It’s my friends’ band (so of course my review is positive): Old Man Wizard’s UNFAVORABLE

At the beginning of November Old Man Wizard released their first album, Unfavorable. I’ve known the guys from Old Man Wizard for sometime (the bassist & I did our four years of music school together), and I even remember when they formed. From the start I had enjoyed Old Man Wizard. Their songs always had a good sense of development, and they combine the timbres of metal music with an extensive harmonic vocabulary and melodic interest. Additionally Old Man Wizard’s songs portray the events and lives of human beings and age-old professions, rather than vague, abstract concepts.

Old Man Wizard is one of those groups that takes full advantage of the sounds at their disposal. Each song on Unfavorable has it’s own essential style, while at the same time there’s a consistent aesthetic of metal that is maintained. The band makes use of a wide variety of effects and almost every song will have all three guys singing. This adds a layer of richness to the songs that I don’t hear as often as I’d like.

Heavy rock is the genre they’ve selected for themselves, but I prefer “storybook metal.” I call it that because of their songs being deeply rooted in a connection to the exploits of people and their plights. Their guitarist and composer Francis Roberts is an avid gamer, metal fan, and fantasy guy so he has a strong idea about how to unify these elements of storytelling and music, and at the same time create an aesthetic rooted in fantasy and history. The two songs that capture this the best are “Highwayman” and “Traveller’s Lament.” Both these tunes connect the audience to the actions and concerns of a person from another time and place, and transport the listener into the subject’s lives (a highway bandit and aged wanderer). This connection to the lives of others really places this music in the realm of storytelling. I especially enjoy the descriptions of the world as viewed by the traveler in “Traveller’s Lament” as he describes his memories of a different world he once knew.

Another great thing about Old Man Wizard is that despite the serious nature of their music, they know how to have fun with what their doing and are fully ready to hold anything they do up to ridicule. They also have a great sense of making the musical experience matter, and not any concept of communicating some kind of grand ideology. A quote from an interview that Francis did with Scrapeyard Magazine demonstrates this nicely:

[Scrapeyard Magazine]: Hi Francis! Tell me a little bit about Old Man Wizard; what do you do? Who else is involved?
Francis: We’re a band. I write the songs and Kris (drums) and Andre (bass guitar) play them. I try to keep up. All three of us sing, but I sing the most.

Francis, Kris, and Andre have a real dedication to this fun brand of ridiculousness, and this is apparent in their music video for “The Bearded Fool.” This song could easily be interpreted as a condemnation of Christianity, but Old Man Wizard decided to create a video that features cheap special effects, penises, and medieval pagan fantasy.

It’s always refreshing to see a group be willing to poke fun at themselves. As I mentioned before, the bassist Andre and I go way back (over 10 years now), and we’ve both talked quite a bit about how musicians often take themselves too seriously. Andre has also mentioned to me that he wonders if he likes his friends’ bands because his friends are in them. It’s a good question, I probably wouldn’t know about Old Man Wizard if it wasn’t for my personal association with them. And it’s also true that I probably wouldn’t have written this review if it wasn’t for that association. Francis and I did joke about about this review being a functional analysis of the album, rather that a legitimate review. But I decided I’d rather let people know about some good music that they should listen to. When he reads this he’ll probably make fun of me for saying “storybook metal.”

Unfavorable can be downloaded from bandcamp (pay what you like), and they have a show coming up on January 4 in San Diego.

Finally, Old Man Wizard from time to time does acoustic shows. Kris switches over to rhythm guitar and Andre breaks out his bass viol. Their songs transfer well to an acoustic ensemble and the lack of metal effects allow certain elements of the harmony and textures to have more prominence. But whether the show is acoustic or metal, it’s a good time, so go see them if you can and get your hands on Unfavorable.

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