Formed in the wake of England’s 2011 summer riots, BLACK MAGICIAN, the Liverpool-based doom metal four-piece comprised of Liam Yates (Vocals), Kyle Nesbitt (Guitar), Paul Robertson (Bass) and Jay Plested (Drums), seek to promote a very English darkness. By time you read this, Black Magician’s own apocalyptic process will have begun. Their monolithic debut LP Nature Is The Devil’s Church is now available for you, the unwitting masses. They may well have opened Pandora’s Box and thrown away the key, or left the Necronimicon open and fluttering in the wind on the most dangerous of pages. With five songs clocking in at a total of over 45 minutes it’s a tough proposition for the uninitiated but, for those in the know, it represents another colossal step from a genre that stalks the land like a blind giant, blundering and destroying without prejudice.
It might seem like an open-and-shut case for many (long-haired guys make heavy music: the end), but just like those pesky transforming robots, there’s more here than meets the eye. Distancing themselves from “pseudo-occult rehashed doom posturing and clichéd horror film imagery”, Black Magician aren’t about black nail polish, sixth-form poetics and easy aesthetics. “It’s not the point at all,” states Yates. “What we promote is born from a literary sense. It’s from a more fictional state of mind. We’re not a cliché. We’re not Satanists. We’re not even moody Goths. We don’t encourage candles or black masses or anything daft like that. If anything, we want to educate people about Britain’s rich folk mythology and nature in general.”
Self-proclaimed “Olde English pastoral doom metal”, the word “organic” may have been hijacked by the supermarkets, but in this case it is relevant. “Our themes are a celebration of the olde English psyche and the great outdoors. Where people nowadays are more content to spend their spare time in front of screens, we couldn’t think of anything worse.” To an outsider, Black Magician may evoke cult imagery. For a group who maintain that they would like nothing more than to “relocate and have nothing to do with cities ever again”, living in a commune of their own, it’s hard to shake the comparison. And yet, a desire to regress to a simpler way of life works very much in their favour. Imbued with a sense of history and imagination, their influences are a mix of the great and good: Black Sabbath, Hawkwind, Gabriel-era Genesis, M R James, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and good old-fashioned real ale. Black Magician should be commended for their willingness to explore the boundaries outside of their, at times, limited genre.
“We’re an ode to anti-urbanism,” says Yates. “Liverpool is said to be the second fastest growing economy in the country. We want to subvert that and to integrate a pastoral theme within an urban aesthetic.”
Instead of citing a list of influences designed to score them cool points, they allow their philosophy, passion and inherent strangeness to bleed into their music. Take, for example, the titles of their winding, crunching tracks. Four Thieves Vinegar harks back to an old (and inevitably unsuccessful) plague remedy. Full Plain I See, The Devil Knows How To Row borrows a line from Coleridge’s epic poem The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, and Chattox was the nickname given to one of the poor unfortunates put to death during the Pendle Witch Trials. The songs live up to their lofty concepts: slow burners drenched in maniacally heavy guitar, swirls of Hammond organ and full-throated vocals that promise more than the Devil himself. Black Magician’s musical versatility is another stark and welcome virtue. Album opener The Foolish Fire is a quaint, breathless piano piece while Ghost Worship is an enigmatic classical guitar routine that tempts you away into the darkness like a lullaby.
Of course, behind every great band is a great manager, label and various other administrative workers. Or at least somebody as intimidating as Peter Grant. Black Magician owes a good portion of their current success to their label, Shaman Records. “It’s a one-man operation run by Lee Edwards, and he is utterly tireless. We couldn’t have found anybody better to work with us. He believed in our music more than we did and it really encouraged us.”
Some might say that Black Magician have begun their rise to prominence at the right time. The forefathers of not just doom, but heavy metal as a whole, Black Sabbath made their much-publicised and lucrative comeback this summer. Yates is keen to comment on the return that has divided opinion among fans.
“I saw them with [the late Ronnie James] Dio a few years back. Dio has always had more integrity than Ozzy and it showed. Now? It’s all about the money and, frankly, it’s bullshit.”
What isn’t “bullshit” is the newly-burgeoning metal scene coming to the fore in Liverpool. With contemporaries such as Iron Witch and Conan standing alongside them, the city’s musical foundations may well be shaken by a prolonged, intense aural assault sooner than you think. These three groups alone represent a punishing, addictive and curious triumvirate and it stands to reason that others will follow in their wake. It may well become a siege on a circuit replete with the same old faces and places.
However, it’s not all plain sailing for Black Magician. “We get the occasional odd-ball,” laughs Yates. “They want to know about black magic and ritual sacrifices. That’s not us, but you just have to deal with it. We have never tried to deceive our audience by being something we’re not.”
Indeed, at this juncture, it’s difficult to see how Black Magician won’t be able to weave a few spells of their own. Both a celebration and a warning, it might not be long before they come for you.