We start, fittingly, at the end. Given that Electric Wizard’s new earthquake-inducing, Satan-worshipping doom opus is titled Time To Die, how does metal’s reigning king of misery, Wizard frontman Jus Oborn, think our puny planet will eventually meet its ugly demise?
“We’re gonna kill ourselves, or the planet’s gonna get fucked by a meteor,” says Jus, between weed-induced coughing fits. “I’ve had dreams about it, about a meteor hitting us. It’s only a matter of time. We fuckin’ deserve it, to be honest.” He ponders his decision. “On the other hand, a plague would just get rid of us and leave the planet alone, so that’s probably a better solution.”
Wizard’s frequent proclamations of doom and their casual misanthropy are two of the band’s most enduring and oddly endearing traits. For more than 20 years and nearly as many line-up changes, Jus has shepherded his sinister flock in the shadows, creating impossibly heavy downer-doom jams that make Sabbath sound like sunny optimists in comparison. There is nothing about Electric Wizard that suggest they exist in the same time frame as Slipknot or Bring Me The Horizon. They aren’t modern or digital; they’re not even retro, really. They are ancient necromancers spellcasting from forbidden texts. It’s as if they just suddenly wandered out of the mists of 1974 into the clattering, chattering world of social media, instant gratification and constant contact. They offer none of that. They are of the Earth and the sky and their gods are much older than the ones worshipped in shopping malls and pop festivals. In a world devoid of mystery, they are the last link to rock’s murky, dark past.
“When we started, there was still a lot of mystery about being in a rock band,” Jus points out. “You went on tour and shit happened. If you played a bad gig, it didn’t show up on YouTube the next day. It was over and you just moved on. The world’s fuckin’ changed since then, and we’re fuckin’ forced to participate. You try to be anonymous, but it’s fuckin’ impossible. I try my best, though. I live in the middle of nowhere and I avoid people. I live in the country, 30 minutes from the highway. We’re pretty isolated. I try not to let anyone know what I’m up to. The only good thing about the lack of anonymity these days is at least it makes it easier to see who the real bands are and who is just fuckin’ pretending.”
Jus is referring, of course, to the recent explosion of “occult rock” bands. Never in the history of rock have so many weed-burning riff-mongers pledged allegiance to Lucifer and all his lesser demons.
From Bloody Hammers to Blood Ceremony, from Salem’s Pot to Mount Salem, it’s a veritable flood of doomy, sexed-up narco-Satanism out there, much of it influenced directly by crucial Wizard releases like ‘97’s Come My Fanatics and 2000’s Dopethrone. But are they all playing the Devil’s hand for real?
“We’re the only ones doing it for real,” Jus chuckles. “We are a real cult band. We actually have a cult. And we made a pact with the Devil.”
Jus is loath to discuss the details of Wizard’s occult practices, but he assures Hammer that not only is witchcraft alive in the world today, it’s effective. Your sceptical scribe accounts a past interview with a once-prominent electro-metal Satanic icon who claimed to have witnessed the physical manifestation of demons. The head Wizard does not dismiss it.
“It’s all out there if you really want to look,” he says. “I’ve met people who believe that shit, and I’ve seen the consequences as well. They have a certain amount of power. Whether they convinced themselves mentally or they received the power from the Devil, I can’t say for sure. But true belief is very powerful. Believing in yourself is the most powerful force of all.”
Given that Electric Wizard openly court fringe dwellers into their flock, does Jus routinely find cloaked Devil-worshippers at his front door? Does the postman bring him bags of freshly-dug bones sent from over-zealous doom-kids?
“We get some unusual ones,” he says, “but the really scary ones have probably got some really sad story underneath it all. I remember there was a weird cult of kids in Canada who spooked us out for a while, though. They were worrying. Who knows what happened to them? They probably all got arrested or some shit.”
There has never been a moment in Electric Wizard’s long and winding history when they offered even a whiff of commercial potential. It’s fair to say that many of their fans are unhinged and almost all of them are on drugs. Every album is heavier, scarier and less approachable than the last. And yet, they remain the highest-profile doom metal band this side of Ozzy and company. Some suspect it’s because of the aforementioned pact with Satan, but Jus offers a simpler explanation.
“Our name’s always been out there, I guess, because it’s kind of a stupid name. When we started out, people were like, ‘What the fuck?’ At the time, everybody had serious names, My Dying Bride or whatever. And we were like, fuck that,” he chuckles. “Let’s just name ourselves something stupid so we can do whatever we want.”
Regardless of the reasons, the fact is that’s exactly what they’ve done. Jus Oborn and his long-time partner Liz Buckingham have no other jobs. This is it. They are Electric Wizards, now and forever.
