Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Church of Misery – Houses of the Unholy (Review)


May we all one day be fortunate enough to come to face doom.

When I was a boy the word “doom” solely referred to the iron masked, green hooded scientist-king of an obscure and fictional central European kingdom. Now to this writer, doom refers to the direct line of ancestors from Black Sabbath, Lord Baltimore, Witchery and to some extent Blue Cheer and Led Zeppelin. While modern doomsters draw liberally from their holy prophets their font of inspiration is the same: a louder, whiter version of the blues.

The blues have long been steeped in the occult. Take a journey down the Mississippi through swamps and out to the delta and you will find that history is sign posted with numerous examples of musicians who sold their souls to Satan, who died before their time and whose lyrics directly and indirectly equally reference murder, dislocation and evil deeds along with laments on love, poverty and longing. A half century later Black Sabbath, doom’s ground zero, reached through time and electrified the blues in a way at once familiar and yet much darker. Thus doom was created.

Over the weekend, I dusted off, put needle to groove and cranked the volume on my copy of Church of Misery’s Houses of the Unholy. I cannot remember the last time I listened to this album yet its excellence in genre mastery still rang out as clear (in spite of an ear infection currently oppressing this writer’s hearing – boo hiss!) as the first time. Houses is the perfect balance of Japanese (they are from Tokyo after all, not that you would know it) and Anglo-American sensibilities. Where Japanese rock and metal can tend towards shrill extremity (think grindcore with the treble maxed), Church of Misery temper this with a fat bottom end groove provided by sole original member and main songwriter, bassist Tatsu Mikami. Everything sounds as though it is on the verge of collapse not unlike the bombast of Blue Cheer flying off the rails in an improvised jam… but it never does thanks to Mikami’s chops.

Church of Misery’s assault on American Christian dominated monotheism differs from many of their peers. Mikami draws on infamous serial killers for inspiration. When asked about the why of drawing inspiration from this source he replied:

Psychedelic "Weed" trip etc.... It's ordinary and our band name "Church Of Misery" expresses it. Church [is a] symbol of Christianity, and Christianity is the base of the western world. Misery.....Church Of Misery means miserable Western world or [the] decline of Western World / sick of America, so I use serial killers as a symbol.

Quote taken from interview found at Metal Chaos

The album as a package is completed by an eight page booklet featuring various famous photos of serial killers referenced throughout. The photos are colourised and overlaid with text that openly refuses to draw a line between the utterings of the protagonists and the album lyrics. If you can find this on vinyl, get it. The booklet at twelve inch scale and the cool band pic which stretches vertically across the gatefold inside are worth the price alone – even for the non-doomster!

May we all one day be fortunate enough to come to face doom.


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