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Caves of Eternal Midnight...Aren't Quite Open Yet - 60%

The_Evil_Hat, August 11th, 2009

Electric Wizard’s familiar to most metalheads. They’re primarily known for albums like Dopethrone, long, hazy, dark and monolithic. As such, it’s a bit of a surprise to some that their first album only hits the first of those. This is an album from the Wizard before they were really the Wizard; it has undeniable similarities but could just as easily be another band for the vast majority of its run time.

Black Sabbath has always been a large influence on the band, but on this album they go from a primary influence to being pretty much the only one. This is fairly conventional stoner metal, bearing more than a few traits in common with records like Sleep’s Holy Mountain. The guitar tone is far cleaner than it would ever be again, and the sound as a whole is near crystal clear, compared to some of their later works, at least. Going hand in hand with this is a totally different atmosphere. The music is far more light hearted than ever before, and about half the lyrics reflect the wonders of weed far more than they do tales of eldritch horror. Even when the band sings of terrors and wrongs, with the notable exception of the lyrically superb Behemoth, they generally portray far too cartoonish a vibe for there to ever be a true sense of malice.

The guitar here is the crunchiest that it’s ever been, but it’s also the lightest without the slightest doubt. The riffs are generally interesting, and the highly prevalent lead work is often quite well done. The bass is far weaker here than on subsequent albums, content to merely follow the guitar for the entire thing. The drumming is utterly unremarkable here, laying down an adequate beat and nothing more.

The vocals are totally clean on this release, not to mention more up front than they would be again for nine years. Oborn doesn’t sing with the guitar, but rather over it in a more traditional style. He isn’t nearly as powerful, nor as hypnotizing, as he is on later releases, although he’s probably the highlight of the album anyway. The lyrics are, as always, very well written. They have the surreal feel that they would always maintain, though the subject matter is, as previously mentioned, quite different, focusing on the new vistas opened by dope, rather than on the horrors of outer space and the like. The second verse of Stone Magnet shows this theme quite well:

“Looking all around, the world's a dream,
Traveling to places that I have never seen,
High up here is where I'm really free,
Listen people, you've got to free the weed,
Oh yeah!”

The main flaw on this album is that the band’s later structural ideas are already firmly in place, while the actual riffwriting lags far behind. The songs are generally over five minutes, three of them breaching the eight minute mark. Like on later albums, riffs are played again and again, but the riffs themselves simply don’t have the charisma to sustain such repetition. As a result, more than a few songs grow old long before they start to wind down.

The album opens with Stone Magnet. It’s one of the strongest songs, primarily due to its relatively modest length. The interlude Mountains of Mars is one of the most realized songs on here, and is also the only one in which the bass actually acts on its own. Behemoth is probably the strongest lyrically. It shows large similarities to their later work, even if they would never be quite this didactic again:

“His blackened wings shadow the Earth,
This age of fire is his rebirth,
Awakened now in these troubled times,
He's come to judge us for our crimes,

Behemoth



So change now, before it's too late,
Or life in servitude will be your fate,
Be free, do as you will,
Love and happiness, you take your fill.”

The music, unfortunately, isn’t even close to being able to successfully bear the lyrics. It’s far too light hearted and repetitive. Devil’s Bride, the following track, bears a similar but worse fate. It describes a satanic ritual, designed to indoctrinate Satan’s bride. Unfortunately, the song is far too broad in its descriptions, more a summary of what’s to happen rather than specific images. The music itself is some of the weakest present. It’s sufficiently heavy at first, but soon grows painfully tiresome and lacks the mystique necessary to pull off a convincing ritualistic feel.

The concluding title track is a relative standout. The lighter tone works better here, and the lyrics depict a humorous dragon-born journey throughout the universe in the company of a wizard. It’s one of the few tracks where the long play time actually shows evolution, and some of the later developments are quite interesting.

Electric Wizard’s debut is a proficient, if not particularly exemplary, stoner doom debut. It’s far too one track for its own good, playing riffs until they’re utterly worthless and carrying far too many of the same ideas across superficially different songs, but it’s not a bad album. Worthy if you’re interested in charting the band’s evolution, or if you’re a large fan of the genre, but don’t expect anything too revolutionary.