“You get to a certain age, and you think, ‘What am I gonna do? Am I gonna do shitty jobs and do the band part-time?’ It’s got be one or the other,” he admits. “If you really want to live it and you want to get fans, you’ve got to do it 24⁄7. I mean, as much as you can without going mental. I’ve still got to make time to watch horror movies and shit. But the main thing is to get the music out there to the fans.”
That music seems to get heavier every year. Someday, Electric Wizard will write the heaviest song of all time. And then we can all go home.
“Someone’s got to do it,” he laughs. “That’s the point of heavy metal, isn’t it? Somebody wanted to write the heaviest song of all time. Maybe it’s never gonna happen, though, and maybe that’s what’s cool about it. We’re all gonna strive for it forever and ever. To me, that’s what metal is all about.”
It has been four long years since Electric Wizard’s last full-length, 2010’s Black Masses. During that time, Jus managed to mend fences with ex-drummer Mark Greening, the hammer-fisted battery-pounder behind some of Electric Wizard’s most enduring releases, including the flawless dirge-apocalypse Dopethrone. Mark returned to the fold to drum on Time To Die, but alas, the relationship between him and the band quickly splintered.
“It’s a long story,” sighs Jus. “Me and Mark started jamming a few years ago. He’s an old friend and he was in the band ages ago. We worked out our problems, and we got some good jams going. But he’s not committed to playing full-time. He doesn’t like gigs, and he drinks too much. The same old problems raised their heads. We had agreements that shit wouldn’t happen again, and shit happened again. I’m just glad the record got done and it’s history. We didn’t just squander our time and piss up a wall.”
Most bands mellow with age, or attempt to broaden their fanbase by injecting commercial elements into their sound. Not Electric Wizard. Time To Die may be their most extreme album yet, a churning acid bath of hatred so oppressive and nihilistic it feels like it’s poking you in the chest with a bony, vindictive finger. “Yeah, we thought we had the opportunity, with wider distribution and a bigger label, to send a really heavy record out to the world. We didn’t want to wimp out,” Jus asserts. “And the world is heavy right now. I think it can take it. We wanted to make an honest statement about how we feel about the world. It’s about making a record that is genuinely oppressive, one that feels fucking confrontational. I just felt like there was a lot of people who really deserved a slap. I didn’t want to resort to violence. Music is my weapon. I use that. And I think we got that across. This record is definitely a ‘Fuck You’.”
Freed from the shackles of their former business partners, Electric Wizard formed their own label, Witchfinder Records, an imprint distributed by Spinefarm. Initially, it will be the home of Electric Wizard releases, but Jus is optimistic that Witchfinder may encompass a range of bands and mediums. “I’d like to bring other bands into it, if the label’s willing to back it. Maybe we’ll make a movie.”
In the meantime, the band plans on hitting the road to support the record. “We have to, or people are going to start sending us hate mail. Something we learned from our British metal forefathers, from Maiden to Motörhead, is to remember the fans. That’s what’s held real metal bands together over the years.”
Wizard’s current willingness to tour is a contrast to years past, when the reclusive band rarely made live appearances. “I never used to like it,” he admits. “It was hard on the relationships of people in the band, and it would get in the way of making music. But now it’s a fight to keep a line-up that wants to stay on the road. I don’t want to implode into some self-obsessed bullshit. We’ve done that, I’m ready to move on.”
Plans are in place to roam the globe promoting Time To Die, including a long-overdue trip to the US. But before then, a few notable one-offs, including a spot on the ultimately ill-fated, hipster-baiting All Tomorrow’s Parties festival. What is happening here? Is doom spreading to the normals?
“That’s kinda weird, right? Maybe it’s the endtimes,” he laughs. “Maybe they can feel the meteor coming, too.”
OBORN TO BE WILD
_Aside from doom, Jus has another obsession: biker flicks. Here are his cinematic picks. _
“I started watching this one when I was five years old, so it has a warm place in my heart. It’s a creepy movie and it has a great soundtrack.”
Satan’s Sadists (1969)
“Everything about this film is extreme. I must have seen it 20 or 30 times, at least! Some of the scenes in it are so sick. Just a brutal movie.”
Northville Cemetery Massacre (1976)
“This one’s also fuckin’ brutal. You can show it to anybody; it doesn’t have a lot of the weaknesses of earlier genre stuff.”
Devil’s Angels (1967)
“It’s got a good story and cool characters. The soundtrack’s also good. I just don’t like how John Cassavetes is weeping like some fuckin’ weak dude at the end.”
Werewolves On Wheels (1971)
“I thought we were never going to see any werewolves, but they showed them in the last five minutes. Worth it.”
Time To Die is out now via Spinefarm