For the past two decades Tokyo’s Church Of Misery have melded classic Black Sabbath influenced doom with psychedelic rock under the stern guidance of bassist and founding member Tatsu Mikami. Over this time, the band has produced five full length albums and numerous split EPs of uncompromising music that primarily deals with serial killers, mass murders and the darkest corners of the human psyche, which they’ve taken round the globe including several memorable stops at the legendary Roadburn festival. This dedication has taken its toll on the band however and following the touring cycle for their most acclaimed album, the 2013 release Thy Kingdom Scum, vocalist Hideki Fukasawa, guitarist Ikuma Kawabe and drummer Junji Narita collectively quit, leaving Mikami the only remaining member of the group. Undeterred by this, the bassist announced that the band would be continuing, work had begun on the follow up and new members were to be recruited.
For those fearing that this would spell disaster for the band, it is worth remembering that Mikami has guided Church Of Misery with Steve Harris single mindedness since it’s inception, being the sole writer of the music and lyrics to this point. In fact a quick glance over their history will show you that they have been through an impressive 6 guitarists, 4 vocalists and 2 drummers without anyone particularly having a unique sound or style that’s contributed to the band’s status at this point. The one constant has been the bass sound and the themes of the songs. Tatsu might have had to rebuild the band (again) but the sonic vision remains the same.
And Then There Were None…, fans of the band will be pleased to hear, doesn’t veer too far from the sound of the previous albums. The big impact that’s noticeable though is the addition of Repulsion’s Scott Carlson on vocals; who not only steps up to front the band, he also handled the lyric writing duties, something previously unheard of. Here the former Cathedral bassist attacks the material with more than a passing influence from his previous band leader, as he channels his best Lee Dorien and seeks to tower venomously above each track as the newly assembled crew throw themselves with full force into the fray.
Opening track The Hell Benders creeps in on violent sounding samples and eerie notes before exploding with the swagger of lazy riffs awash with string bends as Church Of Misery come roaring back with trademark Sabbath heavy Doom and snarled lyrics about the crazed Kansas family. The track is bullish and unapologetic in its dark, plodding grind, blasting away all concerns about how Mikami’s new men would cope.
Similarly Make Them Die Slowly, inspired by the Acid Bath killer John George Haigh, continues the trademark theme of violence, serial killers and murder most foul as they give a passing nod to the intro of Iron Man, before evolving into a muscular stomp. On this, Blood Farmers guitarist Dave “Depraved” Szulkin and Earthride drummer Eric Little, showcase their skills to great effect as they work in synch with the bassist to create a loose jam that bludgeons, thrills and gives you moments to get lost in, especially when the solo kicks in.
What is fairly noticeable is the slightly English feel that Carlson has lent to the proceedings and this seeps through with its unashamed love of Sabbath and Cathedral. Even the lyrical topics seem to resonate with references, along with Haigh’s tale, there is Doctor Death, a song about Britain’s worst modern serial killer, Harold Shipman, which is also one of the stand out moments of the album.
Other highlights include the up tempo swagger of River Demon where once again Szulkin and Little trade blows to create an impressive wall of sound, with vibrant guitar, crashing cymbals and high hat work for Carlson to spit and howl over the top.
More samples usher in Suicide Journey where delicate string work and more samples provide a short bridge from the menacing bass fuzz heavy Confessions Of An Embittered Soul and the final work out of Murderfreak Blues. An apt title as any you could hear, and a mission statement for the Church Of Misery ethos, as the closing tunes builds from an almost spoken word nightmare to an anthemic ode to killing with luscious blues licks.
Church Of Misery may not have deviated too far from their template but the new members have breathed fresh life into, what many could have been seen as, a twitching corpse following the departure of so many members. Having seen the band on the last tour, hearing And Then There Were None… it doesn’t sound like Tatsu has lost a step; instead he has assembled a very competent set of musicians and penned one of their strongest albums since Master Of Brutality.
Scribed by: Mark Hunt-Bryden