With Dopethrone turning 20, it feels like a good time to explore the rest of the Electric Wizard records to see how their particular brand of monolithic horror-doom has developed. Today, we turn to a new chapter, We Live, which was notable for the addition of guitarist Lis Buckingham.
Shedding the thunder of Tim Bagshaw, We Live brings in more guitar nuance. Buckingham’s style was a major piece of the puzzle for the modern version of the band, and here the first steps towards a creepier, more melodic iteration are revealed as the record progresses. Here, the guitars enjoy a much larger presence, though this largely ends up with heavier layers rather than much tonal nuance. Though they sink further and further into the morass, they do embrace more complicated riffs more than previously.
The album opens with Eko Eko Azarak, a low rumble of thunder with Oborn’s wail stretched over the top; beneath the guitars duel, hissing and spitting. This feels a lot like a cut from Dopethrone or similar; it’s a terrifying and dramatic song with seemingly no structure, eventually collapsing into a heap of noise. Oddly this style is changed up for following track We Live, opening with a brief film clip before exploding into a dramatic guitar riff, which builds and grows as the bass and drums are used as sledgehammer forces to drive home the accents. It’s clear here that the guitars have top billing, which gives shape to the album, even as they fade more and more into noise as the track progresses. Flower of Evil is slower again, blooming up from the noise swamp. The riff has a much clearer shape than their previous material, which compliments the vocals, drawn out as far as they possibly could be. This is an excellent showcase for the vocals which have taken on a little more melody, a general theme that runs throughout.
Another Perfect Day, an oddly upbeat number, recalls more a Kyuss energy than previous outings; this is the bounciest of all their songs, oddly, and cements them as being better songwriters – by some margin – than their previous efforts. It’s also a complete tonal change. By the mid-point of each of their records it’s been pretty clear to see the shape they’ve been taking, but here the ideas seem to be a lot less cohesive. The Sun has Turned to Black leans back into chuggy stoner doom, returning to the slower, more ponderous material which characterised the earlier parts of the record, with a focus on the howl of the vocals.
Later on there’s plenty of the old wizard present; Saturn’s children features a fierce central riff on which the guitars build. With a second guitarist the bass has more of s presence whilst the guitars play the upper register, dancing around one another, using more layers than before. Finally, The Living Dead Live at Manchester Morgue, a reissue bonus special, recalls the energy of Another Perfect Day but a little more unhinged; with this addition, the record takes on a wilder energy right at the end, a more fitting tone for the conclusion of a busy record.
The real story here, of course, is the addition of Liz Buckingham whose presence shakes things up considerably. This would later be refined into the modern version of Electric Wizard. Where this record falls down is by presenting a lot of cluttered ideas; and while We Live is satisfyingly heavy, dramatic and sinister, it feels it many places like a first record again.