originally written by Erik Highter
We live in an age where everything is at our fingertips, where every metal band that ever talked about cutting a demo has an entry in the Encyclopedia Metallum. But I’ll be damned if the best way to find something you like isn’t still through old fashioned word of mouth. Take Kult of the Wizard. A few weeks ago, I asked a buddy in Minneapolis if he’d heard anything cool lately; he responded with, “Oh yeah, a friend of mine put out some stuff last September. I think you’d really like it.” A few minutes later, he sent me the link to Kult of the Wizard’s first album, The Red Wizard; a few minutes after that I was being crushed by some seriously thumping doom.
The Red Wizard is a helluva debut. “Destroyer of Worlds” samples Oppenheimer‘s famous quote, and then proceeds to take it on as a mission statement. It’s vintage Ufomammut meets Electric Wizard, sounding like the Snailking sitting on the Dopethrone while calling for the decimation of all he surveys. I’m being a little hyperbolic with those call-outs, but The Red Wizard sure is calling on similar forces for similar purposes. A lot of that is down to the vicious guitar tones of Aaron Hodgson. His guitar sounds thick and gloriously fuzzed out, a withering noise that brings an evil smile to my face. The noise continues throughout, with his tone on “4JSC” and “The Red Sky” sounding almost like Botch with the treble stripped out. It’s flat-out mean.
I don’t think I’d finished listening to the first song before I sent it along to Ian Chainey. Friends don’t keep stuff like this to themselves if they want to stay friends. After waxing rhapsodic about the burgeoning Kult, we decided to reach out and pick their noggins. However, before we could get our ducks in a row Kult of the Wizard unleashed another recording on the world, The Blue Wizard. While I was still knee deep in The Red Wizard‘s doom abode, Ian boldly waded into the new recording’s murky depths. This is what he had to say when he emerged:
*coughs* And, lo, the The Blue Wizard met The Red Wizard on the 64 squares forming the board of battle. Someone strummed a single note and all the pieces fell to floor. Everyone won. Who sells Visine at this hour? We should order a pizza.
Anyway, pretty sure there’s some international law requiring a certain number of slack-jawed “FUUUUUUUUUU…”s and bug-eyed “HOLY HELL”s to be uttered when hearing Aaron Hodgson’s tone. Deep? It’s like someone reading Satre in a Mariana Trench-bound submersible. It’s scalable, though. Near the end of “Summoning the Sea Beast,” Hodgson dissolves the grime with dew-on-a-web, gossamer delay. So, yeah, he has a heart. He also has a brain. He knows doom will sink unless it’s dynamic. Same goes for the other compadres in his special Blue-Wiz-sesh trio: Sam Vanorny plucks strings like he’s squirting jelllllllllllly into a rollllllllllll. Zack Sieger reminds you that time is ever-present, shooting up Devils Towers with resonant snare smacks. But, they can get all mouse-eek-y if needs be. Kult of the Wizard comes off as more menacing than their cohorts that way. After all, a whisper causes greater unnerve than a bong burble. *coughs*
Of course, we had to know more. We got in touch with irresistible-riff-slinger Aaron Hodgson. We asked five questions. He gave us five answers.
Hi Aaron, thanks for doing this. How much of your music is through-composed and how much is improvised? If the former, does this material come out of jam sessions? If the latter, do you work from a certain skeleton and road-test the muscles or is it just whatever hits your melon that day? And has the change in the musicians involved changed the way Kult of the Wizard works?
I think it’s a little bit of both worlds. There’s always a predesigned riff or selection of riffs and sometimes they don’t always fit together. So I’ll take it and we’ll just start playing, however painful, and just continue to grind them together into something. Other times I’ll stumble across a really nice delay/reverb combo or feedback feature and craft the riff off that while we are playing, as was the case with “Summoning the Sea Beast” and “To The Depths.” If we’re able to recall the riffing the next time we practice then it was something meant to be, if not then it’s one of countless riffs we’ve all forgotten. When we hit the studio with both albums there was always a skeleton, we recorded everything together and played around with timing and length until we settled on what felt good for everyone. No real edits, so much of what you hear is exactly how we played it. While we were tracking The Blue Wizard we decided to bring in a habit of practice with us, and we played the record alongside video. It was a combination of Fire And Ice and The Holy Mountain. I really think it helped to keep us all in a particular mindset while playing. Then I went back and added lead lines, which were usually made up on the spot. I did them once, maybe twice and forgot I ever tried them.
We’re hoping to add a second guitarist with the next round to add some realized ideas in the lead category. The revolving door of musicians definitely changes the way the albums came out, the process of getting there was the same but a new person always brings a new personality, which I think also lends to create a distinct voice for each Wizard. So now I’m on a mission to rotate members for each Wizard incarnation, and yes the members have changed again and we are beginning to hit a stride with what will be the next Wizard. I’m happy to have Travis back playing drums on this record again; there was definitely a vibe that meshed well with us on the first record. With the “official” band now counting 7; we’re starting to turn into a real cult. I’m sure at some point it will settle into a set group, but for now it’s been fun to play with all my like-minded friends and keep things light and breezy.
The Red Wizard starts with “Destroyer of Worlds”, which, with its Oppenheimer sample and bowel-shaking riff, is one of the best Ufomammut songs they never wrote. But neither the Red nor Blue Wizard stick to any particular style or genre convention. Thus far, Kult of the Wizard covers an impressive amount of ground, going from spacey doom to rousing bowl-packers to Earth-y cool downs. Is there any area you’d like to spend more time on, or is it more about putting out the best possible song, no matter the style?
