In positing instinct and human nature beyond Confucianism’s flighty examinations Mencius [孟子] uses four ‘beginnings’ as examples of reactions that are not only telling of personality types that also serve as constructs of human society. Shame and distaste for others is the root of righteousness, deference the root of ‘propriety’ and mutual respect for others, one’s conscience or moral compass serves as the true root of wisdom and most importantly commiseration, a feeling of collective sympathy for the sorrow of others, is seen as ‘humanity’s inception’. The most fascinating takeaway from post-Confucian ancient philosophy and it’s increasingly empathetic evolution over time is the acceptance of grey area, that no set of moralizing will ever work for every situation and that societal ‘goodness’ takes collective effort that is meant to be exhausting. An induction into malleable reasoning can be enlightening if only for the greater realization that something largely flawed can still hold great, admirable beauty if sincere or inspired in it’s jank. Such is my own personal philosophy when approaching Australian psychedelic blackened speed/heavy metal band Rebel Wizard; The grand execution of this ‘negative wizard metal’ is quite beautiful in it’s detailed ambition yet inconsistent in it’s roughly achieved textures. A stark juxtaposition of professional and amateurish elements exists to create a uniquely broken yet redeeming listen.
Rebel Wizard was presumably conceived during a sabbatical from Bob Nekrasov‘s original solo atmospheric black metal project Nekrasov, at least by 2013 when he’d released his first demo. The project turned heads fairly quickly as it landed during a boon in blackened speed metal popularity and offered unquestionably sharp riffs that provided some clear imitation of 80’s heavy metal if seen through a sort of early In Flames / Rotting Christ sort of revision. Although my head was likewise turned towards his ‘Triumph of Gloom’ (2016) full-length debut the stink of solo artistry and what sounded like EZDrummer with a bit of digital reverb kept me from investing in the Rebel Wizard zeitgeist. In re-experiencing his discography prior to this review I do think I developed some greater appreciation of Nekrasov‘s talents (and weaknesses) prior to jumping into ‘Voluptuous Worship of Rapture and Response’ which feels like a re-skinned and better performed take on the previous album’s structure and sound. The most important, and perhaps only, point of objectivity I will offer is that Nekrasov is a talented guitarist with a great ‘feeling’ for rhythm guitar values.
This second Rebel Wizard full-length opens with a bit of sampled speech, expected at this point, and dives immediately into what I’d like to consider a late 90’s/early 00’s dark metal guitar hero moment that doesn’t necessarily let up for the album’s 45 minute length. A cluttered mix gives a feigned sense of chaos that fades with closer listening; Performances are clouded by effects-choked vocals and all would be amateurish mush without the lead guitars on point and cleaner drum execution. Nekrasov‘s gristly static-shorn tendencies are balanced by those guitar performances he becomes slowly known for and this time around I’d say he has dialed back the intense rhythm guitar in favor of his vocal presence and some intended ‘guitar hooks’. The whole affair is charming for it’s cheap-but-modern rawness and self-conscious guitar wizardry outside of the points where he really kicks out some solid speed metal; “Drunk on the Unicorn Semen” and it’s aped Iron Maiden guitar soloing is the best example of this and has me wondering if this songwriting would hold up if the veneer of bedroom solo black metal aesthetic was wiped away. Ultimately a good song is a good song and while I think he juiced most of those ideas pre-2016… This set of scraggly, glitched blackened speed metal songs holds up pretty well.
If you’ve been sore-assed that Rocky George hasn’t done any shredding since 1994, really love late 90’s Sakis Tolis, and want to hear bedroom black metal recording standards work out a less structural homage to the post-NWOBHM sort of speed metal bands like Midnight hog out on then those very separate parts of your metal consciousness will collide most often on any Rebel Wizard album. This is the value I see in the project despite largely hating the vocals, which are far too loud this time around. If the inhales on “The Prophecy Came and It Was Soaked with the Common Fools Foreboding” are my favorite part of the performance, that isn’t the best sign. So, this is a ‘try before you buy’ sort of affair and a release I personally don’t see holding up in my collection. Nonetheless I appreciate the very good and very bad elements in unison and the album is still a recommended diversion if you need one.
Those horrible atrocity-filled vermin. 3.25/5.0
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