Monday 8 June 2015

Church - Unanswered Hymns' (Album Review)

Album Type: Full Length
Date Released: 12/04/2015
Label: Transylvanian Tapes | Battleground Records

‘Unanswered Hymns’ CS//DD//LP track listing:
1) Dawning (19:16)                 
2) Stargazer (11:45)
3) Offering (13:43)

First of all I must confess to having a real weakness towards female-fronted doom metal. There is just another quality of a band merging feminine vocals into a backdrop of bone-shattering riffs. Church are a fine five-piece from Sacramento who make such a formula work really well for them. The small label – Transylvanian tapeswho put out this debut (look for a vinyl  release coming early autumn) have dubbed it ’crushing, hypnotic, doom metal’. Rest assured ’Unanswered Hymns’ is indeed all those things and furthermore, highly atmospheric at all times with the more quiet segments carrying an aura of the funeral sort.
Quite relentless in its presentation and making no compromises, Church brings three compositions that all pass the 10-minute mark. Even if you refrain from checking out the track listing, it will quickly become clear that you’re dealing with a band that respect the long-form. When the outsef riffs of the 19-minute(!) starting track ’Dawning’ come in, threatening to breach the very crust of the Earth, you’ll have a good idea of what you’re going to be subject to. There’s just no escaping these sinister mammothian abrasions. After the initial tone has blown the the doors wide open, the haunting vocals don’t stay far behind and carry over together into a pacing grumbling section. From what I’ve gathered, the vocals seem to be a shared duty between a male and female member and this is really where the band stands out. Chris Lemos’ masculine growls mix perfect with the slightly more vulnerable wails of Eva Rose, (and I do mean very slightly, as she brings one dark and nebulous timbre).
The middle of ’Dawning’ fades out into an interlude where the previously ghastly vocals suddenly shift to sing one delicate and disconsolate melody, so echo-laden you’d think yourself to be amidst a dreary elven forest hearing the high priestess croon her soft yet eerily unsettling song. Perhaps the cover art is partly at fault here but ’Unanswered Hymns’ gives off a strong woodsy vibe and it’s never stronger than during this quiet segment. The guitar notes that fill the whole proverbial canopy are quite tranquil so the bleakness is never overbearing though. A melancholic guitar solo evoking a mossy desolate landscapes follows all the way through and finally develops into an absolutely epic towering crescendo. At the end of the interlude, the sheer sonic size of the guitar strums grows humonguous and the vastness becomes unfathomable. It’s all delivered in such a graceful manner with the singing and guitar solos perfectly complementing each other, painting one high contrast canvas and forming one absolutely gorgeous whole. The band implements a lot of interesting shitfs throughout, as at the input of an unexpected guitar stroke the track shifts its course yet again to an almost upbeat tone, unleashing a surge of guitar shredding. And at the very end of the track, adorned with feral growls, the band again returns to the opening riffs that grow even more ferocious by the close.
’Stargazer’ features a gorgeous intro that stops you dead in your tracks. It introduces one very simple yet bedazzling rhythm along with an atmosphere that is thoroughly forlorn, bringing one absolutely consummate emotion with every remaining drop of agony packed into it. The vocal delivery finds itself amidst one pulverizing backdrop with the bass rumbling in the background, interchanging with some absolutely epic guitar glaciers. It soon grows into something else altogether though, bringing harmonies in the middle that are quite comforting even. The alteration between clean vocals and dirty growls that we were given a taste of earlier is much more prominent here, with Eva bringing one thoroughly enveloping and wistful melody. Screeching that comes in to round out the track is amplified  by an absolutely epic guitar solo, the groove of which one can’t help but sink into. This elegiac finale seems to last for ages but, strangely enough, not a moment too long. It’s really quite baffling how the bands seems to have it all down to a tee, knowing full well when to pull you up and when to set you down again.
’Offering’ might catch you off-guard with its punch-in-the-face-blaring-riffs approach and vocal hooks channeling the catchy hollers of Acid King’s Lori. The latter never being a bad thing, together it translates into one much menacing tone than on previous tracks. Whereas the band previously stayed relatively restrained and only hinted at what so far lurked only amidst the forest shadows, the last track will reveal that it was all to bely their truly malignant-sounding core. The last track sounds murky throughout – think Windhand but even hazier, even more slowed down and with a lot less headroom. Church have similarly achieved this with quite succint means. The alternation of singing/growling are all there along with precisely-timed drumming that combines with  repetitious riffage into one mesmerizing trance-inducing mixture. It all builds up int the tracks’s conclusion which is a wraithen, delirious and distraught attempt at shattering open the ground to bring out all manner and form of shadowy spirits from the dark fold and immersing itself into absolute sonic destruction. A foul and delirious cataclysm that truly feels larger than the band itself, as if they could effortlessly dole this sound out to no end. It’s all so merciless and feedback-drenched to the point of paralyzation, ultimately leaving you nothing short of being utterly relinquished and stupefied. An absolutely insane culmination.
’Unanswered Hymn’s is drawn-out and patience is indeed a virtue here but it’s all so well-considered that the band never fails to deliver on its promises. The tone of the album, also with reference to the title, stands like a requiem, which to one can’t help but wonder that it was devoted. Whatever the catalyst or impetus, Church’s vision is stirring and has made for one thoroughly grandiose journey. Considering the amount of sun where they originate from, it all seems slightly unlikely to have an album such as this but the band seem to have found one endlessly deep and dark well to inspiration from. With a very solid debut elegantly combining all the main elements of a great doom record, Church truly might already have themselves one of the genre’s opera magna.
Words by: Joosep Nilk
’Unanswered Hymns’ is available on cassette and DD here
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