If you need any indication as to where Electric Wizard is these days, polarizing frontman/guitarist Jus Oborn recently referred to Lee Dorian, the head of Electric Wizard's former label Rise Above Records, as a "corporate, money-sucking cunt." For anyone familiar with the harbingers of all things drugged-out and satanic from Dorset, England, this seems like all too familiar fare from a band who recently released a 7" entitled "Legalize Drugs and Murder" and three out of four of whose original members hold criminal charges. Oborn's temper and vice-like grip over his own band are well known at thisoint, but his recent shots at Dorian carried more of an air of proclamation than previous outbursts. For a band whose track record is hailed as being pretty damn close to perfect ever since the early 1990's, 2010's "Black Masses" seemed a bit uninspired: the work of a band whose public attitude has begun to show their lack of inspiration. This year's "Time to Die," however, is an enthralling, visceral record that breathes much needed life into a stale genre and sees Electric Wizard once again putting their money where their mouth is — and then some.
That's not to say that "Time to Die" comes tearing out of the gate with a massive riff and instantly quotable line, however. Oborn and company welcome the listener back into their wonderfully oppressive, hazy universe with nothing more than the sound of a babbling brook and one of their trademark 20/20 samples, this time from a special on a teenage murderer, "Acid King" Ricky Kasso. After barely leaving themselves enough time to re-set the stage, a blood-curdling scream plays and a brief, militaristic passage ensues. Then the band kicks right back into stride with the first of many absolutely enormous riffs scattered throughout the album on "Incense for the Damned." Oborn sneers such gems as, "You say drugs are evil / But your world seems worse to me / I don't give a fuck about anyone / Or your society" and "Marijuana burns inside my crypt / High up here I don't need to take your shit" over the fuzzed-out funeral march, before the band eventually lands at the bizarrely triumphant mission statement of "We wanna get high before we die."
For "Time to Die," Oborn has backed himself with a clutch of musicians who help raise the album into territory Electric Wizard had yet to reach before. New bassist Clayton Burgess of sleazy stoner rock group Satan's Satyrs rumbles excellently along with drummer Mark Greening, an original member who was kicked out, again, after the album's release. The two provide a formidable rhythm that ebbs and flows fluidly and aggressively with the distorted roar of the guitars and vocals. Greening in particular is truly a master of his craft who will sorely be missed, as his playing on this record is as no-frills as is necessary for an album so rooted in crushing and all-encompassing simplicity and his minimalist approach to the songs brings them to life far more than a fill-heavy drummer could. Guitarist Liz Buckingham also once again proves herself to be a perfect foil to Oborn's band-dissolving perfectionism. Her contributions to the album, such as the ode to personal despair "I Am Nothing," the effectively melodic "Funeral of Your Mind" and the mid-paced rocker "SadioWitch," create a perfect counterpoint for Oborn's tendency to slide too far into droned-out meandering.
While "Time to Die" ends on the instrumental track "Saturn Dethroned," Oborn's last words on the record are on the organ-laden and mind-boggling "Lucifer's Slaves," where he screams (as they're printed on the album's insert) "You can't beat the dead...Die...DIE...Fuck YOU!" It's a comically aggressive way to end an album from a band that's made the comically aggressive seem almost transcendent to anyone with an affinity for distorted guitars and horror movies, but it's also fitting for a band that has absolutely nothing to lose at this point.
Oborn has been using Electric Wizard as his main source of creative and personal expression for over two decades at this point, and "Time to Die," over an hour of completely unwasted time, screams "Fuck it. 'Til the wheels fall off." It's a superb record and a welcome return to form from a band constantly at the brink of self-destruction, or as Oborn says on "Lucifer's Slaves," "Losers got nothing to lose."
Listen if you like: Sleep, Black Sabbath, The Sword