Return to the altar, come worship the Sabbath...
Reissues are a strange beast and generally tend to be viewed with an air of cynicism and sometimes straight up repulsion. These feeling are, of course, entirely subjective and dependent on the motivations of the label and specifically the principles of the label itself. More often than not, it is an attempt at a cash-grab to bleed the completist dry; usually by reissuing an album that is only six months old with new packaging, numerous unlistenable demo versions of album tracks and possibly a dub-step remix thrown in for the hell of it.
Rise Above are a label that cannot be accused of such exploitative tactics and throughout their entire existence have provided a haven for creative, musical retrogression and progression; releasing contemporary classics on a consistent basis. This is a result of the punk-ethos of label leader and doomsayer Lee Dorrian, who has unceremoniously carved a legendary career as both an artist (Napalm Death/Cathedral) and a visionary. He is now responsible (with the support of Metal Blade) for cracking open the crypt and shining light on two out of print, forgotten classics: Master of Brutality and The Second Coming by Church of Misery.
For the unknowing, Church of Misery are a cult band hailing from the Land Of The Rising Sunn O))) and like mongrel offspring, they suckle at the teat of the sacrosanct forefathers of doom—Black Sabbath—yet have enough modern bite to appeal to the fans of sludge-encrusted degenerates like High on Fire. They also possess an obsession with all things murderous and base their lyrical inspiration on some of the most disturbed, deranged, and sadistic people to ever grace this planet. Church of Misery have made an underground career out of rattling the listener with mid-paced, blues-bruised riffs, coupled with brontosaurus-heavy bass lines and drum beats delivered with the intent of concussion. It is a tried and tested formula, yet Church of Misery come closest to matching Sabbath riff for riff since Sleep fell off their Holy Mountain.
Initially released in 2001, Master of Brutality had the blood-flecked face of serial killer John Wayne Gacy adorning the album cover. This reissue (in order to clear up any confusion as to the band’s main inspiration) now bears the mark of Sabbath’s Master of Reality as a blatant homage. The album begins with “Killifornia (Ed Kemper)”, its introduction emitting a dose of swirling, effect-laden feedback and unsettling spoken word samples from the mouth of the merciless Kemper. It sets a suffocating tone and adds a queasy sense of paranoia before the serpentine, wah-wah drenched bass line bleeds into a monstrous groove that reverberates around your skull. Negishi’s vocals on this track and the Southern-fried, doom-boogie of “Megalomania (Herbert) Mullin” echo the rhythmic charm of Clutch’s Neil Fallon, albeit dragged through the larynx of a demonic preacher who exists exclusively on a diet of glass and razor wire. It is a vocal approach which suits the lyrical subject matter and the production values of this album, which, even in a remastered state, still sounds raw-boned.
Look further into the album’s lengthy tracks; Church of Misery display a noticeable appreciation of the musical chemistry and interplay between Sabbath’s Butler and Iommi. This studious understanding can be seen on “Ripping into Pieces (Peter Sutcliffe)” and “Master of Brutality (John Wayne Gacy)”, as the bass dances in and out of Sabbathian riffage before coalescing to bludgeon in unison. Instrumentally, drummer Junji Narita’s heavy-handed approach provides the only weak link. His technique lacks the flair, intrinsic groove and sleight of hand engrained in the playing styles of the drummers of the ‘60s and ‘70s. This is no more apparent than on his lacklustre performance of the classic Blue Öyster Cult track “Cities on Flame”, which sits mysteriously in the middle of the album’s sequencing. This placement seems quite strange for a cover song; however, the thought behind its placing (after aquatic instrumental “Green River”) may be to act as an additional reprise from the sometimes overwhelming serial killer glorification.
Master of Brutality also contains three bonus tracks, all of equal weight and groove, giving you more doom for your dollar. The highlight is the tsunami of riffs that makes up “Candy Man (Dean Corll)”, a track that also appears on sophomore surge of recently reissued The Second Coming.
On The Second Coming, originally released in 2004, Church of Misery return to murderous business, yet expand upon the sludgy framework established by Master of Brutality. The Sabbath influence resides somewhat with Church of Misery exhibiting faint forays into psychedelia amidst the overt amplifier worship. An underlying Hawkwind influence lingers beneath the surface, albeit in succinct form without the 20 minute lysergic excursions, and rears its acid-drenched head on several tracks such as the introduction to “I, Motherfucker (Ted Bundy)”. The extreme use of panning and feedback-swells underscores a news report declaring Ted Bundy “one of the worst sex murderers of all time”, producing a hallucinatory effect. It’s another example of Church of Misery setting the scene and putting the listener off guard before unleashing the track’s main groove and hammering it into submission.
Interestingly enough, it’s the use of light and shade on “Red Ripper Blues (Andrei Chikalito)” that brings a sense of songwriting progression to The Second Coming; its dynamics make for a subtle shift from the primeval mugging of Master of Brutality. However, do not be fooled—this album contains as much doom roar as the debut. Just listen to live mainstays such as “Candy Man (Dean Corll)”, “Filth Bitch Boogie (Aileen Wournos)”, and “El Topo”. The intensity of the riffs and Neanderthal beats on these tracks coupled with severe album mix make for an uncomfortable yet ultimately exciting listen.
The production on The Second Coming (which has also been remastered) is more scything than Master of Brutality, as under-mixed cymbals crash like plates at a Greek restaurant and Negishi’s vocals are more visceral than before. Listen to the shards of feral screams right through this album; it’s likely to skin you alive—appropriate considering the lyrical inspiration. In contrast with the overpowering atmosphere are the considered solos that new guitarist Takenori Hoshi expels from his guitar; they come steeped in classicism with a blues bent, as they attempt to claw their way through the unforgiving mix (see “I, Motherfucker (Ted Bundy)”).
The reissues of Master of Brutality and The Second Coming arrive at an opportune time considering the current resurgence of the doom genre and the success of musical festivals such as Roadburn, which Church of Misery will be appearing at this year. It also provides ample opportunity for new fans to familiarise themselves with Church of Misery’s sadist doom ahead of their first American tour; something that Metal Blade and Rise Above are shrewdly aware of. However, by no means are these reissues an attempt to exploit the record buying public. Over the course of their run-time, Church of Misery have created an amalgamation of blunt lyrical themes, underpinned by brute force musicianship with Master of Brutality and The Second Coming providing an ample and just opportunity to (re)warp the ears of fans old and new. This group of Sabbath punks are highly derivative and visibly wear their influences on their tattered sleeves. This is not a negative appraisal, quite the contrary. With these reissues, Church of Misery prove beyond a reasonable doubt that imitation is in fact the sincerest form of battery.
We all know how critical it is to keep independent voices alive and strong on the Internet. Please consider a donation to support our work as independent cultural critics and historians. Your donation will help PopMatters stay viable through these changing and challenging times. Thanks everyone.