Australia’s Bob Nekrasov fuses black metal’s gravelly aesthetic with heavy riffs and gloriously over-the-top imagery; it’s a celebration of the very contradictions that make metal so thrilling.
The Australian musician Bob Nekrasov’s work as Nekrasov exists on black metal’s fringes, noisy and frayed. His other project, Rebel Wizard, gives that black metal a heavily NWOBHM bent. The combination of influences seems simple—make black metal more palatable by adding traditional (discernible, even) riffs and melodies—yet through this project, he’s unlocked a deeper wisdom. He connects the deliberate solitude of one-man black metal with metal’s own status as mass music for alienated loners. Rebel Wizard invokes both complementary spirits—the antisocial isolationist and the eternal teenage loner who finds solace in a crowd of like-minded outcasts—on his second full length, Voluptuous Worship of Rapture and Response.
Nekrasov has said he “would rather shove a watermelon into the eye of my penis” than increase the fidelity of his records. Though he is a devotee of second-wave buzz, his songcraft, informed by metal’s formative texts, aspires beyond the subterranean sound. Such high treble lends well to Nekrasov’s lead work, which veers from piercing shredding to candlelit tenderness and thrashy gallops with a mutant, shapeshifting ease. “High Mastery of the Woeful Arts” blazes through all those modes, like if Frank Frazetta had control over 2001: A Space Odyssey’s solitary cosmic voyage. Though rooted in tradition, he’s versatile, dizzying without flash.
The intro to “Exhaustive Glory” sounds like Iron Maiden from the nosebleeds, tinny and distant without extinguishing triumph. Maiden’s “Hallowed Be Thy Name,” a grim tale of awaiting execution that’s become one of their most popular songs, proves to be a template for Nekrasov here, as many of his songs feel plucked from any number of “Hallowed”’s passages. “The Poor and Ridiculous Alchemy of Christ and Lucifer and Us All” would be a straight-up heavy-metal song were it not for Nekrasov howling in static. It begins like Thin Lizzy kicking a couple out and ends like Viking-era Bathory, a spiritual influence on the way that Rebel Wizard’s might transcends its raw sound. Nekrasov’s appreciation for metal’s timeless foundational qualities is how he’s able to wring such liveliness out of a cold, unforgiving tone; in lesser hands, his fusion would be novelty. He’s got riffs that, even with a black-metal aesthetic, a mainstream metal audience would obsess over—Tobias Forge should be sliding in his DMs begging for a collab.
Back in February, Rebel Wizard put out the EP Great Addictions to a Blindingly Dark, Worldly Life, which pushed the blistering black-metal aspects and melancholic extremes of his sound. While it was a huge leap in his songwriting, considering how prolific he’s been since Rebel Wizard’s first demo, in 2013, it didn’t have the same jubilance as his other records. Some of Addictions’ Gary Moore necromancy still finds a place here: “Glory” and “Mother Nature, Oh My Sweet Mistress, Showed Me the Other Worlds and It Was Just Fallacy” are centered on mid-paced stomps and drawn out, sorrowful leads. Solo black metal is often in the depressive vein—take Xasthur, Leviathan, and pre-prison Burzum, for example—yet even though he terms his music “negative wizard metal,” Rebel Wizard is downright exhilarating. Voluptuous is the discipline of Addictions with the crooked smirk that’s always been present, the smile of damning humanity to another night in with Angel Witch’s self-titled.
Rebel Wizard finds seduction in NWOBHM’s more romantic ends, and that is no more evident than in “Drunk on the Wizdom of Unicorn Semen.” Hang on—it’s really a beautiful song, a black metal take on a brooding, Melissa-esque ballad. Should you take a song called “Drunk on the Wizdom of Unicorn Semen” seriously? Absolutely: Metal is serious music rife with the ridiculous, the two don’t cancel each other out. You have to embrace, or at least respect, Manowar’s loincloths, King Diamond’s falsetto, Venom making a 20-minute track about battling Satan—anything that is deliberately over the top and unintentionally comical (yet totally ruling)—to really appreciate metal. Rebel Wizard made a song with the words “Unicorn Semen” and still ended up with one of the year’s best metal records, because in reveling in the absurdity at metal’s core, he embraces what’s great about it. His work as Nekrasov has gone on for longer, but it's clear that Rebel Wizard is how he will carve his identity.
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