Thursday 30 October 2014

Live Review: Witchsorrow/Shazzula/Satan’s Satyrs/Electric Wizard. The Ritz, Manchester, UK. 23/10/2014

If there was ever such a thing as having too good of a time, Electric Wizard’s lurid, intrepid and unsurmountable one-off show at The Ritz was just that. Several days have passed since they transformed the usually glitzy ballroom into an atramentous hollow inside which they delivered, quite simply, a sermon of doom metal perfection. The sun has since risen and set, the earth has continued on its cyclical course around the burning star, yet I find myself desperately scouring the pages of the Oxford English Dictionary, unable to find a phrase more eloquent but equally as telling of the evening than ‘holy crap!’ And so I scrawl in the hope the words will just fall fatefully onto the page.

Why exactly the band decided to play one lone standing show in England’s Third biggest city is a decision shrouded in the kind of wonderfully disdaining mystery we’ve come to expect from Electric Wizard. This is a band which adheres to no rules but its own – arguably one of the last remaining bands to truly do so. They, like the Manchester show itself, stand defiantly against the grain, spreading their message about humanities endless list of pitfalls like wildfire, all to the soundtrack of their unmistakable, unequivocally guttural and unapologetic sound. Their unwavering integrity has earned them a cult status like no other. Amongst the crowd tonight are people who have travelled from every corner of the country to worship at their shrine. No one wants to miss out on this and so many have. Those lucky enough to be here know it. From the woman who added my drink to her order to save queuing time – the bar was predictably heaving a zombie like swarm of dry-throated stoners – to the all-round sense of comradery that enveloped the place and gave it a real sense of occasion, we were all brothers in arms. When Electric Wizard rumbled into life, that unity intensified beyond belief.

But first, Witchsorrow were tasked with opening proceedings. The room was practically empty as they rolled through a droning set list that never stepped away from the ‘tune low, play slow’ mantra, of which Electric Wizard helped establish many moons ago. The size of the venue however, coupled with its sheer emptiness blunted their performance; it took the edge right out of it. For a band well loved by The Sludgelord, we know they’ve had better nights than this and will do yet.          

Belgium’s Shazzula then split the crowd like Ernest Rutherford did likewise to the atom. The ‘pluridisciplinary artist, filmmaker and musician’ produced a spellbinding set that was met with both indifference and inspired delight. Playing alone on a stage with just her keyboard and a large screen projecting a dark, slow-moving noire film including pentagrams, skulls and other shady revelry, many in the audience, myself included, were under the false impression that this was merely some grandiose introduction before a full band proper waltzed on stage to pummel our eardrums. But no. While she gargled ominous, uneasy tones from her keys and as you watched the film unfurl on the screen behind her, you were left mesmerised, rapt in the ingenuity of it all or baffled, bewildered and bemused. You can’t knock her towering ambition to, much like her peers in Electric Wizard, surge against the grain and to dwell in a niche of her own finding – and you won’t see anything like this ever again, of that I assure you. But whether this really was deep, meaningful art or art for art’s own pretentious sake is a matter of opinion that will forever be widely divided. I’ve been to an exhibition where a putrid clump of soil – of which I have a shit tonne in my garden – was given the same arbitrary title, so it’s impossible to say for sure.

That however, is the joy of music on nights such as this. There are no rules, no guidelines to be sheparded into and confined within. What Shazzula offered was resoundingly unique while Satan’s Satyrs offer a much more straight forward old school rock n’ roll vibe. The two contrast greatly, yet combine emphatically. Packing the bombast of Grand Funk, the bluesy grit of The Groundhogs and drawing from horror-tinged aesthetics like Dracula sucking blood from another hapless victim, Satan’s Satyrs can sit comfortably in the ethos of the likes of Uncle Acid & The Deadbeats. The wheel is left untouched really, this is nothing, certainly in comparison to what preceded them, strikingly new. But it’s groovy as hell, shit-kicking good fun. When bassist and vocalist Clayton Burgess is left battling sound issues with his frustrated roadie, guitarist Jarrett Nettnin and drummer Stephen Fairfield kick out the jams and keep the ball rolling. There was something magical about watching two musicians free flowing, making the noise that comes from their soul and not from over-thought academia. It was like watching a lion prowling and thriving in its natural habitat. An excellent set. 

So all was left to Wizard to finally preach their most unholy of gospels. The opening chapter, ‘Witchcult Today’ sounded catastrophically huge. These are the vigorous tonalities of impending doom, shaking you to your very foundations: A staggering introduction. The entire wall behind them began to mutate into a sea of lava lamp like shifting colours, a collage of psychedelic beauty with scenes plucked from biker films, shots of Nazi Germany and more breaking through the artisan canvas from time to time. I look around me to see the entire room transfixed. There’s no one filming their performance on their phone or tapping away some fumbling tweet about how ‘I’m never gonna forget this moment, man’ because people are savouring it, living in it. Across their nine song set, the rest of existence simply doesn’t matter. The fast approaching apocalypse that they so adamantly rattle on about could very well have been happening outside, comets could have been plummeting to earth and Satan’s army of daemons spilling out of the ground from a vortex in the pastries aisle of the neighbouring Sainsbury’s and we simply wouldn’t know. Or care.

Betwixt whining feedback their thunderous riffs and impassioned, crackling vocals take hold. ‘Black Masses’ is downright dirty and ‘Satanic Rites of Drugula’ is gloriously gothic, Liz Buckingham’s lead guitar work sounding so menacing you’re convinced it could grind your bones into bread if she so wanted.         

‘Time To Die’ rears its twisted head in the guise of the sprawling, ten-minute long grim opus that is ‘Incense For The Damned’ and the penultimate earth-shaking ‘Lucifer’s Slave’. On the latter it’s the rhythm section who truly impress. While Jus Oborn hollers his satanic verses bassist Clayton Burgess sounds like the demented offspring of Geezer Butler, that fuzzy tone the audio equivalent of the mouth of hell itself.

Surprisingly, the room never exhales smoke, no one lights up a joint mid-set. Security had worked hard to stamp out any possibility of that, even clamping down on e-cigarettes like they were machetes. It’s a shame, but they’re the rules and no one wanted to risk missing out on this entirely for a few meagre hits of grass. 

When the final throes of set-closer ‘Funeralopolis’ faded out and the band walked triumphantly off-stage – not that they would ever show such an emotion, fearing it would intrude upon their almost unhuman like personas – you’re left ensnared in a paradox. You’re entirely satisfied, the set was magnificent, but you don’t want it to end, they really could play on until comets do fall to earth and wipe us all out. There are no encores, no egotistical bullshit. They came, they saw and they conquered. That’s it. Holy crap.

Words: Phil Weller 

Pics by: Mike Ainscoe

Set list: 

Witchcult Today
Black Mass
Incense for the Damned
...A Chosen Few
Satanic Rites of Drugula
Lucifer's Slaves