If the name Filth Wizard alone didn’t have you intrigued, then the New Zealand band’s self-descriptor surely will: “Imagine a sorcerer in the middle of a swamp, surrounded by a forest filled with strange, lurking creatures. It’s a little bit sludgy, a little bit doomy, pretty heavy, melancholic and just a touch psychedelic.”
The instrumental metal trio of Hanna Ott (bass), Tyler (guitar) and Joseph (drums) met through a Contemporary Music class, of which their newly released debut album Thor’s Toolbox began as Hanna’s final project for her Audio Production degree. And the concept behind it came about when Joseph wrote a song called Thor’s Hammer (now just Hammer), then decided Thor needed more tools.
Speaking to us ahead of its release, Filth Wizard, whose name is inspired by a quote from Black Books, tell us: “We’re pretty nervous. None of us have ever released any music before, and it’s Hanna’s (Otto,) debut as a producer/engineer as well, but we all really love it so we hope other people will dig it, too.”
But the New Zealanders needn’t have worried, because what they’ve created is a piece of magical riffy delight. They’ve honed a sound that they summarise as “kind of Metallica-meets-Mastodon-meets-Porcupine Tree” and an old-school take on progressive metal, with the emphasis very much on riffing rather than shredding.
As the band explain: “It’s a lot of riffs but also lots of emotional and intricate clean sections. We are instrumental so there is a much bigger focus on guitar layers and musical storytelling.”
The aforementioned Hammer kicks things into life with a filthy low-tuned riff and big cymbal smashes, then a big fast-paced riff leads into repeating loops of funky guitar and driving drums. Chugging riffs kick in, with the occasional lavish flourish but the emphasis is firmly on the driving, downright dirty riffs. A huge drumroll from Joseph is the cue for things to expand a little, with a big smash-up followed by a laid-back solo. Check it out below:
As the band mentioned, Pliers sees things mixed up more than any other track, and it clocks in at near nine minutes long. A funky winding guitar lick opens up, then a hit of chords drops into a wild smash of pounding fast-paced drums and flying guitars. The pace soon drops right down into a mellow moment of light guitars, then a funky riff kicks in once more, before a big drum roll unleashes another fast-paced smash-up.
Laid back ditty Motor Oil follows, then gets smashed into riffy heaven by Flathead, then more filthy riffage on Phillips Head.
The album closes out with another epic, the 11-minute long Saw featuring guest guitarist Ngawera Reid. It begins slowly with light guitars, then prolonged drum rolls see the atmosphere build up to a big chugging guitar riff and pounding cymbals, which are soon joined by a flying solo. Then more intricate guitars come in, before dropping into a psychedelic chillout section that feeds into a funky driving riff then more chugging guitar goodness, then a series of awesome solos. It brings an excellent debut album to a fittingly riff-fuelled ending. Give it a listen in the stream below:
Given it’s the band’s first album, and the interesting situation regarding her school project, we asked Hanna to expand on the production process behind it. So if you’re thinking about recording an album, then this is for you. Hanna told us: “I was surprised at how smooth the process was. We were fortunate enough to have access to industry-standard studios through the Southern Institute of Technology, so gear was never an issue. We weren’t a band before we decided to record this album, so it was more my recording project, and from that point of view, Joseph and Tyler were awesome to work with – their work ethic is great.
“To be honest, I enjoyed all of the process. Tracking is awesome because we started out with Guitar Pro backing tracks and it was so cool to gradually hear real instruments taking over, and getting to add little extra bits like percussion. I loved the mixing as well because you can get so creative with effects and panning automation and things like that, and it was so rewarding to hear the songs really take shape and become what we heard in our minds. I learnt so much in that time.
“Kane Bennett, from Auckland, mastered it, and I think the hardest part for me was letting go of it and putting all my trust in someone else. He was really great as well though, always happy to take suggestions. The overall sound of the album changed a fair bit during mastering though, that took me by surprise a little bit – it took me a while to get used to that. I’m super happy with it now though.”
The trio may perhaps be unusual in that they play metal without some of the classic hard-hitting metal characteristics you might expect, but that’s a strong part of what brought them together. As Joseph tells us: “I became mates with Tyler through music mostly. Amongst a lot of other metalheads we found that both us liked the same stylistic characteristics of certain subgenres. If it didn’t have good riffs it wasn’t worth your time.
“It was refreshing to find a metalhead that didn’t just listen to metal for screamed vocals, mindless chugging and blast beats. We also have a similar sense of humour and personality so that helped solidify our mateship. I became friends with Hanna in much the same way except we both liked exactly the same bands for the same reasons. It was quite funny to find someone who was nearly exactly the same as yourself. As all three of us are quite similar especially in our music tastes, forming a band just works.”
While when it comes to what inspires them to write, Hanna explains: “A lot of the song ideas come from situations, like a cool phrase that someone’s used that sparks our interest. I work a lot with imagery and emotions and try to convey those through music, or try to attribute visual ideas to riffs that one of the guys has written.”
And Joseph adds: “I muck around on the guitar a lot just jamming riffs and ideas until I find something I like. It’s then fun trying to develop it and flesh it out with all the other instruments. I enjoy hearing all the different bands I like come through in my own stuff. One song could sound like 20 different bands and I like that.”
And Tyler adds: “Whatever I’m feeling at the time translated into musical form, hopefully well enough that I still like it the next day! The cool thing about being instrumental is that people can attach their own themes to our music.”
Filth Wizard are just the second band we’ve interviewed from New Zealand, so we were keen to get their take on the local scene. Hanna said: “There is an unbelievable number of metal bands in New Zealand, especially in the South Island. The scene does tend to be more extreme/death metal oriented, and then there are a bunch of post-rock bands, and not much in between. New Zealand is a pretty ideal place for new metal bands though, because everyone is really approachable and supportive.”
The band are now busy solidifying live arrangements of tracks from the debut album, while writing new material that they tell us will be “quite different” from it.