There can be no doubt that Black Sabbath is one of the most influential bands in rock history. They did for metal and hard rock what the Beatles did for well, almost everything else. From the Ozzy incarnation to the Dio incarnation, the band has spawned countless progeny. It’s understandable. The band has an aesthetic and it has stuck to it and that aesthetic created a needed counter to the hippie-go-lucky strains of the Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, et al. in the rock pantheon. Even the critical response to Sabbath locked into what would eventually become the moniker of the metal they inspired—doom. In no less than the hallowed pages of early-70’s Rolling Stone, one of our music reviewer sacred cows—the inimitable Nick Tosches—reviewed Sabbath’s breakthrough Paranoid thusly:
…across the room the fresh corpse of an illegitimate hippie baby is dis-impaled from the ceremonial sword of Baphomet. The myrrh is extinguished with the collected saliva of priests listening to tales of carnal abuse in warm, dark confessionals.
More ritual recollection than review, it spoke to the bands mystique and the originality of their approach to hard rock. Luckily, several bands, even today, have tapped into this same deep well of influence. Brimstone Coven’s Black Magic is precisely such a record.
Brimstone Coven opens this effort in Sabbath-worship with the title track “Black Magic.” From the name, to the album title to the rest of the song titles, the band oozes Sabbath. The riffs, the bass tones, the production attempt at some of the hazy muddiness (which doesn’t quite land—it just sounds muddled at times, instead of ahaze in pot smoke; most likely missing the warmth that analog can provide). “Black Magic” does hint at one additional influence to Brimstone Coven’s effort, Alice in Chains. The harmonies they employ throughout the record (also notable on “Beyond the Astral”) do us the favor of re-contextualizing that “grunge” band within the pantheon of metal.
There aren’t really many serious problems with Black Magic or with Brimstone Coven as a band if you take them both for what they are—a band and an album heavily influenced by Black Sabbath and paying tribute to the band. The weakness of the record is something shared by a lot of contemporary Sabbath-worship—the monotone approach to songwriting and arrangement. None of these bands (save for Magic Circle, maybe) could pull of something with the emotional power and depth of performance as “Changes.” Brimstone Coven does attempt on staple mid-record ballad-esque track “As We Fall,” but the track sounds more like Silverchair meets Uriah Heap. Which isn’t necessarily bad per se, but it highlights the lack of range.
Brimstone Coven are a decent band and Black Magic is a decent piece of doomy, Sabbath-inspired hard rock. There are better iterations of the style, however, even amongst their contemporaries. The aforementioned Magic Circle and Orchid stand out especially. And bands like Witchcraft have more successfully melded doom with grunge aesthetics as well (stronger vocals, better hooks, more range). Brimstone Coven are fine musicians and decent writers (the lyrics can stray into more Uriah Heap or Jethro Tull on a bag of bad speed and a vodka drunk than Sabbath, but let’s face it, hard rock isn’t where we go for profundity). So, yes if you are a fan of the genres and bands discussed herein, Black Magic is worth a listen and a couple tokes. But just know that the high can be surpassed by some of their contemporaries.