You can’t blame me. With a name like Old Man Wizard, I expected some doom or stoner metal stuff akin to Black Sabbath. I defy you to find a band with the word ‘wizard’ in the name that isn’t at least adjacent to those genres. To be clear, I’m very happy with what I got: a Ghost-like progressive rock outfit blanketed with folk, metal and Western movie soundtrack flair. The California trio and recent Weekly Featured Artist here at It Djents have been at it for a while. However, with their second album, they look to be aiming for the legendary progressive music pantheon by imbuing their unique sound with more variety, spirit and… well, what I can only really describe as magic. The aptly titled Blame It All On Sorcery is an inferno of creativity from a budding band wise beyond their years and one of the best prog albums I’ve heard recently.
There’s a lot going on with this album. It’s hard to adequately summarize all of the varieties of sounds you encounter throughout its 44-minute length. The intersections of folk, prog rock, black metal and outlaw Western soundtracks (think Ennio Morricone, whom guitarist and singer Francis Roberts is a fan of) are fruitful, engaging and built for multiple listens. Clean, well-mixed production that sits closer to lo-fi with a retro vibe gives it charm. Old Man Wizard put their best foot forward showing off three singles from the album (as of this writing) that make the sense of artistry and dynamics in this album very apparent while saving some real goodies for the deeper cuts. Let’s get into the singles first, each one deserving of its own praise.
“Never Leave” is a gloomy acoustic ballad. Kris Calabio’s drums have an organic snappiness to them which showcase how much the dialed-back production really benefits Old Man Wizard‘s music. The lyrics evoke imagery of fields rich with flora soaked in moonlight, curiously inhabited by visions of inviting angels. It’s relaxing and calming, which is a pretty stark contrast to this album’s other two singles. “The Blind Prince” is a lot more high tempo than “Never Leave”. Choral vocals welcome you with much more intense percussion and vigorous bass and electric guitar. The best part of this track, and a major milestone of the whole album, is the song’s final verse, a climax after a short crescendo with an intensely groovy, catchy guitar passage. The vocals are patiently enunciated and remind me of the first couple iterations of Ghost‘s charismatic Papa Emeritus. It has a classically metal tone to it, but it’s over before you know it.
“Innocent Hands” erupts from the first second it’s played, calling forth a black metal-like fury that couldn’t have been foreseen especially when considering the previous track was another calm acoustic song (“Somehow”). It’s almost jarring – the quickened gallop of the drums usher in a pace that gave me tonal whiplash at first, but belongs firmly in Old Man Wizard‘s book of spells. High, clean vocals eerily sing: ‘Walk to the edge of the world/Blame falls on innocent hands‘. Each syllable is joined by a snare and cymbal strike which helps accentuate them. An instrumental break gives Andre Beller’s chunky bass some good air time before the final verse, a refrain made up of the second lyric quoted earlier.
The deep cuts of Blame It All On Sorcery offer even more textures while maintaining the band’s overall aesthetic. “Cosmo” sees cadence and inflections of the vocals dance around with the drums as they did on “Innocent Hands”, but it’s a much more toned down affair. The proto-metal flair carries onto “Last Ride of the Ancients”, which is infectious with a melody that builds upon itself. Two guitar solos in this song sound heavily inspired by Queen‘s Brian May in both composition and tone. Finally, the ten-minute epic closer “The Long-Nosed Wiseman” is a doom rock treat. Roberts’ vocals take on an eerie tone as he weaves a tale about the titular wiseman. It’s a slow burn and while the track is as strong as any other in terms of storytelling and lyrics, the instrumentation is what really sells it here. The pacing and progression help encompass the range of Old Man Wizard‘s skill set, making for a wonderful way to close the album out.
There’s not much keeping this album from the top ranks. It’s beautifully dynamic and has a lot going for it, from its delicate moments to the furiously catchy touchstones. I would tell anyone who is a fan of rock music to give it a go. It’s initially enigmatic, but always intoxicating. There truly is something in it for nearly everyone, but in grasping for that wider appeal the artistic merit hasn’t been compromised and retains the depth that any great prog album should have. This will be one of the greater progressive music releases of 2018, no doubt. Old Man Wizard wield a wickedly comprehensive and enjoyable magic and I implore you to fall under their spell.
Notable Tracks: “Sorcerer”; “The Blind Prince”; “Never Leave”; “The Long-Nosed Wiseman”
FFO: Ghost, Jethro Tull, uh… Blue Oyster Cult?