To a true black magician the line straddling the esoteric and ethereal is tenuous indeed. Equally blurred is the distinction between realms of imagination and fantasy. Tangential and limited by perception only is the border between the physical realm and those of pure spirit. Even the term ‘black magician’ is pejorative. After all what ARE right are wrong? Is there a black and white or are they shades of grey? To such a sorcerer everything could be classed as ‘fuzzy’. Conveniently this is also a good word with which to commence any study of Black Magician’s latest work ‘The Pursuivant’.
For non-adherents, Black Magician is an occult-orientated Doom band hailing from fair Albion. As such they descend from a line illustrious and notorious in equal measure. Retrograde, their origins encompass recent decadent throwbacks such as Witchcraft and Slough Feg, through the alternating might and meander of Cathedral to the rampant silliness of early 1980s ancestors Witchfynde and Witchfinder General. A scholar (indeed a pursuivant) who cared to examine Black Magician’s lineage could trace it right to the mother lode – Iommi, the devil’s tritone, and the moment that the entire Metal world was brought into being; Creation.
When working in a medium which so perilously walks Occam’s razor-edge between sublime and silly, there are only two approaches; conservation or re-invention. The latter, in which sharp song-writing and new recording technologies can breathe life into the old doom gloom riffing and hocus pocus lyrics are the preserve of the courageous and talented. Black Magician’s distant Dutch cousins the late, lamented The Devil’s Blood spring to mind – and nobody else. Easier by far to try to replicate that 1970’s sound, attempt an image, let the song-writing go hang and wing it on a wave of distorted Metal-ish nostalgia. This, more or less, is where Black Magician reside.
This is also where the fuzz comes in, for in Black Magician’s world fuzz abounds. On ‘The Pursuivant’ all that 1970s-sounding technology has made for a very fuzzy record indeed. The guitars and bass are distorted in a heavily fuzzy manner. No concessions are made for clarity even during the muted excursions into guitar solo territory. Even the Hammond organ (which plays on 10 throughout) seems to have been set to ‘fuzzbox’ (hem hem). More creditably fuzz also adorns the upper lips of three out of five band members in their promotional shot. Naturally this is righteous behaviour worthy of an extra point.
On ‘The Pursuivant’ Black Magician do display some characteristics which render them distinct from other Doom outfits. The fuzziness and Hammond meandering help to effectively evoke the sound of older 1970’s Deep Purple and some of the stronger Hawkwind material, and the band themselves namedrop the likes of Genesis. The very best parts of the EP hint tantalisingly at Uriah Heep’s legendary ‘Demons and Wizards’ album, particularly on the title track. Here the fuzziness is a particular strength. You could be listening to your dad’s guilty-secret Nazareth records on his ancient, neglected record player, so scratchy and murk-laden is the sound.
However while Black Magician’s sound is rooted firmly with those second-string 1970’s acts, the vocals belong to a much more recent era. Traditionally considered the least important aspect by weaker acts, the vocals on ‘The Pursuivant’ scarcely reflect Ian Gillan, David Byron or the band’s other cited influences. In fact vocalist Liam Yates most closely resembles Lee Dorrian, which is of course incongruous with the rest of the sound. Charismatic and respected though la Dorrian is, he has also never had a particularly strong voice, and the same could be said for Liam Yates, albeit some of the crooning on ‘Grene Knyght’ does hint at hidden potential.
As with the vocals, so the riffing, which more closely evoke Cathedral than any of the band’s cited influences. On ‘The Pursuivant’ itself the heavy Cathedral-esque guitar and Hammond combine with the all-consuming fuzz to create a heavy brooding atmosphere which successfully lurches from one churning, pounding riff to another, embellished by suitably occult-laden Doom lyrics from Yates. It is Cathedral – but with additional Hammond organ. ‘Black Henbane’ on the other hand consists solely of wild 1970s psychedelic-ish riffing with Yates entirely absent, while the acoustic ‘Grene Knyght’ successfully evokes the hippy era, while highlighting the band’s least likely cited influence – walks in the English countryside.
‘The Pursuivant’s three songs are too few to adequately judge Black Magician as a whole. Their black-clad mostly moustachioed appearance, and occult-laden album cover suggest an emerging image, albeit a very common one in the Doom oeuvre. The variety in the three songs (one Doom number, one 1970s-style instrumental, one acoustic song) also shows that they are more than one dimensional in approach.
However a real problem evident on this EP is the divergence between their 1970s Hard Rock sound and the song arrangements and vocal style, which owe far more to recent Doom acts, most obviously Cathedral. This makes it difficult to determine whether the project is a nostalgia act intended to evoke the likes of Deep Purple and Uriah Heep, or is instead intended to be straightforward Doom. It is probable that this will be better determined as the band progresses, but opting to work in a more 1970s style is likely to be impractical given the restrictions imposed by Liam Yates’s vocals. Forays into the psychedelic can be exciting of course, but didn’t Monster Magnet already do it much better – and in the 1990s at that?
However there is one infinitely more pressing concern, which highlights the difference between Black Magician and an act of real quality such as The Devil’s Blood. Three tracks = zero choruses says that Black Magician are no good at song-writing.
That’s something nobody can fix – no matter how much fuzz you stick on it.
(6/10 Graham Cushway)
 A minor functionary at the College of Heralds as it happens. Who would have thought it? It SOUNDS pretty occult though.