Electric Wizards: A Tapestry of Heavy Music by JR Moores

Release date: September 13, 2021
Label: Reaktion Books

What is heavy? That’s a question that JR Moores attempts to answer in his new book Electric Wizards: A Tapestry of Heavy Music 1968 to the Present. A heavy title in itself, and at nearly 500 pages, dare we say a weighty tome. What certainly isn’t heavy though, is Moores writing style which pulls you into the discussion, whilst never bamboozling you with any lofty ambitions of niche writing. An irony considering the majority of acts covered in this book probably define the term niche.

It’s with the biggest of them all that Moores starts his argument though, and it takes a brave soul to plant their heavy flag down at the feet of The Beatles. One already pictures the denim clad teenager spewing his energy drink all over the pages at such consternation. It’s a stroke of genius though, and rightly places Paul McCartney as not just the innovator/experimenter of the band, but also, as the writer of Helter Skelter, the author of the first heavy song in popular culture. Fools may argue but ask Ozzy Osbourne or Lemmy (rest his heavy soul) who was the greatest and both will point you to those four lads from Liverpool.

Moores maybe misses a beat here by not mentioning ‘I Want You “She’s So Heavy’ which may have been the first doom song, but there’s a lot to cover, and after the obligatory chapter on the architects of all things heavy, Black Sabbath, it’s a free-wheeling ride which takes you from Acid Rock, funk, German experimentalism, and onwards into the down-tuned riffs of Sleep and beyond. By recognising that heavy doesn’t mean heavy metal, Moores opens an entire subculture which you will be picking apart and listening to on Spotify for many months to come.

Some of the names will be familiar, many wont, and it’s when Moores hits his stride in the later chapters on grunge, and noise rock, that you get a sense of how encompassing the term “heavy” can be in music. Having written for many years on these subjects for such places as The Quietus, you feel that Moores is more at home here, than talking about Acid Rock and funk. Even this reviewer, who likes to lurk in similar waters when it comes to music, was sent looking for artists that they had not come across before.

This may even be the first time that bands like Gnod and Pigsx7 have had the honour of being mentioned in a book, and as the  prime exponents of heavy music in the new DIY age, along with many more, it points to an exciting future for music. We’ve come a long way from Helter Skelter and War Pigs but in the DNA of those two bands alone, you can hear the strands of the those two songs bearing their weighty ghosts down on them. Each step along the path of heaviness has pushed bands and musicians to explore further and to redefine heaviness for a new generation. If, as Paul Simon says, every generation has a hero of the pop charts, lurking in the undergrowth is also a new champion of heavy. An endlessly entertaining book which introduces the reader to a whole new world of music that they may not have even been aware of before.

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