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Electric Wizard is a band primarily known for one album. Unlike most bands in such a position, however, the Wizard isn’t content to merely remake and dilute their classic. Instead, they change themselves on every release, sometimes in slight ways and sometimes with drastic overhauls. Their first three albums seemed to be evolving each time, a process that ended with the penultimate Dopethrone. After that the band seemed to want to reinvent their sound a bit, and as a result released the more experimental Let us Prey, a brave, if sometimes flawed, album. We Live feels almost like the continuation and maturation of its predecessor, different from the Wizard’s prior works, but clearly the same band nonetheless.
The primary sound here is more traditional doom than ever before, with the more stoner groove passages generally toned down. On the whole this is a more calculated, restrained Wizard than ever before, one that knows precisely what it wants to do. This is probably the band’s least dark album, focusing instead on an equally effective spacey, surreal vibe that it pulls off solidly.
This album has by far the cleanest guitar sound that Electric Wizard has used since their debut. The notes are now easily distinguishable, a far cry from the ever prevalent dope haze that dominated Come My Fanatics… and subsequent albums. This album marks the beginning of Liz Buckingham’s time with the band, and her contribution definitely shows. The guitar parts are far more intricate than on previous albums, though, make no mistake, the riffs are still slow, Sabbath derived, and brilliantly heavy.
The addition of a new second guitarist, and the more complex parts that resulted, has a somewhat averse effect on the bass. New addition Rob Al-Isssa seems content to merely follow the guitars for vast majority of the songs, though it’s more the absence of an up side than a downside in itself. The new drummer, Justin Greaves, is a very welcome addition to the band. Outwardly his style bears many similarities to his predecessor, but he’s far more active, dominating the soundscape often and admirably.
Due to a mixture of no longer being the sole guitarist and developing more confidence in his abilities, Oborn’s vocals are more up front than they’ve ever been. They’re now wholly clean and treated to only the slightest, occasional touch of reverb. For the most part they’re nothing short of stunning, although the rare strain does enter his voice in one or two portions. The lyrics are, thankfully, included once again and are more than up to par, the opening verse of the title track being a good example:
“Fist cracks the earth,
Coffin womb for rebirth,
Betrayed by the living.”
The album opens with Ecko Eck Azarak. The main riff is excellent, and the lyrics are suitably evocative, but the song is truly made by the haunting, slow cry of the title. This and the following track both make far more successful use of feedback as an intro than A Chosen Few, marking the perfection of the technique for the band. The following track, We Live is one of the album’s highlights without a doubt. The main verse riff features hard hitting notes that match up with the vocals, creating a much more in your face style of heaviness than Electric Wizard’s ever used before. Considering the song’s subject matter, it’s more than effective. Flower of Evil features highly spaced out riffs and feedback, and also boats some of the most emotional sounding singing on the album.
The second half of We Live begins with Another Perfect Day? This song features a fascinating cross between highly misanthropic lyrics and some of the most up tempo music that Electric Wizard ever produced. Despite the speed, the mood is maintained perfectly. Like many tracks on the album, almost all of the lyrics are used up in the first third or so and the rest of the track proceeds instrumentally. This track, and the following one, is interestingly lyrically for starting with more plausible passages:
“Today I stopped and stared,
I realised I just don't care,
A chasm black and wide,
Between me and mankind”
and then adding references to the supernatural.:
“I've walked this earth 1000 years,
Seen the pain and the tears,
An outcast all alone,
Take me back beyond the sun....”
In all likelihood it’s simply coincidence, but I found the progression fairly interesting, not to mention a suitable target for overanalysis. Moving away from any insignificant lyrical trends, The Sun Has Turned Black is a decent Wizard song, notable primarily for the over-repetitive nature of the verses.
Saturn’s Children closes the album. It’s one of the band’s longest songs, and as such it’s fitting that it’s also one of their most epic compositions. The buildup is long and powerful. The entire song feels highly majestic, albeit more in an ‘a really awesome dragon flying through a cloud of bong smoke’ way than a ‘my, what an impressively regal figure that dragon makes,’ kind of way. The whole thing is slow and unhurried. While it may go on for a touch longer than is strictly necessary, it’s hard to complain when the riffs and vocals present are this strong. The ending of the track, consisting of solos and effect addled guitars, is a near perfect closer to the album…
…which is why, if you happen to have the reissue, it’s somewhat annoying that they mess that up. You get the track The Living Dead at Manchester Morgue, a successor to We, the Undead on the previous album, in tempo, at least, and also sharer of many of that songs weaknesses. I would say it’s stronger, quite a bit, actually, but it’s still nothing to the album that precedes it and dampens the satisfactory conclusion of Saturn’s Children.
We Live is probably Electric Wizard’s least Dopethrone-like album, excluding the self titled. While many of the techniques may be similar, the end result and atmosphere vary considerably. While I generally prefer the darker, heavier Wizard, this album is a triumph that most certainly shouldn’t be missed.