Entering the Underground #10: White Magician’s Mesmerizing Heavy Metal
White Magician is undoubtedly one of the most special and interesting active bands in the blurry sphere that includes both hard-rocking heavy metal and metallic hard rock. Regressive almost to a fault, the band offers insight into an alternate timeline in which bands like UFO or Blue Öyster Cult happily swapped ideas with Mercyful Fate and Angel Witch, and in which being smooth and groovy was as cool as being evil.
Towards the end of last year, the band dropped their first album Dealers of Divinity on cult heavy metal label Cruz del Sur Music and instantly started finding their way onto year-end lists (including a slot at #2 on my own). The level of success did not come from nowhere, as the band’s leader and mastermind The Great Kaiser spent years both cultivating his craft as a guitarist and writing the songs themselves.
As much as the style inherent to the band is easy to contrast against more commercial rock groups, the level of detail present prevents those observations from being anything more than surface level. The focus is equal on guitar theatrics, huge riffs, vocal hooks, and unpredictability, and it is impossible at the start of any given track to guess where it’ll go or end. Clean rock riffs contrast with sharp technical metal riffing that almost shouldn’t work together in the same album, let alone the same song, and are strung together by the clever use of gorgeous solos or drum fills as transitions in a way that defies careless listening.
Dealers of Divinity is not easy listening, and every song on the album is winding and arcane. Much like the music that the members release with their stylistically different but equally impressive shredding power metal band, Demon Bitch, each playthrough reveals new details and insight into why the unlikely elements that go into the album work together. That approach to putting together songs is rarely performed well, but White Magician’s charisma and talent hold it together.
Read below for an interview with The Great Kaiser (also known, less formally, as Derek), and give the album a listen—though it’s recommended that you hit it before or after reading the interview and not at the same time, because the album deserves more than cursory attention while being played.
Hello Derek, thanks for doing this interview with Invisible Oranges! Since we last spoke you guys have released your debut album. How has the reception been?
I think for what we do the reception was pretty great! Definitely more positive than anticipated.
Did you expect negativity?
Well, I expect the amount of negativity I would greet something I don't like with, so I definitely braced myself for that. I think it's natural for people to grow attached to something they created and think it's so great just because they made it and maybe don't realize the rest of the world doesn't have the investment in it or owe it the attention to care about it, realize what's special about it(if there even is something special about it) or even like it at all so I'm always really open to the possibility that what I'm doing is not good at all and I just have a massive self bias.
Would you care if people didn’t like it? You’ve always struck me as very self-possessed.
Yes and no. As cool as anyone wants to feel to say they don't care if anyone likes their music and that they're just doing it for themselves... I don't really believe it... there's maybe one person on the planet in that position of "fuck you", and I'm not him. I will say that I really only care if certain people like it. If it was supposed to be for everyone and some sort of catch-all band/album it would sound like it. I've heard it done a billion times and it's usually the dumbest thing ever. "Oh it's got everything! blast beat for those people, black metal parts! Death metal parts! The thrashers are gonna like this one, here's the nwobhm riff" it's just like mixed genre shows. Sounds good on paper, every base is covered so 4x the draw and everyone's happy no one's left out! Doesn't work... in practice 1/4 the draw, everyone watches the one band they came for and mocks the other 2 or 3 while they play, and nobody's happy except that one dude who indiscriminately loves EVERYTHING no matter what. Who respects that guy? Anyways. I don't only make it for myself but I also don't make it for everyone. To people who love it or hate it or are completely indifferent I would say the same thing: I worked really hard on it for a long time so that it ended up this exact way. It wasn't an accident. I would hope that people with a similar musical palette to me would think it was at least good. For people who listen to music that I think is shit I could really give a fuck what they think. To quote my most wise and powerful consigliere "His boos mean nothing, for we have seen what makes him cheer!"
Was there anything about the album that took more time than you expected it to?
Just about every single part of it. We're not smart or savvy men really. Playing music is something that I do but recording is a whole different beast. I really wanted to make sure I ended up with a sound that represents the vision. Time was of little concern for this project.
Tell me more about the concept behind Dealers of Divinity.
