THE STORY SO FAR... In the land of sludge, there was always one British antidote to the onslaught from Louisiana. While this style of music – the inbred offspring of doom, stoner and southern music – was essentially an American redneck phenomenon, us Brits could nonetheless compete in our own way, and Electric Wizard took on the fight better than anyone else over here.
The Story Behind Electric Wizard: Dopethrone
Dorset metal overlords Electric Wizard were already known as ‘the heaviest band in the universe’ when they created one of the slowest, most-doom laden records of all time.
The Dorset decibel dervishes were once dubbed ‘the heaviest band in the universe’ – and with good reason. They strapped on the riffs of Sleep, Candlemass, Saint Vitus and Cathedral, and gave grindcore a damn good rogering. It was a musical form covered in moss, and about as commercially viable as putting snuff movies on children’s TV. More toke than token. More boa than bore. The Wizard’s music has set remarkable standards, without the band ever compromising to gain even the slightest of toe holds.
It started in 1993 when former Thy Grief Eternal guitarist/vocalist Jus Oborn teamed with bassist Tim Bagshaw and drummer Mark Greening to start the Electric storm. A split single with Our Haunted Kingdom [later to become Orange Goblin] was followed in 1995 by the trio’s self- titled debut album. But it was 1997’s magnificent album, Come My Fanatics..., that set the seal on the Wizard influence, as they dragged their doom vines through a space-rock acid bath.
This record immediately put Electric Wizard among the rarified underground elite, something reinforced by the EPs Chrono.Naut [a split one with Orange Goblin, again released in 1997] and Supercoven a year later. And then, as the new millennium dawned, we were hit with Dopethrone.
“To me, Come My Fanatics..., Supercoven and Dopethrone are the trilogy of terror. I look back with a lot of fondness on all three,” says Oborn. “With those albums, I believe we really found our mark as a band. When we did our first album, none of us had ever been into the studio before – and had no clue what to actually do. But by the time we got to do Dopethrone, we knew what was needed – or, rather I did!”
For Oborn, this record not only represents the very best from the first era of Electric Wizard, but exposed cracks in the personal relationship between the three that were only to get a lot worse through the coming few years.
“If you were to have asked me back then about how we were getting along, I’d have completely denied there were any problems at all. I just didn’t wanna believe that anything was wrong. Now I can admit to myself that our relationship was very rocky. The trouble was that Mark and Tim had ideas for this band that simply didn’t fit what we were about. It may amaze fans, but they wanted to introduce Nirvana and rap influences. That was just crap. What had they gotta do with Electric Wizard?
“Then things got very heated in the studio. There were constant death threats. I think we were all having a go at each other! So, it really ended up with me being the most involved of anyone as far as the recording process went.”
Now, most bands operate on the principle that, while they enjoy a possible reputation for being outrageous, drug-taking zombies, there’s nevertheless more than a particle acceleration of professionalism in the studio. Not with this lot, though, mind...
“Did we do drugs in the studio? Of course. As far as the three of us were concerned, what was the point of being in a band if you couldn’t indulge? That’s one of the perks. What could be better than three or four bongs before you start recording? For us, it was absolutely essential.”
There was, of course, a three-year gap between the Come My Fanatics... and Dopethrone album. But this wasn’t exactly a planned situation. Merely the product of minds who refused to conform to schedules or to confirm timetables.
“This isn’t pop music, where there’s commercial pressure to deliver all the time. This is underground metal where, if you’re lucky, you might sell one or two copies,” smirks Oborn, at the mere thought of planning ahead. “Lee Dorrian, who owns the Rise Above label [to which Electric Wizard have always been signed] drove us mad, constantly nagging about when we’d go into the studio to start doing what was to become Dopethrone. But, for us, it was always a case of when we’re ready we’ll do it. Not before. We were never one of those bands who’d sit down, write a load of songs, demo them up,aandsthenibookestudio_ _time. It could never be that simple.
