled. The main thing about "Dopethrone" the album is that the music sounds very inspired and is robust and confident in its themes and performance. The trio do get carried away at times and fly high yet somehow have their feet on the ground when they need to be. Probably some of the lyrical material doesn't quite match the music in full flight and a song like "Barbarian" with its corny cartoon references could have been changed and refined so that dear old Conan could be left out. (Some of us still think of Arnie Schwarzenegger as Conan and guffaw.) On the whole, the music is consistent, inspired, vigorous and confident and "Dopethrone" well deserves its reputation as EW's best effort.