You really gotta love guitar in order to appreciate Black Wizard.
You really gotta love guitar in order to appreciate Black Wizard. The Vancouver stoner rock quartet—comprised of co-founders Adam Grant on vocals and guitar and Eugene Parkomenko behind the drum kit, and currently joined by guitarist Danny Stokes and bassist Evan Joel—has made music that worships the six-string and its gleeful heaviness for three records now.
The trio of fun and admirable stoner rock LPs —2010’s self-titled debut, 2013’s Young Wisdom and 2016’s New Waste—was fairly predictable both in execution and influences. Burly and bong water-soaked rawk was the driving force behind songs borrowing from the riff-first mentality of Deep Purple, the dueling guitars of Thin Lizzy and a bit of stoner weirdness à la Kyuss. Interestingly, each LP found them peeling away another layer of eccentricity, with New Waste being as straightforward as they’d ever been across an entire album.
But you can only peel layers for so long before you strip away essential elements. Perhaps realizing this, Black Wizard seems to have put away their hard rock vinyl and unearthed their thrash collection for Livin’ Oblivion. While opener (and Eagles nod) “Two of These Nights” begins as any driving stoner rock track would, its underlying thrashy nature is quickly revealed with its main riff as Grant’s lyrics reveal a dark underbelly: “Shadows, they hide until you find them/ Waiting and wishing for a problem/ Shifting patterns subside/ When the truth, it arrives/ The calm before the storm”. The chorus to the even thrashier “Feast or Famine” takes it one step further: “Feast or famine/ Hand to mouth to the grave/ Rat race/ Always in last place.
An album about young’uns using (and/or abusing) escapism to deal with the creeping dread around them, Livin’ Oblivion finds Black Wizard bemoaning empty attempts to handle what seems to be a perpetually decaying existence. It’s entirely fitting, then, that this material draws from the likes of Master of Puppets and Rust in Peace. There’s a burning fury sewn into those records that the band has tapped into here. Apart from the relatively tranquil “Cascadia,” this is their fastest and heaviest work to date.
It’s also the band’s most entertaining, mostly due to the guitar heroics on display. Grant and Stokes show off throughout the record with flashy solos, having-a-blast dueling theatrics and several of the group’s career-best riffs. It’s easy to picture the live band nailing the solos in “James Wolfe” and the galloping riffage of “Portraits” with ear-to-ear grins. Hell, you might be tempted to play air guitar right along with them.
Despite its lyrical themes, Livin’ Oblivion sounds like it was a ton of fun to make, and the result is equally fun to headbang to. It’s Black Wizard’s most complete offering, and even the tracks that retain their Godzilla-esque stomp (like “James Wolfe” and “Eternal Illusion”) have a fresh energy to them that New Waste sadly lacked. Perhaps somewhat ironically, Livin’ Oblivion’ asks whether there’s anything wrong with rocking out as a form of escapism itself.