Electric Wizard - Pre-Electric Wizard 1989-1994 (Rise Above CD)
Just what the title says, this CD collects material from the three bands led by current Electric Wizard frontman Jus Osborn that would eventually become Electric Wizard: Eternal, Thy Grief Eternal and Lord of Putrefaction (in reverse chronological order, curiously enough). In case you weren't aware, Electric Wizard are essentially the modern-day kings of stoner metal as we know it. I'll be the first to admit that I'm not big on a whole lot of "traditional" stoner rock and metal, but the Wizard do things to me that very few other bands in the genre can - and I'm not ready to attempt to put into words just what that is yet. The music on this disc can basically be split down the middle: the days leading up to the formation of Electric Wizard (when they were called Eternal) and sounded a whole heckuva lot like Black Sabbath, Trouble, St. Vitus, the Obsessed, Pentagram, et al. Then the other half (two earlier bands - Thy Grief Eternal and Lord of Putrefaction) showcase the band's extreme death/doom indulgings, baring very little similarity to Electric Wizard as we now know them.
So basically the order of the bands works backwards - we go from latest incarnations to earliests. Eternal start off the disc and it's with "Magickal Childe". The title is a not-so-subtle Hendrix homage but the music is straight-up heavy metal thunder, with production so terrible than when the band picks up speed, everything starts whirling into a swampy muck around your ears until you can hardly pick out what instrument is which. Of course, it's a perfect fit. There's a really great psychedelics-soaked guitar solo on here and I'm guessing that's where Jimi comes into play. The second song should be familiar to anyone listening to this album, because it's Sabbath's "Electric Funeral", played pretty faithful to the original only with the distortion honked up to 11. It's better than the Pantera cover, so thumbs up from me. "Lucifer's Children" is almost 10 painstaking minutes of wretchedly slow, deformed blues riffing and stomping. If Blue Cheer turned the air to cottage cheese, Eternal are in the process of rotting said cheddar. But eventually they rely on a trick perfected by Sabbath (in the song Eternal just covered, no less) by stopping everything, playing a zippy guitar lead, and then thrashing about like the total dopesick maniacs they'd have to be to write this shit. Talk about a bruising. Eternal's last track is "Chrono-Naut (Phase I-IV)", a 16-minute gut-busting epic which I believed they revisited in 1997 as Electric Wizard on an EP of the same name...but I haven't heard the EP so I can't compare. This is about what you've come to expect from an Electric Wizard epic, although it's slightly more free-wheeling and country rock influenced than say something darker like "Weird Tales" (from EW's classic "Dopethrone" LP).
So despite Eternal taking up the lion's share of the album, we still have two more pre-EW phases to investigate. Thy Grief Eternal introduce themselves with "Swathed in Black" and "On Blackened Wings" which bear a striking/startling resemblance to doom or death/doom more than anything. Gone are the Skynyrd-tinged leads and solos, in their place comes grim, raspy vocals and bludgeoning drums. I'm reminded more of bands like Cathedral, Grief, Iron Monkey and Disembowelment than any stoner metal outfit of the day.
Finally, Lord of Putrefaction, the first of the pre-EW collectives. They're a bit like a mixture of the last two bands. They have the death-y vocals of Thy Grief Eternal coupled with the psychedelic/stoner metal leanings of Eternal (and, later, Electric Wizard). It's strange though, the first track "Descent" and "Wings Over a Black Funeral" sounds like a death metal band or a grindcore band slowed down, but not a Sleep/Corrupted-esque crawl. Like Napalm Death if they smoked way too much weed. "At the Cemetary Gates" actually reminds me of a breakdown in a hardcore song I heard somewhere, which I'm sure is not the kind of thing they were shooting for but hey. "Dark Prayers" is a bit more traditional doom styled, drawing easy comparisons again to Cathedral and the like. You can still hear the embryonic seeds of Electric Wizard embedded deeply in LoP's sound (at least, moreso than with TGE who are almost straight up doom), but you gotta listen closely.
Despite there being a couple of pleasant surprises on this disc, I don't know if I'd strongly recommend this to anyone who isn't already a huge Electric Wizard fan, because all the Wizard material I've heard certainly trumps it. Nevertheless, it's nice to hear where the band were coming from and they definitely display a wider array of influences than I would've originally given them credit for. If you've not been inducted into the cult yet, all the Electric Wizard albums were recently reissued with bonus tracks (on vinyl and on CD) so I encourage you to hunt those down - especially "Dopethrone" - before you do anything else. Meanwhile, stay tuned for the new album that they're supposedly writing and recording for as we speak.