Church Of Misery

Thy Kingdom Scum

Written by: AP on 23/09/2013 19:15:24

Despite releasing their debut album "Master of Brutality" over a decade ago (in 2001), Church of Misery first came into my attention two years ago by virtue of an enthralling concert at Loppen in the Christiania freetown of Copenhagen. It baffled me then to realise just how elusive the Japanese quartet remain, having established themselves a mere cult sensation in the stoner/doom underground but never broken into widespread recognition like some of their equally talented peers (such as Orange Goblin or Sleep), and released just four studio albums through their 18 years of existence. They were good, really good; and I suppose the sizeable turnout for that show was testimonial to their abilities as a band. But the fact that their name rarely appears in any sort of mainstream promotional context (here in Europe at least) has left them an exclusive treat for the diehard, the obsessively nerdy, and the well-informed. This new album, "Thy Kingdom Scum", for instance, appeared on my radar as a few days before its official release, as though from nowhere; and of the concert I heard only by chance, a week-or-so before it took place.

As ever, the subject matter of the album is not for the faint of heart: Church of Misery continue to explore their preferred topic of mass murderers and serial killers, giving "Thy Kingdom Scum" the likeness of some macabre slide show of homicide, necrophilia and torture, set against a backdrop of scorching stoner metal of the thickest, grooviest kind, with traces of doom and psychedelia edged into the palette as well. Assuming you are unfamiliar with the band and wanting comparisons, think of bands like Tombstone Highway, Trouble, Saint Vitus, Helhorse in their mid-paced stoner tracks, and of course the already mentioned Orange Goblin. There is a sense of blood thirst looming beneath the thick of it though, particularly in the fell singing style of Hideki Fukasawa, betraying a touchstone of insanity that is so integral to differentiating Church of Misery in what has grown, over recent years, to be a densely populated scene.

"Thy Kingdom Scum" opens with the troubling sample from a police news conference of "B.T.K. (Dennis Rader)" (in reference of course to the famous "Bind. Torture. Kill." ethos of this tenfold murderer, whose rampage in Wichita stretched from 1974 to 1991 before he was finally apprehended on February 25th, 2005 and sentenced to ten life sentences, or 175 years in prison). It's a harrowing tale, and those who know the story will remember in particular the graphic accounts of these murders, courtesy of Rader at his trial; so it is only appropriate that the soundscape of the song would reflect its nature. But, as tends to be the case with Church of Misery, and what I find most intriguing about the band, is that while the music is certainly heavy as lead, the tone is warm and at times even uplifting, with riffs that never sound as grueling as the thematic content.

This paradox is in effective display during the standout "Lambs to the Slaughter (Ian Brady/Myra Hindley)", which recounts the Moors murderers who sexually assaulted and killed five children aged between 10 and 17 years in and around Greater Manchester in the United Kingdom; and "Brother Bishop (Gary Heidnik)", musing on the kidnapper, torturer and rapist of six women in Philadelphia, PA between 1986 and 87. Not the most jovial topics; yet with the exception of Fukasawa's vocals, the song is no less sanguine than, say, "Dragonaut" by Sleep - in that blissful psychedelic sense that the most appropriate reaction to such music is to shut one's eyes, smile self-satisfactorily, and gently sway one's head. It could be that this blatantly controversial take on such misery is part of the reason Church of Misery still reside in the murky underground of this genre.

Indeed, the experience of listening to these songs is quite divisive, for one feels at the very least slightly at unease in deriving aesthetic pleasure from non-fictive atrocities. Yet at the same time, the songs are so pleasant on the ears and entrancing to the mind that their dismal lyrical substance seems hardly relevant. In fact, I propose to go as far as to say that "Thy Kingdom Scum" contains some of the finest material of its kind this year; expertly composed songs that check all the necessary boxes: it's relaxing, yet thought-provoking, brimming with soul, and bursting with skillful musicianship. It is, however, stoner doom in capital letters, so without prior initiation to the genre, you should not expect to find it to be immediately enticing. Just one of the songs, "One Blind Mice", clocks in at less than 5 minutes, while most of them cruise well past the six-minute mark, with lengthy segments occupied by jams that are probably best enjoyed under the influence of a psychedelic substance.

In that same sense there aren't a lot of individual moments that inspire awe, such as one riff, solo or chorus, on offer here; dragging the overall memorability of the album down somewhat. But in songs like "All Hallow's Eve (John Linley Frazier)" and the colossal "Düsseldorf Monster (Peter Kurten)", once that lead riff rolls in, or when one of those jams kicks in, they do so in an instantly captivating fashion that is guaranteed to force-project your listening toward the speakers and have you thinking, "Damn, that's awesome!" Now, I am not too well versed in Church of Misery's discography, so I will make no attempt at comparing "Thy Kingdom Scum" to their previous output; but in my humble opinion, this is some of the strongest stoner metal I've heard this year thus far, and certainly well worth giving a chance.

8

Download: Lambs to the Slaughter (Ian Brady/Myra Hindley), Brother Bishop (Gary Heidnik), Cranley Gardens (Dennis Andrew Nilsen)
For the fans of: Orange Goblin, Saint Vitus, Trouble, Tombstone Highway
Listen: Facebook

Release date 11.06.2013
Metal Blade Records

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