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Darkness gives way to the distant light. - 80%

Diamhea, July 4th, 2016

I thought that 2005's Magic Circle was decent enough, but I suppose that to many ears, it simply isn't Wizard without Michael Maass manning the primary axes' assault. His absence ended up being short-lived, and he returned to the band just in time for the interestingly-titled Goochan, which thankfully sounds nowhere near as goofy as it looks when spoken during the spoken-word intro. What exactly does all of this mean? It means a narrative paradigm shift in Wizard's camp, interjecting some science fiction elements and other idiosyncratic fare to an otherwise cut-and-dry tale of epic conflict and fantasy trappings. Honestly, none of this really matters in the end, because Goochan still sounds exactly like Wizard, for better or worse. The production values are amped up a smidgen compared to Magic Circle, and the riffs feel a bit toothier and desperate, so the band is without a doubt in better form here. But to what degree?

Wizard wastes little time answering that query, grinding the gears of war with effective returns right from rip with "Witch of the Enchanted Forest." A functional opener, this tune displays Wizard working their magic in a slightly off-kilter and interesting way, with a rollicking, almost lumbering-sounding chorus that is one of the band's most memorable. Denn's reflexive, scattershot drumming benefits greatly from Dennis Ward's (Unisonic, Pink Cream 69, etc.) production job, and D'Anna is his typical throaty, soaring self behind the microphone. Honestly, there is little to complain about here as usual, with some of these tunes sounding like castoffs from The Last Supper-era Grave Digger, like the opening riff of "Lonely in Desert Land." The production even sounds near-identical, so it goes without saying that fans of that German mainstay should check Wizard out; a recommendation I'm sure I've made before.

Goochan picks up steam as it goes, letting loose the speed metal ballistics on "Dragon's Death," which razes the landscape in spectacular fashion, helping mitigate some of the more mid-paced doldrums that drag the middle of the record down. Even further in the procession we get the competent closer "Return of the Thunder Warriors," which was an interesting choice for the requisite cheesy ass music video. It almost feels like the band totally ditches the earlier storyline in favor of giving the fans what they expect - and it works well. The hooks lack some measure of memorability compared to ...of Wariwulfs and Bluotvarwes and Odin, but the band is in decent enough form on Goochan. Still, I feel that after the opening two songs, proceedings dip into near-monotony until "Dragon's Death" reignites and demands attention.

Goochan is another more than passable entry in Wizard's catalogue, one that seriously picks up steam as it goes. Later tunes like the aforementioned "Dragon's Death" and "Sword of Vengeance" are real speed metal cookers, offsetting the more typical opening salvo effectively. If not for the middling nature of some of the numbers in between, I'd dare call this a forgotten classic. As it stands, it's fucking Wizard at the end of the day. Don't expect them to reinvent the wheel, but expect some rock-simple, epic power metal that never forsakens the almighty riff in favor of middling window dressing. When I think German power metal, Wizard are one of the first names that come to mind. I'd say that they've earned it.