UK doom traditionalists Black Magician haunt on ‘Nature Is the Devil’s Church’

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again here: If your band can make me tilt my head, be it out of confusion or intrigue, half the battle’s been won as far as swaying me to spend time with your music. Not that I’m the king of music or anything. But I’m an avid listener, and I like to be knocked from my seat now and again.

At the same time, there’s also such thing as a little too much oddness, which can lead to uneasy shivering and a tendency to want to retreat and not return. That’s after repeated listens, mind you, because if at first something makes my bowels quiver because I’m uncomfortable, I have a much better chance of going back to figure out what confused me so much. In fact, some of my favorite bands had that initial effect on me before I retraced my steps and learned to absorb what was being presented to me.

BlackMagician-Nature-Is-The-Devils-Church-ArtworkThen there are bands that strike somewhere in the middle of all of that, groups that certainly have something interesting and unique going on, but for as many times as I visit, I can’t call their surroundings home. It’s a place I like to visit now and again, not set up real estate ventures and find a favorite local pub. New UK doom outfit Black Magician perfectly embody what I’m describing here on their debut record “Nature Is the Devil’s Church” (the first-ever release for Shaman Recordings). They have rivers of personality and charisma, they play a foggy style of ’60s and ’70s doom rock and metal, and their compositions are boiling cauldrons waiting to spill over onto the floor. Their sound would go great with candlesticks burning at length, dusty bookcases, and weird potions you’re working to perfect. They are vintage. They don’t just sound that way.

There are many bands to which I can point as reference material, from Black Sabbath to Cathedral to Coven to Candlemass, and it seems like the band cut off most of their musical influences somewhere in the 1980s. Their lyrical and spiritual content goes back centuries further. Their style is filled to the brim with alchemy, old-time magic, evil folklore, and spooky walks in a haunted countryside, and they do an excellent job conveying all of these things.

So, where’s the problem? Most of it falls in the lap of vocalist Liam Yates, as expressive and engaging a singer as you’re going to find in doom, but one whose style certainly is not for everyone. I count myself among that contingent, because it’s the one element of the record that has kept me at an arm’s length. He growls and moans and tells his tales, and at that he’s quite effective, but it always sounds like he’s singing the exact same thing. Like, if you lifted his vocals from one song and placed them into another, you wouldn’t know the difference. His cadence and patterns never change, and as maniacal as he can be, I think he’d be even more effective it he found a way to exercise some variety in his delivery. I want to feel like I’m hearing a new story with every song, not the same one told over new music. I might be alone in this assessment, and I can see where some listeners might really like what he does. We’ll call it personal preference.

“The Foolish Fire” trickles from the gates, full of smoking keyboards and eerie intentions, but it’s a mere introduction that runs into “Full Plain I See, The Devil Knows How to Row,” a song dripping with organs, Sabbath-style doom guitar work, and darkness and plague slithering across the land. It is here we first hear from Yates, as he tyrannically begins turning the pages and reciting the horrors in front of him. It’s a strange, unconventional approach, but as much as I may not have fully enjoyed his vocals, I did pay attention. “Four Thieves Vinegar” has sickness and decay eradicating masses, as bell and crows signal the coming death, and a blues-style shuffle erupts on guitar. “God’s wrath begins to spread,” Yates howls, and the sense of dread is thick.

“Of Ghosts and Their Worship” certainly is aptly named, as the presence of the dead hangs over this song like a black cloud, and there even are elements of hillside folk music that goes along with this cut and adds a rustic sense of spookiness. The 15:21 closer “Chattox” tackles the Pendle witch trials of 1612, and, perhaps more specifically, the case of Annie Whittle. The song slithers along as doom should, though there are some power metal-influenced leads tucked into places, and the lyrics tackle issues of faith, torment, power, persecution, and murder. It’s an unsettling epic, and although Yates’ vocals remain unchanged stylistically, they do fit the subject matter and add an icy uneasiness to it all.

Despite my aversion to the vocals, this was a fun listen all the times I spent with it. I’m not sure it’ll be a go-to doom record for me, but I could see taking future trips with it from time to time, especially when things begin to rot and decay in the autumn. I also encourage you to experience Yates’ work for yourself, because I fully admit it’s likely a personal feeling, and some listeners are bound to love his vocals. This is a fitting record for absorption in a dimly-lit room, with choice spirits, and willingness to reach beyond realms. You might end up scaring the hell out of yourself.

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