Dorset, England's Electric Wizard sit at the pinnacle of the doom-metal movement, having released classic efforts like Dopethrone that helped shape the genre while still staying relevant and pushing the music forward to this day. Founded nearly 25 years ago, and guided through that time by vocalist/guitarist Jus Oborn's singular vision, the riff-heavy band has stayed close to its original blueprint: Black Sabbath (the band's name alone is a combination of the song titles "The Wizard" and "Electric Funeral") on a drug-fueled trip through a horror-film wasteland.
Oborn, the group's lone constant member, is now readying LP No. 9, Wizard Bloody Wizard, with longtime collaborator (and life partner) guitarist Liz Buckingham, as well as bassist Clayton Burgess (Satan Satyrs) and drummer Simon Poole. The album, due on November 10th, finds the band employing some of its tried and true old tricks but to greater affect, as well as leaning more heavily on vocal melody to drive the songs. It's Electric Wizard's catchiest and most compact LP, and might be their most easily digestible, too.
With Wizard Bloody Wizard on deck, we talked with Oborn about the melodic direction of the record, doom marital bliss and whether or not rock is totally fucked in 2017.
THERE'S A CLEAR FOCUS ON VOCALS AND HARMONIES ON WIZARD BLOODY WIZARD. IT COULD BE YOUR MOST MELODIC RECORD YET. WAS THAT A CONSCIOUS DECISION?
JUS OBORN It's kind of how it happened. The vocals were pretty much added after we wrote the music. So I did spend a little time working on the vocals and I wanted them to have a much more important role in the song — something that we hadn't really tackled before. I listened to some stuff from the older days for inspiration, like Stooges, Alice Cooper, Sabbath and Zeppelin. The singer takes over the emotion of the song, where it's going and the sound. That was something I really wanted to do with this record.
IT'S MUCH EASIER TO GRASP ONTO THE SONGS.
The last album was a very long, very heavy drug-abyss-type of album. And for this one, we wanted to do something different, so we made sure the album fit onto one single vinyl and the 20, 22 minute sides were the basis of how we approached the album. Get the songs to the point a little quicker. A kind of more direct album.
SO THIS IS YOUR 9TH ALBUM, AND IT'S NO SECRET HOW MUCH INFLUENCE YOU TAKE FROM BLACK SABBATH — EVEN THE NEW RECORD'S TITLE IS A NOD TO SABBATH BLOODY SABBATH. WHAT'S IT LIKE KNOWING THAT YOUR GREATEST INFLUENCE ONLY MADE EIGHT ALBUMS TOGETHER?
I actually never thought about that before. The first time I saw Sabbath, they were pretty much going as long as we've been going now. Sabbath has always been our first influence and probably our main influence as a British band ... working-class band that started from nothing.
AS SOMEONE WHO HAS BEEN PLAYING A SINGULAR STYLE FOR SO LONG, WHERE DOES INSPIRATION COME FROM? IS METAL EVEN AN INSPIRATION ANYMORE?
The term "metal" has become so elastic or yet also more restrictive than it used to be. I'm not even quite sure what metal is anymore. For me, heavy metal was Led Zeppelin, Motörhead, AC/DC or whatever [laughs] but things have changed since then. I'm not so much into you know, like, high gain, fast guitar-ing type of stuff, but there's a lot of heavy music out there that still gets my attention. Whether it's strictly metal or not, I don't really know anymore sometimes.
As a band we've always had a wide range of influences. I don't think we're a metal band straight up. I know our first album was kind of doom metal, but then we were listening to, like, a lot of acid rock and a lot of drone-y English bands like Loop and [My] Bloody Valentine. I'm really into abstract jazz and noise stuff. Is that an influence? I don't know, and it's always hard to say because I don't think I'm ever influenced by anything in particular anymore. You pick up inspiration anywhere — sometimes it can just be a little melody or phrase or a scene from a movie or a line from a book. Not to sound cheesy, but these things can set off a chain of inspiration, but it's not necessarily a musical thing. It could be anything.
DO YOU EVER FEEL CORNERED BY THE FACT THAT YOU ARE IN A HEAVY-METAL BAND? OR DO YOU FEEL LIKE IT'S MORE OF A CHALLENGE IN THAT YOU CAN TAKE YOUR OUTSIDE INFLUENCES AND FILTER THEM THROUGH A METAL LENS?
Oh, that's a big question. Yeah, sometimes I feel restricted by this band and the idea of it and people's expectations of it. And I think that you can take the wider thing with being regarded as a heavy-metal band ... that could be restrictive, as well. I have played many other types of music over the years but I haven't tried to package it and sell it to people. I'll do some country or some jazz because I like playing mostly. But I'll have these crazy ideas and then after a while I think, "This would make a fucking good Electric Wizard song." [Laughs] It's happened a few times.
THAT'S AMAZING. ONE FASCINATING THING ABOUT ELECTRIC WIZARD IS YOUR PERSONAL AND PROFESSIONAL RELATIONSHIP WITH LIZ BUCKINGHAM. IN MY HEAD, I IMAGINE THE TWO OF YOU SITTING AROUND AND WATCHING TV, THEN THE NEXT THING YOU KNOW, ONE OF YOU IS GRABBING FOR A GUITAR AND YOU'VE WRITTEN A SONG TOGETHER.
It isn't far off from that. [Laughs] I mean, in an ideal situation we aren't watching TV — it's more like endless reruns of [Spanish exploitation-movie director] Jess Franco films. But that isn't far off in an ideal world. [Laughs] That doesn't happen too often.
