Thursday, April 26, 2018

QUICK "HIT": Electric Wizard - Dopethrone


Hello children!  It's time once again for my new annual review, THE 4/21 SPECIAL!  For those who weren't around last year or are too perpetually stoned to remember, the basic gist is that I, as a metal fan who does not smoke, gathers up some friends of mine who do smoke but do not listen to metal, and force them at knifepoint to listen to a seminal stoner metal album to see if the genre works for people who only have half of the requisite qualifications for liking it (see: they dig ganj but don't get nearly as hard as I do when they hear a really fucking good riff dammit).  It turns out this is incredibly fucking hard for me because I didn't realize how much of a one-dimensional stereotype I was until it came time to list out the amount of friends I had who weren't metal fans and came up with like, I dunno, fuckin' two?  But, for the second year in a row now, I've somehow managed to round up three unfortunate souls to join me this year.  I'll give my short review first, as per the template I apparently use, but first you should know why Dopethrone was the chosen album.

Last year was easy, there's no stoner metal album more quintessentially "stoner" than Dopesmoker.  Sleep is the band for me, it was an incredibly easy choice.  But when it came time to do it again, I found myself struggling a bit.  I wanted it to be a first impression for myself as well, but I didn't want it to be some woefully obscure thing with ten bandcamp downloads or something because then nobody would care enough to read this.  So I decided on five random classics that I sorta knew but had never listened to in full, since this isn't my usual genre for casual listening (not nearly enough disembowelments and/or mystical dragonfaeries for me).  I started a group chat with the three participants (Returning champion Patt Mike from last year's edition, plus two new women, one I'll call NuBiz, since the original Biz Luckingham has since decided to run off and go join the circus, and one more I'll call Boo Boo Kitty Fuck, because I'm a child), and announced that this year was going to be player's choice.  I posted five album covers and told them to just pick whichever one they wanted.  The choices where: Kyuss's Welcome to Sky Valley, YOB's Atma, Goatsnake's Flower of Disease, Ufomammut's Godlike Snake, and of course, Electric Wizard's Dopethrone.

The conversation went as follows, paraphrased:

BH: "Alright guys, here are the five albums to choose from.  Debate amongst yourselves and let me know which one seems like it might be the most interesting."

Patt: "Okay obviously I have to choose the one with fucking Satan smoking a bong"

BBKF: "¯\_(ツ)_/¯"

NuBiz: "I'll take Kyuss I guess"

BH: "You all get the same one so too bad you're outvoted"

And so, with that highly scientific process out of the way, let's take a brief gander at my thoughts on Dopethrone, quite possibly one of the most iconic metal albums I've just never bothered to listen to.

The first thing I'm struck by is how absolutely fucking gargantuan the guitar tone is.  I first played this in my car and I was genuinely afraid that my lugnuts would rattle off the tires.  I realize tone worship is a thing in these circles and I'm sure that this album's sound has been surpassed a few hundred times over in the eighteen years since its release (I am at least aware of something like Conan), but since I spend so much time outside of this sound it's still pretty striking to me.  Every note is drowned in this unrelenting wall of bassy fuzz, it's a beautiful distorted mess and it calls to mind the kind of stuff Sabbath might have created if more modern recording techniques had existed in the 70s.  I've seen an interview with Geezer Butler where he attributed a lot of their early success and identity with Rodger Bain's production, since he was so laid back in the studio he didn't care that they were all playing way too loud and distorting the bass to death.  It seems like stoner metal as a whole must've just taken that lesson and run to the most logical extreme they could with it, because even during this album's quiet moments it feels like it could loosen the plaster off the walls.  Jus Osborn's vocals are a cool feature as well, since they're just a completely haggard monotone yell buried somewhere off in the distance beneath the molasses-thick riffage.  That's really the album's strong suit, because my understanding of stoner metal as "super fuzzed out Sabbath riffs" is reinforced pretty clearly here, and dammit I don't care because Sabbath was really fucking good at riffs.  This sounds like Master of Reality but twice as dirty and three times as loud, with extra moments of extreme minimalism resulting in an agonizing drone that overtakes a few of the songs.  Personally though, those segments are nice for what they are, but the band is clearly at their best when they're cranking out bluesy-swingy-groovy-doom riffs with a menacing gait like on "Funeralopolis" or the title track.  It all ties together pretty well with the disparate ideas though, as the thruline of the album seems to be some vision of unremitting misanthropy and sheer hatred.  Don't let the psychedelic font of the logo fool you, Dopethrone is all about misery and death and hatred and Satan and nuclear hellfire.  The escapist odyssey of Dopesmoker from last year is nowhere to be found here, replaced entirely with a bleak aggression.  The world is awful and Electric Wizard fucking hates everything about this awful world, and that includes you, the listener.  Ultimately, I can't fault much about this album, because it clearly accomplishes what it sets out to do with aplomb, the problem is just that, like last year, it's really hard for me to focus on.  The ambient dirge of the last two movements of "Weird Tales" is fucking brutal and hard to get through, and "I, the Witchfinder" is absolutely agonizing in its extreme repetition, basically grooving on one riff for eleven solid minutes.  I do really like "Funeralopolis", "We Hate You", the first half of "Weird Tales", and the title track, but really admitting that makes me feel like a scrub, because those are generally some of the more active and mobile songs on the record, not nearly as sluggish as "I, the Witchfinder" or something.  Perhaps this is where my sobriety comes into play, because I like the parts where it riffs, the rest of it I can take or leave.

