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Music is a sonic doorway to another’s imagination. Through it you can view the world as others does and gaze upon strange soundscapes that would be impossible to view unaided. Some albums go further, though. Their music isn’t just a window into another plane, bur rather a gateway, and the instruments drag you through and leave you hopelessly submerged in a world that is not your own. You are no longer anything as passive as a listener, an observer, but are rather immersed in the center of the experience, mesmerized by the power of what goes on around you. Electric Wizard’s Dopethrone is one such album.
The music has the hypnotic power, bottomless low end, and absolute heaviness of drone bands like Sunn O))), combined with the bluesy, doomy powers of Black Sabbath, and tempered with the glassy eyed glaze of dopesmoke and the psychedelic music of another era. The end result combines the best of everything that went into it, creating a monster of an album that is absolutely enthralling and atmospheric, yet has the stunningly heavy and memorable riffs of the most crushing doom.
The guitar playing of Jus Oborn is monolithic. The tone is massive beyond belief, low and distorted beyond recognition. The guitar is not a bludgeon, but rather a vast ocean of impossible depth, not assaulting the listener but rolling over them, endless and impenetrable. The riffs are generally simple. They’re very loose, but played in such a manner that there is no doubt that this is the only possible way they could ever be played. Most are repeated for minutes on end, some for far longer than your average song. No matter how long they play their power enthralls you just as capably, and as time goes on the band’s colossal imagery is reinforced again and again. Solos are drenched in reverb and stagger around in a drugged daze, providing a delicious break from the band’s usual weighted fair while the rhythm section is left to carry the riffs.
Tim Bagshaw’s bass is highly audible. It generally follows the guitars, adding even more weight to the riffs and often provides something more tangible to hold onto during the maelstrom of distortion. There are several times when it deviates from its supporting role and takes the lead, all of which work flawlessly. Mark Greening’s drumming is an onslaught of constant cymbal crashes, a style that would normally prove bombastic and overpowering. Here, however, it is required for them to remain prevalent in the mix and even then they’re more of a supporting instrument than a true leader. They’re far more than adept at laying down solid grooves.
The vocals are, without a doubt, another highlight of the release. Jus Oborn’s style is, at its base, clean and highly reminiscent of Osborn’s. The vocals are often subjected to effects, including frequent use of distortion and delay. Instead of soaring over the tops of these waves, Oborn merely rides in the center of the storm, singing with the guitars instead of against or above them. The lyrics are excellent. They depict a mixture of horror tales, primarily derived from Lovecraft’s stories, to the apocalypse and, of course, to the ever prevalent theme of weed. They manage to perfectly convey their payload of images and ideas, outwardly simple lines that flow perfectly and are as captivating as the music they accompany. The first verse of Funeralopolis is an excellent example:
Funeral planet, dead black asteroid
Mausoleum, this world is a tomb
Human zombies, staring blank faces
No reason to live, dead in the womb
Death shroud existence, slave for a pittance
Condemned to die before I could breathe
Millions are screaming, the dead are still living
This Earth has died yet no one has seen
Dopethrone is a long album, one made up of long songs, several of which breach the ten minute mark. These are far from vapid and bloated. They build atmosphere on single riffs and switch with such subtlety that the flow is uninterrupted and the mood only deepens. The average Electric Wizard epic is a musical journey equivalent to that of an average album.
The album opens with Vinum Sabbathi, by far the shortest ‘real’ song on the album. This is more of a teaser than anything else. Like several other songs, it opens with a sample from a horror movie and then continues into the riffs, acting as the perfect entryway to the album proper. Funeralopolis is next. It opens with a clean guitar playing bluesy leads, while bass and drums groove below. After a time the distortion enters and the song gradually builds in intensity as the pathetic state of the world is elaborated on, both through the bleak lyrics and the hopeless guitars. The song climaxes as Oborn shouts, “Nuclear warheads ready to strike / The world is so fucked, let’s end it tonight!” again and again, voice growing harsher with each repetition.
Weird Tales follows, an opus of Lovecraftian horror and atmosphere. The song is divided into three parts. The first two are crushingly heavy and spell the world’s doom out with descriptions of waiting elder gods. The last portion, Altar of Melektaus, is comprised of swirling ambient and rhythmic drumming that takes minutes to recede, weaving a bewildering web of twisted strands over the listener’s psyche as it finally fades away. Barbarian follows, a far simpler song than the two that have gone before. It is an ode to Robert E. Howard’s Conan and as such is remorselessly crushing and punishing. Over the music Oborn sings powerful lines like, “He carved a kingdom of stone / King Conan, sitting on his bloody throne.” Like in the stories themselves, surreal atmospheres clash beautifully with absolute brutality.
I, the Witchfinder is by far the most grueling song on the album. It is over eleven minutes long and is painfully simple, consisting of only a few riffs and only two proper verses. The guitars drag and groan while Oborn painfully lays each line down on top of the last, a slow moaning to deliver the sick and twisted lyrics. This song will leave you twisted and exhausted. It doesn’t feel like its, admittedly long, eleven minute length, but rather an endless slog that clocks in through hours and days, rather than with minutes and seconds.
The following track, The Hills Have Eyes, is an interlude consisting of bluesy guitar leads and simple beats. It’s enjoyable, although too short to leave much of an impression. Even this, in its odd way, makes it memorable, offering one tantalizing glimpse while most songs drone across vast soundscapes. The following track, We Hate You, is also of a less epic vein, although it’s nonetheless highly interesting and probably the most aggressive cut the band’s provided. The bend-packed riff is memorable and almost catchy, the lyrics, while slightly over repetitive, very well done. “So I’ll take my father’s gun and I’ll walk down the street / I’ll have my vengeance now with everyone I meet, yeah!”
Next is the penultimate title track, Dopethrone. This isn’t the longest song but it’s an epic journey nonetheless. The music is the culmination of everything that came before, drowning and enthralling in equal measure. The main riff is a behemoth that might just be the heaviest riff on the album and that’s no easy feet. The lyrics are a mixture of sorcery, dopesmoke and amusing self awareness. “Rise, black amps tear the sky,” sums up the entire album perfectly, while verses like:
“Dopethrone, in this land of sorcery
Dopethrone, vision through T.H.C
Dopethrone, feedback will free
Dopethrone, three wizards crowned with weed”
are nothing short of brilliant. The song seems to die off and then comes back just as strong, ending with talking buried too far beneath massive riffs to be made out.
Providing that you have the rerelease of the album, you’re then treated to the bonus track Mind Transferal. This track is a bit weightier than most, tying in at just shy of fifteen minutes. It’s instrumental and consists of nothing but monstrous grooves. It doesn’t add onto what the album before it had, but it doesn’t need to be worthy.
Phrases like, ‘time flies when you’re having fun,’ are everywhere. In the same vein, people often describe their favorite albums as passing in the blink of an eye. Well, if you’re looking for an album like that, Dopethrone will disappoint. There is nothing fast about this album. You can’t play it day after day, throwing it on as fun background music to empower you. No, Dopethrone sounds like it takes weeks to play from beginning to end. At the end of that time you look back to before you hit play and wonder how you could possibly be the same person before and after this monolithic dedication to dope, horror, and, above all, music.