Monday, August 10, 2015

…here lay the tattered King: SABBATH ASSEMBLY – ‘Sabbath Assembly’

Throughout the band’s six year existence Sabbath Assembly have released four albums with an ever-changing group of musical collaborators. Despite the fluid lineup, the band—the brainchild of drummer David Christian (aka Dave Nuss of No-Neck Blues Band)—has remained consistent in its dedication to musically (re)interpreting and consequently spreading the hymns of The Process Church of the Final Judgment. Until now. Though the band’s 2013 album Quaternity marked the emergence of original material (inspired by Processsian ideas) intermingled with Process Church hymns the band’s forthcoming self-titled LP, their fifth overall, establishes Sabbath Assembly’s independence from Process Church ideology. With ties severed, Sabbath Assembly have decidedly turned their collective attentions toward heavier pastures. Long gone, for the most part, are the pastoral, acoustic laden compositions in favor of what can be best described as occult hard rock and heavy metal.

The change in overall sound should not be surprising as Sabbath Assembly have often flirted with heavier moments as attested by “I, Satan” from Quaternity, and, to a lesser extent, “And the Phoenix is Reborn” from their debut, Restored to One. With Sabbath Assembly, the band has almost exclusively foregone the psychedelic flourishes that were in abundance on their Jex Thoth fronted debut, Restored to One, and the gospel inclinations of their entire catalogue in favor of straight-up traditional heavy metal. Sabbath Assembly have certainly carved out a unique niche with their past endeavors so an abrupt change in both songcraft and inspiration can understandably be met with resistance. To Sabbath Assembly’s credit they make the transition quite gracefully and have recorded a solid, occult themed album.

The dusky vocals of Jamie Myers are well-suited for the heavier aspects of Sabbath Assembly and remain, as always, a consistent highlight of the band’s music. She was often able to imbue her voice with both fragility and grace on the hymn-like material of the band’s previous albums. With the heavier compositions Myers often recalls those moments of grace and fragility, but the majority of her vocals are appropriately hardened and more powerful. “Ave Satanas” best represents her range as she effortlessly reaches angelic heights contrasted with moments of gritty vitriol.

Musically, Sabbath Assembly have crafted an album that is both dark and catchy with nods to 70’s and 80’s heavy metal. The recurring lead guitar intros of “Only You” and “The Firey Angel of Desire” recalls the irrefutable heavy metal hooks of Glenn Tipton and K.K. Downing during Judas Priest’s decades-spanning prime. “Only You” also captures the band at their moodiest as the song ebbs and flows between moments of dreamy calm and up-tempo rock. “The Fiery Angel of Desire” has moments reminiscent of Uli Roth-era Scorpions and is accentuated by some of Myers’ most beguiling vocal melodies.

The closest that Sabbath Assembly comes to the softer, hymn-like atmospheres of previous albums can be found on “Sharp Edge of the Earth” and the closing track, “Shadows of Emptiness.” “Sharp Edge of the Earth,” begins as a somber, folkish number accented with viola. Near the midway point it picks up to a galloping pace and remains one of the most affecting tracks of the album. “Shadows of Emptiness” is by far the most delicate track and works effectively as an album closer. Gentle acoustic guitar is accompanied with viola to support the Myers’ performance which shifts between delicate croons and soulful wails.

With their forthcoming full-length Sabbath Assembly have successfully reinvented themselves. While their previous four albums have loomed under the shadow of The Process Church of the Final Judgment their emergence from beneath that specter has yielded impressive results. The band’s shift in style is not completely unsurprising and their predilection for occult themes is understandable due to their fascination with bringing the hymns of The Process Church into the 21st century. Despite the shift in style Sabbath Assembly is an impressive heavy metal album that is both engaging and full of hooks.




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