Apparently the doom scene is pretty moribund at the moment, especially around Black Magician's home town of Liverpool. Perhaps that may be understandable but given the quality of 'Nature Is The Devil's Church' it is nonetheless a little puzzling.
This is Shaman Recordings' debut release and like a lot of stuff that is coming out at the moment, 'Nature Is The Devil's Church' seems to be produced with the medium of vinyl in mind and just to prove the point it gets the double gatefold 12" treatment (through Shaman Recordings) as well as the standard CD (through Burning World).
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If you know yer doom then you'll already suspect the five track 'Nature Is The Devil's Church' is basically a homage to early Sabbath and in particular the intro to 'Under The Sun'. Some say there is a bit of Cathedral in there but no, Black Magician chooses to go straight to source for its referencing and influence.
Now, you might be justifiably expecting this album to be a slice of relentless minor chord chuggery that sounds like the perfect soundtrack to a guy trying to meander down to the pub whilst wearing a set of deep sea diving weights. Admittedly there are places where you would not be far off the mark, yet when the album is taken as a whole chances are your expectations will be proven not only uncharitable but wrong.
Of course, with a name like Black Magician and an album title like 'Nature Is The Devil's Church' you are hardly going to get the English quaintness of the likes of Beatrix Potter or 'Tales From The Riverbank'. What you do get is an album that dwells on the some of the macabre themes that allude to the darker side of English Gothic horror.
"We're not an occult-themed band. We're interested in those ideas, but it's not the primary focus of what we do", vocalist Liam Yates protests. Yet Black Magician seems to have a ghoulish interest in the heritage of English horror. Though I suspect should something otherworldly ever pop in for a cuppa and a jam, the boys would collectively shit themselves.
So the album itself: is it any good? Well, if you can ignore the occasional Hammer House Of Horror hamminess, yes it is. As a genre, doom is not the most uplifting and tuneful and it can be said that there will always be the risk of doom albums becoming monotonous dirges but 'Nature Is The Devil's Church' is not one of them.
The lone piano atmospheric of intro 'The Foolish Fire' brings things in gently ready for the second track 'Full Plain I See, The Devil Knows How To Row' (great title boys) and therefore the album, to kick in proper. It's this that really sets you up for what's to come; a creaking, lumbering morbid guitar buoyed by the swirling Hammond keys of Matt Ford which more anything else give 'Nature Is The Devil's Church' its hammy horror pomp.
'Four Thieves Vinegar' possesses a rare moment when the band actually get beyond third gear and almost go for it but then the album goes off at a tangent and we get the baroque 'Ghost Worship'. This is the shortest piece on the album weighing in at less than six minutes and offers a stylish acoustic interlude amongst the Goth stompers. Here the Hammond organ becomes quite prominent though restrained and to be honest it is a piece that could have worked better as a straight guitar piece.
Lastly, you get 'Chattox' (apparently the alternative moniker for Anne Whittle, one of the Pendle witches), a fifteen minute prog-doom fest. A grinding essay on the grim events on the seventeenth century Pennines, Black Magician plunder the heritage of this particularly English horror story to give you an epic metal piece with a monolithic doom groove.
Everything the average doomster could want is here; heavy duty guitar, atmospheric keys and a rhythm section that knows when to just sit in the groove. The vocal, which can sound surprisingly naive occasionally, fits perfectly, foregoing an oh-so-nice clean vox or a throat searing death grunt for a low down gravelly drawing out of the lyric like the guts of a prisoner under torture.
Black Magician gives us a classic doom Metal platter onto which has been bolted a profound interest in eccentric occult film and literature. Better still, the boys are not afraid to put their tongues in their collective cheeks though they do seem to take themselves a bit too seriously at times.
With its mix of doom, prog, and the sinister pastoral, 'Nature Is The Devil's Church' is quite an accomplished debut. Yet, it does nothing that has not been done before but suggests the band have a lot more to give and time may well see Black Magician move away from the suffocating limitations of the genre.
A final quote from Liam Yates; when given the chance to say whatever he liked he responded: "We have just begun to navigate a strange region; we must expect to encounter strange adventures, strange perils." (Arthur Machen, 'The Terror').
That, I think, sums 'Nature Is The Devil's Church' and Black Magician up neatly.