Electric Wizard stays the course


December 7, 2001



The cover of Electric Wizard's brutally unrelenting 2000 album "Dopethrone" depicts a cartoon Satan sucking on a bong as other demons hover enviously behind him.

One of my favorite songs is called "Weird Tales"; divided into three subsections entitled "Electric Frost," "Golgotha" and "Altar of Melektaus," it begins with the memorable lyric, "From ancient Yuggoth black rays emit/Evils narcotic cyclopean pits." The CD booklet notes that it was inspired by a 1932 story by G.G. Pendarues in the horror magazine, Weird Tales.

The last time I saw the trio, at the South By Southwest Music and Media Conference in Austin, Texas last March, the entirety of the stage patter consisted of the following declaration: "We're Electric [bleeping] Wizard from Dorset [bleeping] England and we're here to [bleeping] rock!" And rock they did--long and mightily.

When guitarist-vocalist Jus Osborn broke a string on his Gibson S.G. during an encore of Pink Floyd's "Interstellar Overdrive," he just played even harder, finishing the tune with only one of six strings remaining intact.

"That was definitely a [bleeping] good show," Osborn says from his home across the pond. "I remember that one--I think."

You're forgiven for saying that all of the above sounds a little bit Spinal Tap, because it does. But that doesn't negate the fact that Electric Wizard is one of the most intense rock bands pounding the boards anywhere in this new millennium--a prime purveyor of what the British call "doom," American critics have termed "stoner rock," and Osborn calls plain old "heavy music."

"We're not trying to be like the '70s or anything," he says. "We just wanna be [bleeping] heavy. I grew up with like Celtic Frost and [bleeping] Death and [bleep]. I can't suddenly go, 'Yeah, I'm really into Kiss now!' I used to listen to Slayer! So it's all about heaviness, and I think we're heavier, and we always try to be heavier and a bit more futuristic, rather than retro."

That may be, but the roots of Electric Wizard can be found in the late '60s-early '70s heyday of acid rock, a time of seemingly limitless potential and no genre boundaries. Post-"Sgt. Pepper's" but before the birth of heavy metal as a formal genre, bands like Hawkwind, Blue Cheer, and the early Judas Priest and U.F.O. stretched out to explore the universe and/or see God while still keeping both feet firmly planted in the blues-rock sod.

"Bands like Blue Cheer and the heavier Hendrix stuff and Cream--that was what became heavy metal," Osborn says. "Sometimes I imagine that we're like a band from the future playing back then. Or maybe the other way around--like acid rock just carried on from then up until now."

Osborn, bassist Tim Bagshaw and drummer Mark Greening first came together during the heyday of grunge, though right from the start they made the heaviest Seattle bands sound like punters. The trio debuted with a self-titled album in 1994, but it was '96's monumental "Come My Fanatics ..." that started to attract a devoted cult following.

"Dopethrone" spread the word to the U.S., and after an initial foray last spring, the group is returning to keep up the momentum before the release of its fourth album early next year.

"Coming to America for the first time was really good fun," says Osborn, whose day job as a carpet fitter nearly derailed the tour when he sliced off the tip of a finger (he glued it back on with gaffer's tape until the emergency room could fix him up properly). "America for me was just as good and just as bad as I thought it would be--I expected to see McDonald's everywhere, and I did, and that's crazy. But then seeing the Nevada desert and the Rocky Mountains ... I don't want to sound cheesy, but it was [bleeping] awesome!

"I didn't think we'd be anything in America," he adds. "I thought it would be a real small tour and only a few people would turn up, but there were loads of people at all of the shows. Apparently, [bleep-loads] of people are into us here."

Titled "Let Us Prey," Osborn promises that the new album will be a leap forward--and heavier than ever, of course. "Doing the tour made us a lot tighter, and it just pushed us up another level to where, when we got in the studio again, we felt like we go do [bleeping] anything."

But the band's real forum is live onstage, where the low rumble of the bass and the pounding of the drums rattles listeners' fillings, and the angry troll-like persona of Osborn in action can be fully appreciated.

The word is often used in a very different context in America (hello, Dave Matthews). But this is what a jam band should sound like.

"It's really spontaneous, and we don't try to plan anything ever," Osborn says. "I always look at the band as three people who are greater than the sum of their parts. We all come together and make this music. I've tried it with different musicians, and it's just not the same.

"I don't know what anyone else is trying to do at the moment," he concludes. "We just do what we do, and we just want to get heavier and be the most original band that we can."

Electric Wizard performs at the Double Door, 1572 N. Milwaukee, with Enslaved, Debris (featuring former members of Trouble and St. Vitus), Diabolic, and Scar Culture starting at 9 p.m. on Dec. 13. The cover is $10; call (773) 489-3160 for more information.

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The holiday cheer will be flowing throughout the rock scene in the coming weeks, but two annual seasonal events deserve a special mention.

Ellen Rosner has organized her fourth Hurray for Hanukkah shindig at the Hideout, 1354 W. Wabansia, starting at 9 p.m. tomorrow. There will be latkes, doughnuts, candles, and of course, plenty of rock 'n' roll, with music from Rosner and her band, as well as John Greenfield's Rock Band, Eric Roth & the Silver Shmateez, the Tuffets, Patty Elvis, Kim, Al Rose, Vernon Tonges, and the Young Fathers.

Also in store: spoken word and performance art by Cheryl Trvyk, Cin Salach, Greg Gillam, and Chicago Reader rock critic Monica Kendrick (who's going to give the Wiccan perspective on the holidays). The cover is $5 to $8--you get to spin the dreidel to set the price--and more info can be had by calling (773) 227-4433.

Also continuing a tradition that reaches back several years is that dangerous duo Evil Beaver, who will host their annual Christmas party at the Empty Bottle, 1035 N. Western, starting at 10 p.m. on Dec. 15.

In addition to the Beaver (which is celebrating the release of its annual Christmas single), the rockers who will perform seasonal songs include the Beer Nuts, Scott Lucas of Local H, Patty Elvis, Mr. Baby, and radio personality/bluesman Buzz Killman. There will also be karaoke in between sets, a "sexy Santa" available for Polaroid photos, and catered munchies. Call (773) 276-3600 for more information.