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Change of direction and style to stay vital - 80%

NausikaDalazBlindaz, January 12th, 2013

After a period of member departures, a US tour gone awry and other problems suggesting internal band tensions, a reformed Electric Wizard centred around the core of vocalist / guitarist Jus Oborn and new second stringer Liz Buckingham issued the live "We Live" as a way of underlining that EW were here to stay and intended to push on in spite of all that had happened. Previous recordings had combined equal amounts of traditional doom metal and stoner rock psychedelia with a thick, fuzzy, distorted sound and bleached vocals; no doubt some of the band's problems were about whether the music should head more in a doomy direction or on a more stoner rock path. On "We Live", Oborn and company leave us in no doubt at all that they're a doom band first and foremost, the stoner stuff has been left behind forever.

The main difference between the new EW on "We Live" is a fairly clean production with clearer and more confident-sounding vocals placed more upfront in the mix. The guitars still have a sharp edge and are deep but sound more streamlined and metallic and less oozing-magma thick and grimy. Although fans may be disappointed at the idea of a "cleaned-up", even more melodic and commercial-sounding Electric Wizard, the cleaner style does bring Oborn's singing to the fore and throws more emphasis on the band's songwriting abilities. This is a way of demonstrating that Oborn's commitment to EW is stronger for all that's happened to him and the band in the past. The overall result too is an album with more musicianship and one more accessible to new listeners who don't necessarily care about the band's mixed doom metal / stoner psych past but perhaps less atmosphere.

Enter the grand juggernaut of a song "Eko Eko Azarak" as the album's opening track: a soaring vocal that welcomes a new day and a new ritual, accompanied by crashing beats and a sonorous bass tone rhythm. The drumming becomes thunderous in the latter half of the track and there's soaring guitar feedback drone too. Although it's a busy song, "Eko ..." does feel quite spacious and unhurried. "We Live" has a different, more hostile feel and the vocal sounds very different from what it is in the preceding track so I assume that in the live situation the songs didn't necessarily follow in the order they do on the album. This is a highly repetitive song and any variations in it are to be found in the details of the effects that dart in and out of the background behind the riffs. "Flower of Evil aka Malfiore" has a lazy and decadent air as the sludgey metal trudges along. The drumming can be quite complex in parts and the musicians all manage to keep in time together despite giving the impression of constantly falling apart. "Another Perfect Day?" starts as the fastest track on the album and possesses power, urgency and energy in equal measures; later it slows down to become a haughty and majestic doom epic beast with a hard crunching rhythm. The rest of the album holds up well though the songs seem to have a bit less individuality: "Saturn's Children" is on the verge of losing focus at times and probably goes on for longer than it should with parts almost a throwback to the Electric Wizard of all in the multi-tracked vocals. "The Living Dead at Manchester Morgue" (a bonus track) is a very fast track but the rhythm is so thick it sounds overdone.

Shorn of their trippier psychedelic trappings, EW here is an uncompromising doom metal outfit with a strong, almost overpowering style that includes sludge doom, maybe a bit of hardcore and some drone elements. The album signifies that there'll be no going back to a dreamy, trippy happy-hippie-go-lucky past. Some fans may be unhappy about that but it's a necessary thing for bands to reconsider their direction and style if they're to remain vital and creative.