Wizard Rifle – Self-titled

Even if you took a group of the most scholarly sludge punks and fed them a steady diet of Lightning Bolt, Neurosis, and Sonic Youth for years and years, it’s not likely they’d produce anything as unconventional as Wizard Rifle. Their tone and style is the connective tissue that convincingly merges everything from the breakneck and aggressive, the dreamy and psychedelic, the noisy and dissonant, and the bludgeoning and crushing. WhereAnd yet, where this duo excel is somewhere beyond imitation and exhaustive laundry listing of genre code-switching. Where other bands play within the confines of certain styles or crystallize their methods ahead of time, these dudes operate more like mediums, channelling everything in a stream-of-consciousness sort of way, without the need to do a [insert whatever style] song here and a [insert whatever style] song there. Still, what’s most impressive is that they’re able to keep sounding like themselves even though they’re kinda the sonic equivalent of Bumblebee. To be more precise, a Bumblebee stuck on some planet where only kickass, heady radio stations exist.

Not to downplay the 44-minute psychedelic freefall into everything that is Wizard Rifle, but the production on this self-titled effort makes a noticeable improvement from 2014’s Here In the Deadlights, playing a big part in helping the band sound bigger and better at every turn. To be fair, while HItD didn’t necessarily sound bad, it was uneven (a flaw easily masked by the wonderment of their songcraft). Still, as quirky as they are, this effort sounds fucking immense and wholly fresh. Even as things are pared down to their leanest, they’re never as quiet or thin as that 2014 release. From the vocal interplay between guitarist Max Dameron and drummer Sam Ford to the wide range of guitar tones, boardmaster Billy Anderson consistently has the group in top form while really adding some punch and clarity to every caffienated turn without losing balance. The punk-forward segments slice like razor wire and the metallic moments spew forth with an unquenchable magmatic energy that lay fucking waste at any speed. It just always feels so right, where every change maintains the suspension of belief that this is real – holy shit, it is!

It’s important to note because Wizard Rifle do the Wizard Rifle thing and always sound like they could be too nimble for their own good, darting from dialed back minimalism to goliathan heavy stretches with bizarre leads primed to pounce from behind every corner. Thinking about how “Rocket to Hell” can start with the spidery guitar into and end up at the maximalist explosion around the 4:00-mark can make your head hurt, but to have it happen over and over (and over) again throughout the record is an entire other level of headfuckery. It’s definitely jarring, but it’s always a treat to hear how they can bring all of this weirdness together into something so cohesive and appetizing. Like, these guys could easily peddle fucking peanut butter, olives, and mustard sandwiches if they were as culinarily motivated as they are musically inclined.

“Caveman Waltz” brings a lean, head-bobbing stoner rock groove to a full-tilt, post-hardcore melancholly anthem bent with garage rock. Of course, this doesn’t tell the whole story as they suddenly blaze into a Zeke-like speedpunk passage that’s. It kind of brings together the garage sludge of Indian Handcrafts with the rock’n’rollickin’ sass of The Bronx, but instead of a tidy or catchy three-to-four minute package, these dudes dish it out in a psyched-the-fuck-out prog epic that could give Mastodon a run for its money. This dynamism is put on display over and over again. In “Beneath the Spider,” they showcase their gift for evolving their raw, minimalist, and needly edge to a number of massive, noisy, and raucous altitudes by ways of sunshiny sludgepop or cacophonous noise washes. In “Funeral of the Sun,” they break from rapidfire bursts of sludgepunk into a rainbow-laden and trippy post-rock build before the bottom drops out, throwing listeners into an impossibly doomy hellscape. It’s terrifying, and the tonal shift is the sonic equivalent of an acid trip gone awry. 

As mentioned in our premiere of “V,” Wizard Rifle continue to escape easy definition. Their chameleonic ability to bounce between styles is every bit as fun as ever, and their will to squeeze every last drop of juice from song has been strengthened. Somehow, as they expand their palette they become more engaging. And though their focus is broader, they seem to create a more cohesive product. Now, tthey aren’t really reinventing themselves or really changing up their approach, but if you’ve read any words before that, you’ll understand how that’s totally not necessary. It’s just so damn good to have ‘em back.

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Wizard Rifle’s latest brain musher is available via Svart Records August 30.

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