Many metalheads will opt for a volume of Tolkien or some Norse mythology for lyrical inspiration, but Black Wizard singer-guitarist Adam Grant went against the grain on his band’s latest album, New Waste, by taking a look at the obscure work of Henry Darger. The record’s “Vivian Girls” confirms as much, taking its name from the entrapped, pixielike characters that figure in the author’s fantastical, posthumously released 15,000-plus-page In the Realms of the Unreal. That said, Grant also tried to bring his band’s hard-churning prog boogie back to earth by tying in a tragic local angle.
“I wanted to relate it to all the missing aboriginal women in town,” he says during a weekend meet-up with drummer Eugene Parkomenko and the Straight at Chinatown’s Caffé Brixton, hinting at B.C.’s Missing Women Commission of Inquiry. “Not exactly referencing that, but it was the inspiration for pulling the two together: these people being treated poorly. The stories that [Darger] had written, a whole anthology, were all about the Vivian Girls, about how they were abused. But they got revenge. He was abused while growing up, and made this whole weird world. I saw a weird relation between the two.”
New Waste’s “Vivian Girls” barrels by with lyrics about people rising up in the face of darkness, and comes scored by a cannon-boom marching beat, chunky licks, and damaged wails that suggest the New Westminster–spawned quartet—Grant, Parkomenko, guitarist Danny Stokes, and bassist Evan Joel—was raised on a steady diet of Iron Maiden and Mastodon. But a sonic twist presents itself midtrack, once a string-squealing and moshed-up breakdown gives way to a lovely classical-guitar piece. These kinds of dynamics are key to Black Wizard’s multifaceted approach to metal.
“We didn’t want the whole record to be pounding and in-your-face—that tires your ears out so quickly,” Grant says. “So many bands just do that, one tone the whole time.”
Black Wizard also dials down the distortion for the slow-burning and bluesy “Laughing and Lost”, which Grant likens to a “Scorpions-style ballad”.
The frontman concedes that while some seriousness has crept into the group’s latest long-player, Black Wizard is still a party band at heart. (Tellingly, while everyone else was enjoying brunch at the Brixton, Grant and Parkomenko were ordering beers.) New Waste’s “Final Ripper” is a scorching shot of adrenaline that’s all about keeping the good times going at any cost, saving peace of mind for the afterlife.
“It’s kind of a joke on the way we handle shit and go about with our band’s image,” Grant says with a smirk. “Bluntly, the song is about fuckin’ chasing that last line of coke at the end of the night. A lot of people do pretty shitty things in that moment.”
“It’s not a secret,” Parkomenko adds. “Everybody knows that our band likes to party a lot.”
If anything, the bash has only begun for Black Wizard. Though the band formed in 2009 and issued two full-lengths ahead of New Waste, it wasn’t until the current lineup was cemented after the release of 2013’s Young Wisdom that the group gained momentum.
“Basically, it was the first time where the other two members didn’t have a bunch of other stuff going on. Everyone was free to focus on this band,” Parkomenko explains.
“It wasn’t half-assed before, but it would take forever to write shit,” Grant adds. The change of pace is reflected in the amp-rattling opener, “Revival”, on which the singer howls optimistically, “You get what you give.”
“This one came together so quickly,” Grant says with a satisfied smile. “It was like a new band again. “
As a fully dedicated crew, Black Wizard toured Europe for the first time. In addition to rowdy crowds, the trip landed the group its current record deal with French imprint Listenable. The label snapped up Black Wizard after catching a completely berserk, beer-bottle-flinging show in Belgium.
Now true road warriors, the outfit has just announced a stretch of Pacific Northwest dates with Portland sludge kings Red Fang, and has plans to tour Canada in the summer and Europe again in the fall.
But despite the ambitious travel sched for 2016, Black Wizard is still dedicated to the faithful in New Westminster. All but Stokes still live in the Royal City, with Parkomenko both recording bands and hosting gigs at his Bully’s Studio. The album title New Waste is a shout-out to the bangers still residing in its hometown.
Despite talk of an evolving New Westminster becoming a gentrified hipster hotbed with new tower projects and restaurant openings, the members of Black Wizard are skeptical about the suburb’s alleged cultural makeover.
“Everyone says it’s the ‘little Brooklyn’, but it’s not. It’s just getting expensive,” Parkomenko notes.
His bandmate quickly brings up a beef with a bit of local redevelopment.
“They made some stupid fake beach already,” Grant scoffs of the urban beach at Pier Park. “There’s sand down there, but you can’t swim in the Fraser River. It’s fucking dirty, dude!”
Black Wizard might not think it’s the best spot for a beach day, but you could make an argument that it’s a great place to get wasted.
Black Wizard plays a New Waste release party at the Rickshaw on Saturday (February 27).