So that's my mini-review.  Now, unlike last year, I had a bit of a rare opportunity since all of the participants are also friends of Patt (instead of being scattered across three separate groups of friends), so the plan for the day was do all meet up at his apartment, have the stoners do their thing, and then jam the album while I sorta watched their reactions and took mental notes whenever they had something to say about it.  I didn't expect a serious listening party or anything, but I thought this might be more fun than just sitting on my ass playing BlazBlue while I waited for them to text me back.

So instead of separate sections, here's a rundown of my 4/20.

The day prior, I asked NuBiz if she'd be able to join the other two and I, and she politely declined, saying she wouldn't be able to, but she'd still be happy to listen to the album and report back to me.  As I was walking to Patt's place, I thought to text her and remind her just in case I had a repeat of last year where everybody forgot to listen to the album I picked.  She responds with "Ehhh, I might not be able to after all.  I don't know yet but it might be a good idea to have a backup."

Well fuck.

Okay so now what?  Doing this with just two seems silly, I want to hit that magic three.  I arrive at Patt's place with BBKF and am informed that Patt's boyfriend will be joining us later.  Alright sweet, I still got my three!  But wait!  Patt still lives at home, and said boyfriend recently got in a row with his mother and got kicked out (they were previously living together there), so he tells me it might be a good idea to just smoke up there, and then walk back to my apartment so things aren't too tense.  Ay dios mio, alrighty, that's not so bad.  New plan is now to let the goofs rip a few at Patt's, then walk the block or so away back to my own apartment where I can crank Electric Wizard at proper volume, so they can fully experience the proper bone rattlage.

Upon arriving, Patt leads us into his bedroom, which apparently BBKF is well familiar with thanks to being friends with him forever, but was a totally new experience for me.  Every square inch of wall was covered with movie posters, spread from all over the spectrum, from great films like Alien, to awful ones like The Bye Bye Man, to, for some thematically baffling but nonetheless pleasant reason, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs.  In the corner there is a wooden cabinet painted white and bloodstained.  He opens it with a meathook.  It is full of slasher flicks of all stripes, once again spanning the gamut of quality to the early classics of Friday the 13th and Halloween, to the awful celluloid abortions that are... well, still Friday the 13th and Halloween, just the modern reinterpretations.  BBKF parks herself on the bed and Patt asks her what she wants to smoke out of.  See, BBKF has smoked like, I dunno, once or twice in the last four or five years?  So she's long out of practice and isn't familiar with his collection of wares anymore.  So the next several minutes are spent with Patt playing Vanna White with his various assorted collection of bongs.  I know stoners have this thing where they name their bongs and/or pipes, but he didn't reveal any names, so I'm going to just make them up.  Highlights include a five foot long purple PVC pipe that I named "Barney's Love Bone", some weird seven-tube concoction he found at a garage sale that the person selling claimed "I don't know I think it's my son's science fair project" that I named "Highence Fair", and one shaped like a massive black dildo that you hit out of the urethra that I named "Your Real Dad".  Ultimately, BBKF chose a pink and purple striped affair that I named "Chanandler".

