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1000 Amps Toll the End Time Riff - 87%

The_Evil_Hat, August 10th, 2009

After their generally agreed upon peak, Electric Wizard changed up their sound with Let us Prey and We Live. These changes were met with mixed reactions by fans and neither was ever viewed with anything close to the reverential air that pervaded Dopethrone’s public image. Enter Witchcult Today, equally a back to the roots album and a continuation of the path taken by its predecessor.

Stylistically, Witchcult Today falls somewhere between the two main eras. The songs are darker again, the guitars messier than they’ve been since the turn of the millennium, but it’s nowhere near as hazy as Dopethrone, and the entire affair retains quite a bit of the clarity that it recently acquired. As has already been established, the main characteristic of Witchcult Today isn’t its dark and dense atmosphere, but neither is it the more surreal, experimental tones of the two prior albums. Instead, the whole thing adds a momentous atmosphere of fun to the proceedings. Don’t worry, this isn’t a parody of what’s come before, and I sincerely promise that there aren’t any ballads. All the same, an undeniable confident swagger has entered the Wizard’s sound, and it’s certainly not a negative development.

This is the first album were Liz Buckingham actually contributed to the writing, and it shows a good deal. The guitar parts maintain their intricacy from We Live, but detuned monoliths are just as, if not more, common. The solos seem to evolve on each album, from the barely discernable, flashes of leads on Dopethrone to the far more complex affairs on that album’s successors, and Witchcult is no exception. Again, though, this greater guitar complexity leaves the bass in a backseat role. The drumming is bold and rhythmic, while remaining just loose enough to lay down immense grooves for everything else to follow.

No longer are Oborn’s vocals in the midst of the guitars, now they frequently fly above, although there’re notable exceptions to this. His voice is clean and powerful, utterly devoid of the occasional strains it exhibited on this album’s predecessor. The lyrics are excellent, precise and unpretentious, yet packed with chilling and effective imagery. Dunwhich bears one of the best verse on the album:

“Child of Dunwhich rise,
You have your father’s eyes,
Child of Dunwhich rise,
End this world that you despise.”

To those that have read the Lovecraft tale the song is evidently based on, the second line is nothing short of brilliant.

In a perplexing turn of events, the album starts out with one of the weakest cuts. The title track is decent, but lacks the power to really deserve its eight minute length. The following track, Dunwhich, however, is an absolute behemoth. The main riff is driving, crushingly heavy and penetratingly catchy at the same time. The following track, Satanic Rites of Drugula, has several great riffs and excellent vocals. It also has the hilariously fitting line: “Druglust! Bloodlust! Count Drugula arise!”

After a relatively pointless interlude, things resume with The Chosen Few. I’m unsure as to this song’s relationship to the Let us Prey track A Chosen Few, mostly due to the latter’s lack of lyrics and harsher vocals. Either way, this track is nothing short of breathtaking. The riff is intriguing, and the song overall is quite possibly the most epic that the Wizard’s ever done. The melody during the majority of the verses is superb, and the lyrics and their delivery are simply excellent:

“The chosen few, look up to the sky
The chosen few, waiting for the sign
The chosen few, still children of the grave
Satan’s Slaves…”

My favorite Electric Wizard song? Probably not, but it’s in the top five or so. The next track, Torquemada 71, opens with fuzz that gives way to an incredibly distinctive riff/melody. The vocals are strong during the chorus, but the lyrics seem somewhat weak, perhaps because I can’t help comparing it to the absolutely painful masterpiece that was I, The Witchfinder.

Black Magic Rituals & Perversions is an essentially ambient track. It starts off extremely strong. The drums are the most active part of the music, with the guitars playing a highly simple riff while effects generate the majority of the dark, ritualistic mood. A speaker eventually enters, speaking what I presume to be Latin and engaging in what I assume to be some sort of ritual involving black magic and various forms of perversion. For a time, everything’s excellent. The whole thing has a majestic, evil feel and is absolutely riveting…and then it goes on, and on, and on. This is a track that would’ve been slightly overlong at half its length and by the time everything’s receded and the words alone carry it, you’re more than ready for the stripped down parody of the opening few minutes to end.

Saturnine is a very competent closer, complete with a strong solo near the beginning and good lead work throughout. The whole thing, despite the dark lyrics, has more of a surreal and melancholy feel than a genuinely dark one. The vocals reflect this, and the chorus is a definite high point. The ending of the song features an amusing throwback to the Let us Prey closer, Priestess of Mars, which sheds some new light on the preceding lines.

Witchcult Today isn’t necessarily the return to form it’s often labeled as, nor is it a true continuation of their previous path. It’s a highly competent album, one with several remarkable cuts, and also one that only occasionally overstays its welcome. A strong addition to Electric Wizard’s discography, even if it’s not the returning, stoned savior that some seemed to be expecting.