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Black Wizard gets heavier and embraces the ’80s

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‘Sock it to me,” Daniel Stokes says with a laugh, primed and ready to take on an interview after being well-fed at bandmate Adam Grant’s grandfather’s house in Halifax.

The stop comes towards the end of Black Wizard’s current tour with Dead Quiet. Although the Vancouver metalheads are playing a fairly cozy venue during this weekend’s gig in Edmonton, they’ll be hitting the stage at Rexall Place in August as openers for Volbeat and Killswitch Engage. Stokes admits the prospect is slightly intimidating, but it’s another encouraging step forward for the band after the release of its album New Waste in February.

“This would be the first record Black Wizard has out with a label’s support; all the records before that have just been DIY, so that was a big change for the group, obviously,” Stokes says. “It’s been received well, as far as I know. It’s hard to keep up with all these kids and their social media.”

That label support comes from French imprint Listenable, a relationship that formed after a particularly raucous show in Belgium. For a band that clearly enjoys a good time—have a look at its Facebook page—and has always followed a DIY ethos, the thought of handing over some of the control might not seem appealing at first mention. But Stokes says it’s been smooth sailing thus far.

“Eugene [Parkomenko], who is the drummer and pretty much the band manager, is very business-wise and communicates with them actually really well,” he notes. “We discuss stuff as a band and then Eugene will talk to the big boys, so to speak, about how we’re going to do things. DIY obviously has its advantages … this is the first time I’ve signed a record contract personally, and you hear a lot about how labels are on their way out or about how labels are no good or stuff like that, but I feel like if you really have your heart into it and it’s what you want to focus on, it seems to be working out pretty well for us.”

Stokes is the newest member of the foursome, having joined in the summer of 2014 after stepping in for Kenny Cook, who is also the guitarist and vocalist for Anciients, for a European tour—”I believe my exact words were, ‘Well, Eugene, I thought you’d never ask,” he laughs, adding he became a fan of Black Wizard after hearing the band’s debut self-titled LP.

“From a personal standpoint, this is the first band I’ve been able to play in with dudes my own age, so that’s a plus,” says Stokes, who turned 26 in May. “I’ve always played with older guys. I started playing in Vancouver in the bar scene when I was about 18 using my brother’s ID, but I would have been playing with 26-, 25-year-olds, you know? So to be around guys who are kind of on the same page as far as life goes has just been a blast. Luckily, we all have the same sense of humour, and I think that goes a long way, if you can joke around with each other and make fun of each other immediately. I think that helped out a lot. Other than that, I tried not to step on any toes and keep the ball rolling as best I could on my part.”

Humour is evidently in no short supply with Black Wizard—its name is a tongue-in-cheek reference to genre tropes, after all—and its members seem to like to get the jabs in where they can. New Waste is a play on the band’s hometown of New Westminster, BC, which is as much an homage to the place as it is a dig at the increasing gentrification in the community. The songs themselves span the work of writer and artist Henry Darger—the song “Vivian Girls” was derived from characters in his
15 000-page novel, In the Realms of the Unreal, and draws comparisons between them and missing aboriginal women in BC—to all-out party anthems, like the closing track, “Final Ripper.” It’s a disparaging mix that’s tied together by Black Wizard’s thundering melodies that ebb and flow through heavy-hitting riffs and even verge on ’80s-metal-ballad territory with songs like “Laughing and Lost.”

“They mentioned they wanted to get heavier, a bit faster, maybe more to the point, so to speak, and also explore other territories,” Stokes says of the band’s direction heading into New Waste. “We’re all big fans of the same music, and then bands like Scorpions, like how they’ll have a killer heavy record and this insane ballad, which was totally acceptable in the ’80s and late ’70s—same thing as Judas Priest. So we were like, ‘Why don’t we just do one of those?’ We all love those, so let’s throw one of them in the record—little things like that were definitely a huge change for all of us, but it was super exciting and I think it fits well on the record, you know, to have that dynamic.”

Sun, Jun 26 (7 pm)
With Dead Quiet, Tekarra, Sleep Demon, Rebuild / Repair
Mama’s Pizza

 

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