The two park themselves in their respective seats and I grab a chair and start to observe.  Patt takes a smaller, clear thing that looks like a beaker and hits it.  He no-sells whatever reaction he might have had, I can only assume that nothing fazes him anymore.  The only reason I'm telling this part of the story is for BBKF, who, like I mentioned, hasn't done a whole lot of smoking for several years.  She takes Chanandler and the little, I don't know what it's called, the piece or something?  I didn't know until yesterday that you can just take a little thing with some bud in it and plug it into any bong you choose, that's how fuckin' square I am.  I'm 27 years old.  Anyway, she takes the little golf-tee-looking-thing-with-dro-in-it and takes a big rip on Chanandler.  She then proceeds to hack up a lung for the next year.  She then immediately turns into what I assume Matthew Lillard is like on any given Tuesday, with her eyes fluctuating between barely open no matter how hard she tries to giant spheres she uses to gawk at things while hiding behind a pillow.  She eats a Cosmic Brownie snack that nobody saw her grab.  She holds it with two hands and nibbles on it like a gerbil.  She tells me then that "every cough is like another hit, so really I did like thirty hits so I'm good".  Patt proceeds to take roughly a million more and his demeanor doesn't change one iota, BBKF is a giggling mess after one.  Clearly I'm looking at Wayne Gretzky trying to play pond hockey with Verne Troyer here.

Two Cosmic Brownies later, they decide they're sufficiently high and ready to head back to my place.  It is now that I realize that Patt's boyfriend (who I shall henceforth refer to as "Ruffles") won't actually be there for a few more hours, long after they've passed their peak and listened to the album at hand.  Fuck fuck fuck I'm still not going to get my three.  I scramble, I try to think of somebody, anybody I can hit up and say "Hey, I know you're stoned right now so just load up this album and listen to it really quickly", and the only person that comes into my mind is a girl I'll call Moon Moon, because yes, she is just the human version of that meme.  I text her and send her a link and ask if she can listen.  She says "Yeah sure".  She texts back five minutes later and says "It's great".  You didn't listen to it Moon Moon god dammit you can't fool me.

Patt, BBKF, and myself all walk back to my apartment, where I promptly load up Dopethrone, excited to finally see the album working its magic in real time.  The two plop down on my couch and prepare themselves for some dark fuckin' doomy haze worship.  "Vinum Sabbathi" starts up and the two of them sit there, stonefaced, no reaction whatsoever.  I try to make idle conversation to keep them engaged in some way or another, mostly out of fear that they're immediately hating the noise currently blaring out of my speakers.  Patt says almost right away "I can sorta dig this, it sounds like some dudes just lighting up in the garage and jamming insanely loudly."  BBKF makes a noise that I think means she agrees, but it's hard to tell because she's too busy holding onto a potato chip with two hands and munching on it.  I didn't see her grab a bag of chips.

During "Funeralopolis", Patt draws on his obvious area of expertise and says "You know, I can see this working in a movie.  Like, as the soundtrack to murder.  Like that weird time in the early 2000s when every slasher movie crammed metal songs into them for seemingly no reason."  BBKF sets down a granola bar that I didn't see her grab and announced "Yeah, this could actually totally work in The Groundskeeper!"

Some of you may be movie buffs and have no idea what The Groundskeeper is, and that's okay, because it's not real.  Patt's forte is obviously in film as opposed to music, and like all lovers of art, he aspires to create his own.  The Groundskeeper is his love letter to the slasher flicks of yore, a film that he scripted but to my knowledge has never been able to film.  I know very little about it, I guess it's heavily inspired by Friday the 13th and tells the story of a bullied kid who dies and... resurrects as a hulking murder-person and... gets a job?  He's a groundskeeper somewhere, and I can only hope the obvious joke that his name is Willie.  Teens invade the grounds he keeps to be drunk/stoned/horny and he murders them all in creative ways, real meat-and-potatoes stuff.  All I really, truly know about this hypothetical film is that my fiance (who is also longtime friends with Patt and actually how I met him in the first place) was cast to play a lesbian, specifically because she "won't stop wearing fucking Birkenstocks".  I hope this film comes to fruition, because the only way I could possibly love her more is if I got to watch her bang a chick and then die.

The "Altar of Melektaus" movement of "Weird Tales" starts to draw to a close, and Patt proclaims that he likes how it's moved from riffs to this droning funeral dirge.  It runs the gamut of many moods, all of which work in at least some sort of way with being massively stoned.  BBKF again agrees, though much less enthusiastically.  She is eating fistfuls of trail mix.  I didn't see her grab my bag of trail mix.

