WIZARD RIFLE – Wizard Rifle

Wizard Rifle are a two piece noise rock band from Portland, Oregon. They began thrilling (and terrifying) audiences in 2010. This self titled release from 2019 is their first for Svart Records (home to Witch Mountain, Harvest, Brutus and various bands with Scandinavian sounding names), but despite making the leap from DIY recordings to signing a cult metal oriented label with a keen fan-base, Wizard Rifle haven’t become any more commercial. Their self titled record features just five tracks, but within those lengthy arrangements you’ll find sections of music which seem bolted together and huge slabs of music created from mangled riffs and sludgy sounds. Always with an ear on sculptures more than songs, it’s tiring…but also brilliant. Hearing Wizard Rifle for the first time is like experiencing Buzz Osborne from Melvins jamming with the now defunct That Fucking Tank while disturbed people shout randomly. With every listen after that, something new comes through; new noises, new howls of pain…but you’ll never forget that initial experience. And it is an experience.

‘Rocket To Hell’ is a good a showcase as any for the band’s sound as they fill the better part of eight minutes with a world of heavy riffs that appear to comprise the works of a stoner band crossed with bits of Tool, a smidgeon of the most obtuse Faith No More and elements of Hawk Eyes. It’s fucking noisy…and yet at the same time, there are layers and complexities that pretty much demand repeated listens. After warming up with a few staccato notes, the band heads straight in with a thrashy riff that sounds like a hybrid of punk and grunge, before taking a sidestep into something that would never be too far removed from something from a classic Melvins LP. The vocals are buried deep in the mix, but that doesn’t stop the melody of the main refrain half jumping out – there are hooks to be found within the noise – while several cymbals are smashed into oblivion. Three minutes in, things become a touch sludgier as a fuzzy guitar sound dictates something far more stoner oriented; this riff repeats until it lodges into your skull, before an almost bluesy guitar lead smashes into a garage rock/art noise that could be a really noisy Jesus Lizard. For most bands, welding this together would be more than enough, but Wizard Rifle go the extra mile as they slide into a thrash riff underscored by multiple screaming vocals. What’s clear at this point is that these guys are tight. Yes, it’s really aggressive, but there are so many intricate parts to the arrangement, it’s almost impossible to take it all in. …And they’re still not done here, either: eventually moving into a hugely sludgy riff and a drum part that seems to obliterate everything in its path, Wizard Rifle close this piece with maximum heaviness and have covered at least four metallic sub-genres with the album’s first seven minutes.

If you’re not ready to give up – or at least go and lie down for about half an hour – the album offers a lot more goodness. Really scary goodness, mind, but in terms of arty noise, there’s a lot more great stuff to be heard.

‘Caveman Waltz’ kicks off with a superb stomping rhythm augmented by fuzzy guitar riffs, resulting in an odd metallic hybrid that sort of feels like Rob Zombie colliding with Monster Magnet. The addition of distant (and heavily treated) gang vocals seems to be an odd move at first, but as the track progresses it all makes sense. When reaching fever peak, the groove occasionally subsides to allow noisier sounds room enough to disorient – along with a few odd screams – before speeding into an arty thrash frenzy. Despite first appearances and the kitchen sink approach to the arrangement, this is actually far more accessible. Moving into ‘Beneath The Spider’, the band get more experimental at first by placing a dominant drum part against howls of anger – somewhat reminiscent of Leeds noisemakers Cattle – before taking a sharp left turn into echoing psych-tinged blues runs and a spacious mood that sounds like the early Grateful Dead playing Sonic Youth, all before turning another corner to introduce a riff that sounds like a soundtrack to a trip through a desert landscape. After bringing in various sounds that would make Kyuss proud, the number explodes into a stoner rock belter…but in true Wizard Rifle fashion, it’s never that straight. You’ll be subjected to all manner of time sig shifts, bottom end noise, and – above all – some tight as hell grooves, all dictated by a fantastic drum part. Finally, for a big climax, the whole barrage of noise is overlaid with a bombastic melody from a distorted guitar, the effect of which is like hearing Joshua Homme playing something from the film score of a 1950’s war movie. It needs a little time to appreciate, but that often creates the most interesting albums.

A genuine stand-out, ‘Funeral of The Sun’ begins with some really obtuse clanky noises going head to head with an insanely heavy riff – like Helmet, Craw and Mr. Bungle fighting in a chained up sack – which, combined with a dual shouty vocal, never really leaves much room for much else. There’s no way Wizard Rifle can sustain such intensity for the whole twelve minutes and, sure enough, after three minutes of grungy, punky, grinding and snarling the tune settles into a huge expanse of trippy space rock, not always unlike a sedate Hawkwind joined by spoken vocals. The use of prog rock influenced soaring guitar lines is just lovely, as is the way the melody builds slowly via some tautly played drums. How Wizard Rifle eventually end up somewhere that sounds like Sonic Youth meeting with Transmaniacon is anyone’s guess, but it’s to their eternal credit that it all works brilliantly. In closing, the duo bring in another massive doom metal riff, ensuring there’s as much a crushing devastation in this track’s selection of riffs as anything else. Just brilliant.

The closing number ‘V’ feels slightly different from the rest of the album, sonically speaking. The recording is less clear; the instrumentation is a little fudgy and there seems to be a little less of a recording budget. None of that ever stops Wizard Rifle giving their all, of course. The number’s main riff comes thick and fast, showing off some of the album’s thrashiest traits. It’s only really odd high pitched notes that break through the wall of sound. This continues for what feels like forever, until WR decide to drop into prog metal, just seemingly to see how that pans out. What transpires is something more Tool-oriented, which they then take back to their usual world of wanton ugliness. The mix of thrash moods and sheer aggression combined with a musical hook that constantly shifts between shrill guitars and shouty vocals really captures the band’s desire to assault as much as entertain. Stretching to over nine minutes, it’s all quite draining, but by the time you’re confronted by an oddly tuned guitar solo that sounds like bagpipes and weird bass notes that sound like Mike Oldfield playing a wilderbeest, it reaches a whole new level of obtuse. Bowing out with distortion and mumbling voices, this doesn’t give the listener any real closure – just a feeling of being massively disoriented and then wondering where those voices were going next. It’s an intense and slightly worrisome experience, to say the least. Wizard Rifle are insane and never easy listening…but this is something else.

This album’s selection of seemingly never ending twists can be as fascinating as it can be frustrating. It can also be intense and scary. At no point is the listener given an easy ride…or even very long to digest what they’re hearing before Wizard Rifle go charging off down a different musical alley with absolute enthusiasm. There’s arty and there’s obtuse. Wizard Rifle gleefully dance between the two, with amps fully cranked and with evil intents in mind. This album will eventually dish up the rewards for those whom have the time and the mental strength required to go the distance. A lot of people are likely to give in after the second track, so it’s a record to approach with some trepidation at first, but for lovers of all arty metal sounds, ‘Wizard Rifle’ should be considered an important listen.

August 2019