Well just to diffuse any potential confusion... because I would personally hate to perpetuate any confusing information regarding any band of mine; Dealers of Divinity is not a concept album. The concept and theme of the artwork has to do with the title track and then everything is quite independent from there. The concept behind the song and imagery of the artwork is really just a metaphorical comparison based on the relationship between the average person and the powers that be that creates obstacles to stand in the way of what that average person may want out of their reality.
Do the songs tie together thematically in any way, or is anything fair game when you’re writing lyrics?
Not so much. There was a tie in or two musically and lyrically to The Pledge EP in "Mad Magic II: In the Absence of Gods (Bad Magic)" (musically and lyrically) and "Dealers of Divinity" (musically only).
The songs "In Memoriam: Love and Magic (Magic and Love)" and "Magia Nostra" tie into each other musically. They were started as the same song that was like 14 minutes or so all spawned from the same riff or two, I ended up just having an overload of riffs that I didn't want to throw away or use elsewhere because they were similar in concept to the rest of the song so I ended up just splitting the two and putting them one into the other. I intended on there being more tied together lyrically but just settled on them sharing a theme: protection and preservation of all things sacred.
How important are the lyrics and themes in your process?
Well they are a completely necessary part of the process which holds importance without question, but as far as how they come about or where they lie in a pecking order... they are almost completely an afterthought. Music is made composed and all before lyrics happen. I had lyrics and vocals for ONE song before the album was recorded... I was writing lyrics well into almost a year after the recording process started.
I sometimes have titles, concepts, experiences or groups of words with a meaning that I like that end up in text messages or e mails I send to myself, scribbled on legal pads, backsides of boarding passes etc. Then I try to locate all of these things when I know I need to write lyrics and that's my launchpad. Everything from there is just putting it into words and matching it to music. My only real prerequisite is they have to mean something to me. It has to be something I know or feel. Even if the actual lyrics/song titles/aesthetic suffers. Everyone wants to like and make cool song titles but about stuff that sounds badass but that's not really life. Not for me.
Is it difficult for you to come up with the vocal parts after lyrics and the music are all dialed in?
Depends. Sometimes you just get lucky. Once I strike something I'm liking I can just go from there. It's that initial spark that's hard to find Sometimes. Then sometimes you have a song written from like 10+ years ago that you and the band love and you can't fit lyrics or vocals to it to save your life.
As with most of your music, Logon (bass for the band) ended up doing the artwork for the album. Was it an easy choice asking him to do it? Where did the art concept come from?
He does all of the stuff for Demon Bitch for his own reasons and I'd gladly have him do art for anything if he wanted to. As I recall, he expressed interest in doing it. I would have done any which way with artwork but there's no one more perfect for it. He knows me and the music and my preferences very well so I knew I wouldn't have to worry. We talked years ago when these songs were coming together about what our album should look like in our minds. I came up with the concept, it's based entirely on the lyrics of the title track. Luckily he's smart enough to know where to draw the line or it would have ended up looking all over the place, Like some bizarro version of Agnostic Front's Cause for Alarm.
At what point in the process was the title track important enough compared to the others for it to become, well, the title track and the album cover?
Well, I'm pretty sure it was the only batch of lyrics that worked with a theme strong enough to make something visual out of it.
This was your first time working with Enrico and Cruz del Sur Music if I’m not mistaken. How did you hook up with them and how has it been?
Correct! I reached out to him to see if there was any interest and he wanted to make it happen! So after a nice long while it made its way to the public, at probably the worst time in my personal history for something to come out but I'd say it worked out pretty well! Working with him has been great.
Does personal struggle aid at all with your creative process, or does it stifle it?
I'm sure it helps get in the way in equal parts, good old game of cat and mouse.
What’s next for White Magician?
Probably just waiting for the next sequel of Now You See Me or National Treasure to hit theaters. Currently focusing our energy on new Demon Bitch material so the hands are a little tied in the White Magician camp currently and I can't say I've really anticipated what's next.
Do you have anything else to talk about or promote?
Well I want to say there is a very special edition of Dealers of Divinity coming out on cassette through Dystopian Dogs very soon with an exclusive patch and I would implore anyone who prefers that format to follow Dystopian Dogs closely regarding the updates on when those will be available. Also (and might not be for a while) keep an eye out for a new album from my band Isenblast. It should be a real nice treat for people interested in black metal.
Dealers of Divinity released November 20th, 2020 via Cruz del Sur Music.