SO A MIX OF DOMESTIC BLISS AND RIFFS ...
I mean, we have the amps set up in the house to just get going.
SO LAST YEAR YOU ONLY PLAYED ONE U.S. SHOW, AT PSYCHO LAS VEGAS, AND IN 2015 YOU DID A FULL U.S. TOUR. CAN WE EXPECT A FULL U.S. RUN IN 2018?
Fingers crossed — it is the plan. I would say that when we did the tour in 2015, we got royally shafted on our end and then we didn't want to come back so quickly or for so long. You know, it's one of those situations, but I definitely, definitely think we'll probably be doing it. It's a big country — they love really heavy rock and they always have.
ELECTRIC WIZARD ARE STILL A VERY UNDERGROUND BAND, AND YOU GUYS HAVE BEEN FIGHTING THE GOOD FIGHT FOREVER. WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU OFFER A BAND WITH A MODERATE AMOUNT OF SUCCESS, COMPARABLE TO WHAT YOU GUYS HAD IN THE EARLY YEARS?
We are an underground band in a general sense. I don't think we're a doom band or a black-metal band or this particular metal band, but I do think we are a really fucking heavy underground band. As long as you're into dark, more obscure music, music with a bit more soul and a bit more passion than you know just fucking bopping around. I think the fans we found are pretty loyal ones, and I think we put on a good show.
If people want to, like, emulate our path and what we've done, whether they should or not, I don't know. [Laughs] I just think honesty, really brutal honesty, and really sticking to the music you really love is the key. Not swaying too much. I mean, I've never been one for jumping on all these lame trends, but then again some other bands do and maybe they're pretty genuine with it. I would stick to tradition, what I've always liked and I think that carries its own rewards in the end. You stick with something and it becomes a craft.
THAT'S A REALLY IMPORTANT LESSON: HAVE YOUR VISION AND STICK TO IT. EVENTUALLY, EVERYONE IS WRONG AND YOU ARE RIGHT.
That's what you hope, right? If you have a strong vision and you stick with it then everyone's proved wrong. I mean, I think as far as how we start, I think we've done that to an extent because no one thought we'd amount to fuck all. [Laughs] No one thought we'd even turn up to gigs because we didn't have a fucking van or anything, you know? [Laughs] The odds were pretty bad. [Laughs] So yeah, I think you can do it if you fucking believe in it. And you gotta have a little bit of that ... If people put you down, you either curl up or you think, Fuck them, they don't understand what we're doing man. [Laughs] I think that It was, like, almost a badge of honor how many people you could get to empty a building during one of our gigs ...
HOW MANY PEOPLE YOU CAN GET RUNNING TO THE EXITS? EXACTLY. THEY SAY THAT THE BIGGEST INSULT IS APATHY. IF A BUNCH OF PEOPLE ARE JUST "WHATEVER," THAT'S WAY WORSE THAN ELICITING ANY SORT OF EMOTIONAL RESPONSE, BE IT POSITIVE OR NEGATIVE.
Yes, that turns out to be quite true. That's what we did exactly with the first album — we weren't too happy with it. The second album, we were like, "Let's make this sound like the most horrible fucking thing that's ever been recorded." [Laughs] That makes people cringe — that's good.
AS THINGS PROGRESS FOR ELECTRIC WIZARD, WHAT DO YOU SEE AS THE BAND'S FUTURE? DO YOU HAVE A GRAND PLAN?
I think this record is, you know, the product of a new lineup that's got its shit together. I'd like to see us record at least two or three albums in succession, and kind of developing a new style and taking it from there.
DO YOU ATTRIBUTE THE SOUND OF THE NEW RECORD TO STABILITY IN LINEUP?
Well, that would be awesome. [Laughs] I mean, I'm not gonna promise anything but everything is great now. That's what we hoped from this record. For someone to say, "I don't like doom" or "I don't like heavy metal, but let me listen to this." The melding of melody and heaviness to it, that has created something pretty cool.
WHAT DO YOU THINK IS THE STATE OF ROCK IN 2017?
It's possibly totally fucked. [Laughs]
POSSIBLY OR TOTALLY?
Well, I don't know. You never know if things are gonna pan out. There was disco and brutal death metal a few years later, so things can swing back. I'd like to see a lot more, but what the fuck is rock music anymore anyway, you know? I read a magazine on the airplane telling me that Coldplay is the greatest rock band in the world. Is that what rock's become? Jesus fucking Christ. [Laughs]
We've played a lot of festivals that have a quite wide range of music, and you see people go fucking apeshit for hip hop and the dance music. It's fucking loud and it sounds kind of aggressive to me and brutal. And I'm thinking, "What's happened to rock?" It's not doing that anymore. It's not making people wanna go, "Fuck, fuck, shit." It lost a bit of that. We need to get that back. I'm kind of anticipating that the next generation is going to be only playing the blues and shit.
THINGS WORK IN A CIRCLE.
I was in a record store a few months ago and some pretty young kids came in — 11 or 12 years old — and they asked the guy behind the counter, "Do you have any Yardbirds or Stones or John Mayall?" And the guy said, "I don't think we've got any." The kid said, "You call yourself a fucking record shop?" [Laughs] And I was like, "What the fuck? Maybe there is hope." [Laughs]
WHAT CAN PEOPLE EXPECT FROM YOUR UPCOMING GIGS IF THEY HAVEN'T SEEN YOU BEFORE?
Expect blood. Blood and violence. And horror. That kind of stuff, I hope.
LOTS OF RITUALS.
I mean, that's up to the fans. We just provide the soundtrack, you know?