“Honestly, it’s tough to explain how we worked. But all of us thrived on jamming out ideas. Sometimes they’d lead to proper songs. Other times... to nothing. We had only had three tracks fully written for the album when we went into the studio: Dopethrone, Funeralopolis and We Hate You... the first one was based on a story that I’d heard, about someone who had a sofa completely made out of dope. And the third one, well, that was inspired in a way by Ozzy. He was always going about how much he fucking loved everyone, so we thought it would be great to go and do the opposite.
“When we finally realised that it was time to do the new record, those were all we had ready. A track like [epic album centrepiece] Weird Tales, for instance, came about purely in the studio. And it was all the better for it. Being so new, it was a lot fresher than the old shit we had!
“I still remember when I called up Lee and told him that we were ready to record, his reply was, ‘About fucking time!’”
Oborn was responsible for all the lyrics on Dopethrone, and his inspiration was a combination of hallucinogens and early 20th-century fantasy/horror author H.P. Lovecraft.
“I really got so many ideas from his stories. I’d sit there, out of my brain, reading his stuff, and extrapolating on what he’d written. It was amazing. The irony was that he wrote while straight, influencing someone like me, who certainly was not.”
However, if Oborn certainly enjoyed his mental vacations, when it came to the nitty gritty of studio grime, he was the man who got his hands dirty.
“It was our producer Rolf Startin who understood the technology of the time. But I was the one from the band who was most involved. We were in the studio [Chuckalumba, in Dorset] for a few months. Not all at once – we’d do a few days and then take a brief break – but there were neither time nor budget constraints as such. Everyone understood that when the record was ready, then it would be delivered. Like I said, we weren’t dealing with chart music here, so if we missed a deadline, who cared?
”I learnt so much from Rolf that now I’d feel able to produce another band. However, back in 2000, I concentrated on coming up with the concepts as to how we should sound. There’s a lot of intricacy and subtlety on the record. A number of sonic layers that had to be built up. If you listen carefully, there’s more going on than perhaps we get credit for.
“I got a lot of ideas from watching Pink Floyd videos, especially the way they set up their microphones. I spent ages working out the best way to mic up my amps. It was very important to the way we sound on the record. The other two guys weren’t as heavily involved as me, but that wasn’t a problem at the time. As I said before, it was only later on that I realised this was the beginning of the end. Part of the trouble was that all three of us were going through tough personal situations. We all had full-time jobs, but were in the process of giving them up, which brought extra financial burdens.”
Oborn doesn’t fully recall exactly how the album title came about, although he’s fairly convinced that nothing was actually decided until after recording was done and dusted.
“I think it was my idea, but I believe we left the choice until the last minute. But I came up with the cover idea [a satanic figure getting stoned]. I did a basic line drawing [which you can now view in the booklet that comes with the recent re-issue], but it was Tim’s brother [Tom Bagshaw] who conceived the final version that we used. It has a nightmarish, Lovecraftian, early 1970s quality to it, which was exactly what I wanted to capture. I suppose my attempt would have done, but Tom’s was a lot better. Besides, I didn’t feel it was right that my name should be all over the album!”
It was also Oborn who came up with the cult slogan that was used on the sleeve. The phrase ‘Legalise Drugs And Murder’ still puzzles people to this day. Inevitably, its origins lie in a combination of things Wizard are known for: drugs and humour.
“Yep, that was my nonsense. I think I got really off my face one day and said something like, ‘Let’s get stoned and kill everyone.’ That just developed into what we used on the album. What we were after was a catchphrase that summed up Dopethrone – and this seemed to fit.”
But, there is one more revelation that may surprise Wizard fanatics about this record. Are you sitting comfortably? Well... it was never meant to be a fully blown album at all!
“We were aiming to do another EP,” admits Oborn. “But, in the end, we couldn’t agree on what tracks to leave off so the three of us just agreed that we’d put everything in there and it became a complete album. In a way, it was an accident – but a happy one.”
Dopethrone was released by Rise Above in October 2000, to nods of underground approval, and all seemed to be going the band’s way as the internal rifts looked like they were slowly melting away under the heat of acclaim and touring demands. We now know that, eventually, personal differences proved to be greater for Bagshaw and Greening than any musical commitment. But, for Oborn, Dopethrone represents the true spirit of the band.