We get to maybe halfway through "Barbarian" when BBKF says "Oh wow!"  I think she's going to comment on the music proactively for a change instead of piggybacking off of Patt, whose mental faculties appear to be functioning beyond "find food and eat it with two hands", but instead she says "These mango slices are expired!"  I didn't even know I fucking had mango slices in the apartment.  Where is she getting all this food?

Another minute passes by and she looks at me with a sad, longing expression, and says "Hey BH, can I be honest with you?"  Curious as to this sudden change in mood, I say of course.  She looks towards the floor, saddened, almost afraid, and says "I'm done listening to this..."  Hey man, that's fine, y'all only needed to last as long as you want to.  I look to Patt and he shrugs, saying maybe he'll listen to it later on his own time and give me another writeup like last year, but he's not really feeling it all that much either.  That's when I hear a mousey voice off to the side.  "...also can you order a pizza?"

Well it looks like that's it!  Guess it's time to pack up and let those two hit the road, Ruffles hadn't even showed up yet, but clearly Dopethrone wasn't hitting the same vibe with these guys as Dopesmoker did last year. That's fine, it's definitely more abrasive and I can see how non-metalheads won't groove with it quite as seemlessly as the Californian nug-men from before.

Now, again you may be wondering why the "4/21" Special has been postponed almost a full week.  The truth of the matter is that all of that rambling above was initially supposed to only be the first half of this review.  You see, after they decided to stop penetrating their eardrums with Electric Wizard, my two stoned compadres didn't leave to go home.  Instead, they got the bright idea that "Holy shit guys we should watch The Craft right now!"  I've never seen The Craft, but I've always known those two loved it, so I figured hey, why not.  The second half of this post was supposed to be a review of The Craft.

The problem is that I'm terrible at reviewing movies.  I tried, I really did.  I started and erased this section like six god damned times trying to perfect it, and I just can't even get it to be passable.  I'm not satisfied with my ability to describe anything that isn't purely musical, so fuck it, I'm not going to postpone this any longer.  There will be no review of The Craft further than these next few sentences:  It's not a bad movie, I thought it was "very much fine".  Skeet Ulrich is named fucking "Skeet".  It's about four misfits who start a coven and gain magical witch powers after a real life witch joins the original trio.  There are some striking visuals here and there (particularly during the ritual on the beach) but the plot itself is kinda thin and most of the characters aren't developed in any way beyond Sarah and Nancy.  Skeet Ulrich is still named fucking "Skeet".  All of these teenagers are in their twenties, and Breckin Meyer shows up a few times and I just want to give him a wedgie.  Neve Campbell is supposed to be hideously deformed but all of her scars are hidden by loose clothing and the parts of her you can see are still Neve Campbell so I mean come on who wouldn't want Neve Campbell in her physical prime?  Robin Tunney just got done filming Empire Records, a movie she shaved her head for, so she's very obviously wearing a wig throughout this and once it was pointed out to me I couldn't un-see it for the life of me.  Who the fuck chooses to be named "Skeet" god dammit.  Vicky Valencourt is probably a legitimate insane person so she killed it as Nancy at the very least.  The part where she kills Skeet is pretty hilarious.  That previous sentence has spoilers in it by the way.  Anyway she kills him by magically pushing him out of a window but before she does it she just starts screeching "HE'S SORRY? OH GOD HE'S SORRY HE'S SORRY HE'S SORRY" while she stares directly into the camera and shakes her head back and forth like a nutjob and I just have to imagine being on set while she's doing this and I couldn't stop laughing internally.  Imagine being the poor intern flicking the lights on and off or the cameraman trolleying back and forth while she's doing this.  It's hilarious to me.  At one point Sarah walks through a room and the words GUSTAV KILMT are just randomly written on the wall and that's the laziest fucking reference I've ever seen.  "Hey Cletus, do you think we should put up a Klimt painting right here?"  "Nah Jethro, just write his name on the wall.  Same diff."  Nobody gets naked.  SKEET 

So anyway now we're done!  Thank you all for playing along, thank you to all my participants for being good sports about listening to obnoxious metal.  I'll do this again next year like always and hopefully I won't kneecap myself by telling myself I'll also review a movie at the same time because man I'm really bad at it. Thanks again!  Legalize Drugs and Murder!


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