It’s no secret that metal and stoner rock acts have long been obsessed with the occult. We’re not talking about actual devil worship—or even an infatuation with mystic texts. By “occult,” we mean using the visual and lyrical tropes of magical dudes with spellbinding beards as a way to indicate massive riffery.
A cursory glance through the Bandcamp catalog reveals wizard and warlock rockers cloaked in various shades of blood and guts (Black Wizard, Red Wizard, The Black Wizards), openly referencing Dungeons & Dragons (Wizard Eye), and even shrouded in smoke (Weed Wizard), all of them producing appropriately bludgeoning rock. They’ve inspired us to craft this list of Bandcamp’s most enchanting wizard and warlock bands. And please note—this is different than straight-up Wizard Rock, or “wrock,” which has to do with fankid humor and Harry Potter. For that one, see: Draco and the Malfoys or Harry and the Potters.
When it comes to their music, King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard take the word “psychedelic” seriously: they’ve vastly expanded their (sonic) consciousness over the course of six years and nine great records. The Melbourne, Australian seven-piece released a collection of hallucinogenic freak folk ditties (each one clocking in at exactly 10:10), breezy acoustic pop albums that could’ve easily come from the Woodsist catalog, and spastic garage rock tunes. This year, they pulled another stylistic 180 and put out a trippy glam-prog opus called Nonagon Infinity.
On their 2012 album Speak Loud Say Nothing, Wizard Rifle constructs a series of electrifying math rock anthems. The duo’s hyper-charged music explodes with jittery riffs, staccato chants, and whiplash rhythms that bend and build to a fever pitch. In 2014, the Brooklyn-via-Portland group released Here in the Deadlights, which added copious amounts of sludge to their noise-rock brew, trading the jackhammer tempo for a doomier vibe while sacrificing little of their rhythmic ferocity.
The Warlocks are the old school sorcerers on this list. Band leader Bobby Hecksher and a rotating cast of players have been pumping out stylish, reverb-drenched space rock from Los Angeles since the early ‘00s. Their dreamy shoegaze vibe descends directly from Jesus and Mary Chain lineage, and their druggy vocals and weight-bearing drones fog audiences’ heads around the world.
Philly sludge stalwarts Wizard Eye released an excellent, self-titled album full of bluesy bruisers in 2015. The power trio’s titanic, feedback-laden riffs move with mammoth swagger, pausing just long enough for their riotous, throat-shredding vocals and blistering guitar leads to cut through the onslaught. The nine-minute instrumental “Nullarbor” is an epic trip of a slightly different dimension, opening with Eastern melodies and subdued percussion before hitting full force once again.
Red Wizard is a San Diego stoner rock group that sings the blues for patriotic bikers (“Shitbrainz”) along with odes to hitting the highway on two wheels (“Chrome & Steel”). The band’s cover of the ultimate sorcerer song, Black Sabbath’s “The Wizard,” earns the ‘70s metal-worshippers bonus points in the wizard and warlock rock category.
There’s plenty of slo-mo headbanging fodder on Black Wizard’s New Waste, an album that mixes brief moments of acid-eaten instrumental interludes with skull-crushing fuzz. The acoustic bits on “Vivian Girls” add dimension to the Vancouver, BC band’s lead-footed pace and whiskeyed howls. Their muscular metal references the twin guitar harmonies of Thin Lizzy and Judas Priest, and they throw in a nod to ZZ Top with the Southern fried “Eliminator.”
More Black Wizards. Portugal’s The Black Wizards play “heavy fuzzadelic” rock that’s undercut with groovy blues. Their 2015 release, Lake of Fire, was recorded in 24 hours, and it scorches with the energy of a single live take. Even the slow burners here contain monster riffs, and they blossom into wild, guitar-driven jams lead by singer Joana Brito’s raw wail.
Of all the bands on this list, Kansas City, MO’s Merlin are the most possessed by their namesake’s supernatural aura. Their album covers are throwbacks to ‘70s horror flicks, and their lyrics are splattered with references to withered hands and wicked lands. But it’s the 23-minute long opus “Tales of the Wasteland,” off Electric Children, that’s most creepily cinematic, opening with synths that set a funereal mood for the doomy dirge to come.
In case you missed it in the name, or the budtastic album art, this Kensington, Maryland band is steeped in stoner rock. Their songs “Wake ‘n’ Bake,” “Red Eye,” “Stoned to Death,” and “Herbavore” are delivered slow, low, and so packed with distortion that they seem to ooze out of the speakers.