We’ve been talking a lot lately about the revival in traditional metal and the rise of bands that embody the blues-doom spirit. Consequently, we’ve had the conversation about whether it’s fair to constantly make Black Sabbath the default analog for all these bands, or whether that’s simply the lazy way out. In the case of Church of Misery, we see a traditional doom band from Japan who has made it their sole career aspiration to be compared to Sabbath, openly idolizing the Birmingham legends and simultaneously declaring themselves “unworthy” of their metal gods. So, it strikes me as impossible to compose an able critique of Church of Misery and their new album “Thy Kingdom Scum” without saying they ‘sound like Sabbath.’
But is that even accurate? It seems ironic that the one band that is appropriate for Sabbath analogies has composed a record that makes those comparisons suspect, but that’s where we are. While the influence of the Sab Four is present, that’s hardly the only input on Church of Misery at this point.
The first half of “Thy Kingdom Scum” sounds much more like an early Clutch record, focused as much on gritty rocking as it is on mood-setting doom. But let’s be clear, that is in no way a bad thing, as “Brother Bishop” stands out on the first half as the track to beat. The song grooves along in that swampy way that so floated the initial Clutch and Fu Manchu albums.
It’s not until the last couple songs, beginning with “All Hallow’s Eve” that we really see Church of Misery bleed Black Sabbath, but not the Sabbath that comes to mind first. Much as the legends evolved later in their career for “Vol. 4” and “Sabotage” so too Church of Misery has adapted their sound later in their career. These last songs have punch and improvisation coursing through their guitar veins. At this stage, it’s always welcome to hear an artist who plays what they think feels right as opposed to what mechanically should go next and to that end, Church of Misery is second only to The Admiral Sir Cloudesley Shovell in terms of being able to conjure something out of nothing, or at least make something fit in a place it shouldn’t. That alone makes “Thy Kingdom Scum” a worthwhile listen.
Lest we think everything here is a copy of something else, there are some qualities of “Thy Kingdom Scum” that are solely Church of Misery. The band’s ever-rotating cast of characters has hampered continuity through the years, but the theme of writing lengthy, meaty songs about serial killers remains. So for all their obvious influences, Church of Misery remains their own entity with their own nearly twenty-year legacy. As a side note, we are also presented with the return of vocalist Hideki Fukasawa, who tries to sound like Phil Anselmo, which has mixed results (and also presents us with the somewhat horrifying thought of there being two Phil Anselmos.) His raspy growl doesn’t quite carry the spirit of doom like we’ve come to expect, and occasionally clashes with the smooth rhythms beneath. Still, his vocals (and I mean no disrespect by saying this,) are the smallest part of Church of Misery’s album, so their impact is lessened in the face of the groove.
While “Thy Kingdom Scum” does some things very well, and it’s always laudable to hear a capable band on a mission to product another solid effort that justifies their following. I don’t know if this album is transcendently good, but it’s quite well done and is a pleasant listen and fine diversion. I know this may sound like high heresy, but there’s a real chance that “Thy Kingdom Scum” will be both superior and more memorable than the upcoming Black Sabbath record. Give Church of Misery a summer spin and see if you like it.