That’s a tough question to answer. I never really started playing guitar to play one particular genre. And over the years I have definitely played in a wide array of them. Occasionally you see them start to creep together and I think that’s how the initial riffs of Kult Of The Wizard begin to take shape. I’m a lover of effects pedals and I collect a large number of them and I think at any point there are 20 of them on my board that I use on a regular basis. Having and using so many pedals isn’t always kosher with the doomy crowd and that’s how I end up getting to more spacey stuff. The trick for me has always been to find a common ground where I can do it all. As we were putting together The Red Wizard I started getting a sense of urgency in all the songs, and the imagery that played through my head while we played always involved fire and destruction. That’s how we landed on Red. A similar thing happened with The Blue Wizard but with water. I’d like to think that some form of divine entity has taken grip and is guiding me through this process. After The Blue Wizard was complete and we were gearing up to record it, it became apparent that, while still similar at the core, it was a very different beast with the new members. If that means the songs vary a lot, so be it. I’d rather rework a song so it fits better with the rest than throw it away if it’s one we like but too far outside our genre. So I guess the short of it is that I hate to repeat myself, ironic for a band who lists drone as a genre. I’d rather craft a wide array then settle into one particular soundscape. I think it makes for a more interesting record as it gives movement throughout as oppose regurgitating the same thing in different modes for the entire record. But who knows, maybe a future record will do just that.
The Blue Wizard kicks off with “Summoning The Sea Beast”, which begins exactly as the title implies, calling a kraken to rise from the sea floor with a voice in the beast’s register. It’s huge. How did you go about getting this tone? What’s you’re set up? Any tricks of the trade for other clergymen serving in the Church of the Riff?
A large part of the guitar writing comes from exploring spaces. Both the space between notes and the actual physical space I play in. For my rig I have an ’83 Marshall JCM800 2204 going into a 1960AX cab with some 70s Celestion Creambacks. A gorgeous sounding amp I of course ruin with an arsenal of pedals. For “Sea Beast” I used a Hagstrom Viking Baritone guitar, which is a hollowbody. I had to stand about 40ft away to control the feedback in an effective manner. I’ve been fortunate enough to have access to a decent sized auditorium where I can crank my amp and really just explore the acoustic properties of my guitar and amp. I’m really interested in how sound bounces back to you, not just how it comes out of the amp. So much of music is feel and for me that is more about how my body resonates as I play a riff. So as you’re sitting in such a large space alone you’re really free to get more out of playing less and come out with something so huge by doing nothing really technical. As of late I’ve really been getting into what I’m going to call natural frequencies; frequencies that resonant particularly well inside the natural world. I think that is a huge part to playing music like this, while you’re playing your body should just shake with the riff, not necessarily out of loudness (although yes it is quite loud). If your body isn’t doing that, then you’re either not in it, or you’re playing the wrong notes.
You twice throw a curveball at the listener. On The Red Wizard, there’s the warped video-game lounge music and squelching blasts of “The Binding of the Sorcerers,” while The Blue Wizard has “Black Atlantis,” where you wum-wum the hell out of unsuspecting subwoofer owners. Any plans to keep doing this type of noise? And, what is it about a subsonic bath of bass that feels so good?
“Sorcerers” sort of came about by accident. We were sitting in the studio and they had this hilarious little organ with chord accompaniment. Then when you changed the tempo the actual pitch would vary but not on the keyboard itself. So it was impossible to play with your own accompaniment. The idea was to use the organ as sort of intermission on the record as “Wounded Hunter” was a 30min epic at that point, and then a snafu in mastering led to the blasts, and then I slowed down a track that we didn’t release to like 20bpm. Boom. Noise track.
“Black Atlantis” was also an accident. I’m a studio tech for my day job and I was working on a Trident 80b that produced that noise. It wasn’t ever intentional to have a noise track, but now I can’t imagine not doing one on every record. The most important part is to find it “naturally.” I have never made a successful noise track by going for a particular idea. They just happen or they don’t and you move onto another experiment till you find it. My apologies, sort of, to anyone who destroyed a woofer with “Black Atlantis.” You aren’t alone, I blew 2 before I fused my speakers so I could work on it. I tried to lighten the load but the feeling you get in your bowels with it at a good volume went away. So it is what it is. If you’re crafty, fuse your speakers to prevent them from blowing and then turn it up and thank me later for that sonic texture. The samples for that track might give too much information on how big of a nerd I really am, but if you know where they’re from then we are brethren in that.
So, tell me what’s happening in the Minneapolis music scene right now. From the outside, I only know it as a place of all-purple-everything and, like, ground zero for The Replacements-esque college rock and the Husker Düdes. Have you found many compatriots? Are you tight with anyone in particular? If you could hip us to another, who would it be?
You pretty much nailed it. We have a “really great radio station” called The Current if you’re into ’80s revival bullshit indie bands. The heavy scene is a bit sparse. There’s an arsenal of punk and underground scenes that are in every town but we can’t really fit onto bills with those guys since our songs aren’t 1:00 long. And there’s some great rock and roll and avant-garde bands. We’ve found a few heavy bands but have yet to share the stage with any of them. We are still a young band in the scene up here and trying to make friends with the vets. None of them seem to play too regularly and its tough to get anyone out of their caves during the winter up here. Anyways some of our local favorites, well most of them aren’t local anymore. Blood Folke. Zebulon Pike – great instrumental band, think of a heavier more musically technical Pelican. Witch Ripper (Seattle now), great Mastodon style. Rifflord (Sioux Falls, SD now), 70s style heavy riff riders. Wyatt taught me what heavy tone is really all about. Guzzlemug (Chicago now), masters of the one to two song album and the loudest damn 3-piece you will ever see. Some bands that aren’t huge yet but are bigger on a national level that have had a great impact on us as of late are All Them Witches from TN and Windhand from VA.