Thursday, 12 July 2018

ALBUM REVIEW: Churchburn, “None Shall Live… The Hymns of Misery”

By: Mark Ambrose

Album Type: Full Length
Date Released: 13/07/2018
Label: Armageddon Shop

 Churchburn return with more relentless nihilism, it is apocalyptically ambitious and the music is as rabidly unholy as their name would suggest.

“None Shall Live… The Hymns of Misery” CS//CD//DD//LP track listing

1. Vexare
2. Lines of Red
3. Misery Hymns
4. Authorized to Cleanse
5. Before the Inferno
6. Relieved by Burning Lead
7. Kaustos

The Review:

In 2014, Rhode Island’s Churchburn unleashed “The Awaiting Coffins” – one of the heaviest, most auspicious debuts in sludge.  With a pedigree that included members of Vital Remains and Grief, the accomplished musicianship wasn’t a surprise – it was the sheer fucking menace that did me in.  The riffs, the production, the punishing rhythms and drum work all coalesced into one of my favorite go-to records.  But with four years and a lineup change, there was, perhaps, the troubling thought that Churchburn would be another one of those miraculous one-and-done projects.  Thankfully, with “None Shall Live… The Hymns of Misery”, Churchburn returns with more relentless nihilism than I’d thought possible.  If anything, this is more apocalyptically ambitious, with consistent audio references to natural disaster: waves crashing, winds shrieking, and always the agonized mass of human voices.  And as for the music… Well damn, it’s as rabidly unholy as their name would suggest.

From the seething, crackling ambient nightmare tones of “Vexare”, Churchburn establish “…The Hymns of Misery” as a production layered with pure filth.  The repeated, dirge like riff is vaguely industrial and overtly terrifying – I imagined planetary siege engines, powdered bones trailing behind, crackling through a domain of carbonized waste.  After that intro, the chiming, watery lead guitar of “Lines of Red” belies the real songwriting chops underneath the Churchburn chaos.  There are hooks and harmonies that symphonic posers would love to copy, but these moments are all the more stellar when juxtaposed with the fried, chugging rhythm lines.  Dave Suzuki’s demonic vocal delivery is uniformly unhinged, conveying pure rage at one moment and abject despair in the next.  And the guitar solo on this one is sheer death shred mastery, before the finale of ignorant headbanging perfection.  The contrasts between the ethereal (clean guitar lines and spare, distant samples) and thick, crushing dissonance makes “Misery Hymns” another compelling trek through hopelessness; the plodding trudge that gives way to an epic finale is one of my favorite moments on record this year.

If there’s one element self-appointed “brutal” bands sometimes lack, its virtuosity.  In that respect, Churchburn are astounding outliers, not only for their shred and groove bona fides, but their facility with genre warping and tonal shifts.  “Authorized to Cleanse” and “Before the Inferno” center around guitar pyrotechnics, but they are so tonally distinct it’s mind boggling.  While “…Cleanse” glides between harmonies and neo-classical progressions, and borders on elegant black metal bombast, “…Inferno” is more distinctly avant garde, using Eastern scales on top of groove oriented heavy blues sludge.  Beneath this riff-worship, the rhythm section is relentless, smashing out blast beats, looser classic doom, tribal sounds and inhuman industrial beats, rooted by thick, gnarly bass tones.  “Relieved by Burning Lead” serves as the apotheosis of the record, opening with a haunting spoken word intro before launching into a chilling anti-human anthem.  The winding melodies, throat shredding vocals, double kick onslaughts, even frantic basslines (!) – each time I queue up this track I can feel my blood pressure rising, my BPM slowly sliding into the red.  It’s an ordeal of a song, but I find myself blasting it over and over again, as if I can somehow inure myself to its corrosive power.  Closing track "Kaustos" acts as a parallel of “Vexare” – another dark slab of instrumental metal that is somehow more mournful than the industrial inhumanity of Vexare.  This feels like a requiem.

“None Shall Live… The Hymns of Misery” is available here

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