Disposable Heroes: Electric Wizard's "Dopethrone"

There's little more annoying on this planet than the immoral majority telling you how essential, transcendent and (huh-huh) seminal a particular extreme album is, when you know that it's overrated as fuck. Hence, our new Wednesday morning column, "Disposable Heroes," in which one brave soul sails against the current to inform all you clones why you can't spell classic without "ass." This week, Kevin Stewart-Panko dethrones your boner for Electric Wizard's Dopethrone Just let me say this before I say that: I don’t consider myself an Electric Wizard fan in the least, but I have a shitload of respect for the band; about as much respect as someone who doesn’t consider himself a fan of the band can have. In fact, I’d wager a whole bunch of money I don’t have that I probably have more respect for them than most of their fan base. Why? Well, it goes back to the time the then-trio toured North America some 10-12 years ago.

For whatever reason—probably the fact that each of the members were known to the constabulary, guitarist/vocalist Jus Oborn for possession, drummer Mark Greening for assaulting a cop and bassist Tim Bagshaw for robbery—the band couldn’t secure work visas for the Canadian leg of their tour with Enslaved and Macabre. What they then did took balls the size of watermelons, even in the days before 9/11 and rampant border paranoia. From Buffalo, NY, the dudes basically loaded up whatever gear they could fit into the trunk of a cab and instructed the cabbie to drive to the border, where they told Canada customs they were tourists from England (true), they were just going to visit Niagara Falls (maybe true) and going to Toronto “to have lunch” (absolutely untrue). After sticking it to The Man, they high-tailed it Toronto and played. Despite the fact they were unbelievably sloppy and bored my tits dry, the risky steps they took in order to make that show obviously impressed upon me.

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These days, I still have much respect for the band—the weird drummer guy who lives in a shed and sews sails for a living, Oborn and his provocative wearing of Nazi paraphernalia and his even more provocative “Whatever do you mean?” justifications (not that I sympathize with any cause here; I just find it funny that he pretends to be so oblivious about why people are pissed off at him), the guy with the full face tattoo, their love of classic horror flicks and overall attitude that could be best described as "cantankerous apathy." You gotta love the soap opera surrounding this bunch. From my perch up here in the nosebleeds, Electric Wizard isn’t so much a band as it is a loony bin with a super-hot, blonde mother hen caretaking and keeping it all from disintegrating into a psychedelic train wreck. It’s a crying shame, for me personally, that they’ve never released anything I’ve been able to sit through, even this Dopethrone thingamajig, which inexplicably was inducted into our Hall of Fame back in issue #35.

As someone who has never approached anything resembling a Dopethrone (XifyouknowwhatimeanX), I often wondered if my dislike of this band and their work had anything to do with their not being at all shy about their drug use? Nope, that has nothing to do with it. I’m not the sort of person who cares about other people’s lifestyles and recreational pursuits differing from mine. Geez, I’m the same guy who tours as Cephalic Carnage’s tour manager/merch bitch. I’ve seen some shit. It’s not that Electric Wizard’s mind-alteration hobbies irk me. What irks me is that that mind-alteration plays so heavily into what they do to the point where it makes the majority of their music so freakin’ obvious. Let’s face it, stoner/doom isn’t a subgenre of metal one goes to when one is seeking something different=sounding. You know when you crack open anything from Acid King to Weedeater that you’re getting a collection of rehashed blues/fuzz rock/Sabbath riffs maybe played a bit more aggressively and through a different wall of amps, but there’s going to be little variation on that theme. And Dopethrone definitely delivers the generic goods.

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The album starts off strong with the driving, barbiturate boogie of “Vinum Sabbathi,” which highlights the strengths they do possess. It’s a mid-paced foot stomper with a lurching Sabbath-ian groove and vocal lines that slot in like that final jigsaw puzzle piece. After that, everything goes downhill, as the band show themselves to be uni-dimensional and prove that the genre pool they swim in is shallow at best. “Funeralopolis” is a twinning of a couple riffs you likely recognize from the womb. Solid and headbangable, yes, but very familiar, and after eight circular minutes, the song becomes the sticky resin equivalent of a brain cramp you wish would just go away. That some of Oborn’s vocals here are on par with John Michael Osbourne’s most narcoleptic slurring doesn’t exactly make for a great listen. “Barbarian” sounds as generic as it does clumsy. Some may call their tottering performances “raw” and “a capturing of a particular moment in time,” but that particular moment is drowned in inconsistent tempos and a guitar performance that sounds like someone at the Orange Amp plant abusing codeine and cough syrup chasers. Things take a deeper nosedive with the 11 minute "I, the Witchfinder,” which redefines “sleepy-eyed” and possesses one of the most rudimentary and ineffective solos in the history of banging on a couple of notes and letting your effects boxes do all the work. I certainly can get down with the sentiment behind “We Hate You,” but after the same two bar riffs, obnoxiously inconsistent note bends and clumsy harmonies are repeated ad nauseum, the ire and fire is extinguished and I only hate this band for writing that song. The title track retrieves the goods courtesy of a powerful riff with some mixed picking and Greening’s drumming carrying most of the energy. By this point, however, Oborn’s voice has become little more than a drowsy annoyance, and he sounds like he’s hanging on for dear life.

Call me crazy, blind or a complete fuckwit, but much of the time, I find it difficult to pinpoint what makes one stoner/doom album superior to another. In researching the accolades thrust upon Dopethrone, I see that, beyond the Hall of Fame induction, it’s generally heralded as a touchstone of the subgenre (Terrorizer named it album of the decade!). The dude sitting over here only hears a bunch of really high guys falling over the same Black Sabbath-inspired and Black Sabbath riffs that have been lifted previously, continue to be lifted and will be lift for time immemorial. Regardless, I still respect their irreverence a decade on. I only wish I experienced that sort of recklessness in their music.

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