As the saying goes, when one has to choose between history and legend, print the legend. The trouble with Electric Wizard is, though, the truth is often stranger than fiction. For three decades and change, the South Coast doom legends’ name has carried with it rumour and innuendo, tales of black magic, drugs, crime, violence, more drugs, stories about impossibly loud and transcendental gigs, or else them not turning up at all. They’re stoned all the time, it was said. They’re involved in weird occult stuff. They know every word of every H.P. Lovecraft story by heart. Just how do they get their records so heavy, so wrapped in shadowy darkness and violent misanthropy? It’s just the Wizard, man.
One of the last few remaining bands with genuine mystique, they are that rare beast where lifting the curtain only drags you further in. During a trip to the remote cottage where founding frontman Jus Oborn and guitarist Liz Buckingham, the band’s leader told us that he’d purposefully try to have bad acid trips. “It’s like a ghost train,” he laughed at this nightmarish idea. In 2002, K! caught up with them in New York, where they spent much of the time arguing, before then-drummer Mark Greening took a swig from a bottle of bleach and it was loudly opined that they should split up and go home. For all this madness, they are also one of the most important metal bands Britain has ever produced.
All of this is in here. What author Dan Franklin does in this excellent exploration of the weird world of the Wizard is only in part a history of the group. It takes in their roots, from young weirdo metalheads living in the small Dorset town of Wimborne, through the creation of doom landmarks Come My Fanatics, Dopethrone and Witchcult Today, to the once-unlikely change of fortunes that seen their cult becoming as big as they deserve and recording with White Stripes producer Liam Watson. But instead of Wizard of Oz-ing the enterprise by showing a mundane truth behind the myth, it enhances the atmosphere around the band by exploring the things that make them. Stories of illegal activities in Wimborne (setting a Robin Reliant on fire, having so much weed they could make a seat out of it, The Dopethrone) are very funny, but the detail on the obscure horror movies and occult books that are so often referenced in the band’s lyrics is exhaustive. Everything from esoteric Italian movies to Alan Partridge is observed and explained.