“I feel we captured something special. Sure, there are flaws with the record, and I know we could have made it a lot better. But this is where Electric Wizard should be. After a few years experimenting with different sounds and styles, we are gonna get back to basics with our next record. It will be the conclusion of what we started with Come My Fanatics..., and continued on through Dopethrone.”
I, THE WITCHFINDER
THE HILLS HAVE EYES
WE HATE YOU
JUS OBORN: GUITAR, VOCALS, EFFECTS
TIM BAGSHAW: BASS, EFFECTS
MARK GREENING: DRUMS
PRODUCED BY: ROLF STARTIN
WHAT HAPPENED NEXT
In many ways, the huge praise accorded the Wizard at this stage in their career proved to be too much of a millstone. A year later, they seemed to have taken their collective all-seeing third eye off the ball, and the result was the inconclusive Let Us Prey. Although the elements that had made both Come My Fanatics... and Dopethrone so crucial were still there, the band reacted as if bored.
They threw in some punk and hardcore influences, introduced piano and violin parts – as if trying to emulate Celtic Frost circa Into The Pandemonium – and generally lost their way. Maybe it was an attempt to avoid the tempting rut of becoming formulaic. Or perhaps they really wanted to push the envelope. In any case, Let Us Prey openly indicated that all wasn’t right with the band and it was to be the final work from this trio.
In 2003, Greening quit, followed soon afterwards by Bagshaw (the pair later formed Ramesses). Undeterred, Oborn put together a new line-up of the band, bringing in former Iron Monkey drummer Justin Greaves, Sourvein guitarist Liz Buckingham (who also is married to Oborn) and bassist Rob Al-Issa.
It represented a fresh era for Electric Wizard, as proven by their one release to date, 2004’s We Live. Tighter and perhaps little more focused than what had gone before, it still retained enough early Wizard underground authority to convince many diehards that they’d not lost the plot. But it had enough modern ideas to avoid the trap of being an anachronistic curio. So, what did the future hold? Surely, a new album?
“We’re working on ideas. But I couldn’t tell you when it’ll be out. We may go into the studio next week, next year, or... well, this is Electric Wizard. Never hold us to a timetable.”
SOMEWHERE IN TIME
WHERE DOPETHRONE STANDS IN THE CHAIN OF INSPIRATION
CANDLEMASS EPICUS DOOMUS METALLICUS (Black Dragon, 1986)
Apart from having perhaps the most ludicrous album title of all time, this is a pivotal doom record. In many ways, it re-styled the genre with a European twist and refreshed its credibility.
SOLITUDE AETURNUS INTO THE DEPTHS OF SORROW (Roadrunner, 1991)
One of the most underrated doom trappers of all time, the Texans brought a new sense of mournful, dark riffage into metal with this, their debut album.
IRON MONKEY Iron Monkey (Earache, 1996)
Louisiana had the sludge monsters, but we had Iron Monkey. The Nottingham nutters took grindcore to new extremes on this first album. It was so underground, it made Napalm Death seem like disco divas.
SLEEP JERUSALEM (Rise Above, 1999)
One of the most preposterous albums ever, this began in 1995 as Dopesmoker, conceived as one song, it lasts an hour. Their label, London, was so shocked at the anti-commercial bullishness they refused to release it. Subsequently, Sleep split up. Fortunately, this work of genius was give a posthumous airing.
ELECTRIC WIZARD Dopethrone (Rise Above, 2000)
Welcome to the new millennium, as the Wizard fuzz up their sound, giving it an almost surreal bent. The album was still so determinedly slothful it almost suffocates the senses in a blanket of hypothermic riffs.
ORANGE GOBLIN THIEVING FROM THE HOUSE OF GOD (Rise Above, 2004)
Grime-infested rock’n’roll that still retains sufficient connection to the band’s roots to make it heroically accessible to stoner, doom and sludge fans. Madder than a goose on stilts with a cherry bomb up its arse.
CATHEDRAL THE GARDEN OF UNEARTHLY DELIGHTS (Nuclear Blast, 2005)
After spending a few years dabbling on the edges of psychedelia, Lee Dorrian and the crew get right back to doom basics with an album that’s drenched in the fluids of the dirty underground.