Metal as a genre has a strained relationship with “fun”. Particularly in fundamentally self-serious subgenres like black metal, which feed on the dark, grisly, and overtly dark corners of sound and the human psyche. The word is often bandied around in the blogosphere as a near-pejorative, labeling records instantly as insubstantial or unworthy of serious consideration. Australia’s Rebel Wizard is a band I have seen frequently strapped to that word, which is both very true and unfortunate given the nature of “fun” in the metal community. But it’s my postulation that metal that is inherently fun and enjoyable can indeed be simultaneously overstuffed with meat and substance, and Rebel Wizard’s third full-length record Magickal Mystical Indifference is a case in point of this assertion.
In a similar vein to Devil Master and Haunt, Rebel Wizard uses popular subgenre templates to create memorable and thoroughly enjoyable music, blending thrash and traditional heavy metal with a lo-fi black metal aesthetic that sounds as good as one can imagine this amalgamation could. Riffs chug, drums blast, and solos fly with wild abandon from every corner of Magickal Mystical Indifference, in keeping with the traditions set by the project’s previous releases. While those records most certainly contain their fair share of highlights, this record feels like a distillation and synthesis of the project’s work thus far, resulting in its most consistently engaging release yet.
This type of grip on the listener can be attributed to several factors that work in Rebel Wizard’s favor, not the least of which is some impeccable songwriting. Top to bottom, Magickal Mystical Indifference is loaded with quality riffs that hit with memorability and effectiveness without straying into traditional solo project self-indulgence. At 33 minutes in length, this record blasts by in a veritable storm of guitar-based madness that far from overstays its welcome. This relatively brief runtime forces this record to stick to what it does best, and it does so with an insane amount of aplomb. “Heavy Negative Wizard Metal In-fucking-excelsis” is a perfect example of the interplay between these dynamics: Brief, hard-hitting, memorable, and an incredible amount of fun. While not the best song on the record, it certainly is a flagpole on which Rebel Wizard raises its sonic banner. If you can’t stand this track, best skip along to something else. Those, like me, immediately hooked by its riff-heavy charms best strap in, as the ride only gets better from here.
While the songwriting only continues its streak of excellence as the record progresses, one potentially off-putting factor that distinguishes this project from others in this sphere of the metal world is its production. Holding to a lo-fi, upper register fuzziness that feels like a splice between first wave black metal and every low budget basement demo tape ever created, the project’s insanely catchy riffage is unceremoniously drowned in the waters of a purposefully obscured production aesthetic. Some may find this direction annoying or a waste of sonic possibility, but for me this choice creates a uniqueness to Rebel Wizard that serves the project well overall. “White Light of Divine Awe Smelling of Sweat and Sex” in particular benefits from these production decisions, as titanic riffs and tremolo-picked passages swirl around Bob Nekrasov’s vicious black metal vocals in a swirl of old school aggression that is almost impossible to resist as both a throwback to a bygone era and a bold production decision that allows the songwriting to shroud itself in an air of mystery. “Not Rain But the Wizard’s Tears” is another particular highlight, with its dirge-like tempo and soaring melodies slathered in a distant, cold aesthetic that feels like a warm fire emanating from a dark, frigid cave. But such moments that serve to moderate the album’s otherwise blistering pace never overstay their welcome, as the proceedings ratcheted up to warp speed with an equal amount of enthusiasm in tracks like “Urination of Vapidity on Consciousness”, which cranks the album’s black metal elements up to 11. It’s a blend that serves nearly every track on the album well, providing just enough fuzz to beg for repeat listens to unlock the record’s every delicious riff.
Magickal Mystical Indifference is a fast-paced and thoroughly energetic record that mixes sincere devotion to history and craft with fun in a way that few metal records accomplish with this degree of success. It’s an unapologetically enjoyable release that highlights everything Rebel Wizard does well and then some, culminating in the project’s most accomplished release and one of the most thrilling listens of the year. It’s also a shining example of the heights metal is able to attain when songwriting balances accessibility with precise instrumentation and creative and bold sonic choices. If you enjoy riffs in any capacity, there are few albums released in 2020 that I would recommend with greater enthusiasm than this one. Exceptional work.
Magickal Mystical Indifference is out now via Prosthetic Records and is available for purchase on Bandcamp.