Dangerous Minds pal, Adam Parfrey of Feral House infamy, sent me a remarkable CD a few weeks ago, called Restored to One by Sabbath Assembly and I wanted to highly recommend it to y’all. If any of what you are about to read sounds like it might be of interest to you, then trust me, I think it probably will be. You can buy a copy via Feral House.
There is a bit of a back story to the Sabbath Assembly project. The group got together to perform the actual hymns from the 60s apocalypse cult, The Process Church of the Final Judgement as part of a several city book tour/multimedia performance for Timothy Wyllie’s excellent insider’s history of the group, LOVE SEX FEAR DEATH (See my interview with Timothy Wyllie here). They did events in Los Angeles, Philadelphia, New York, Portland and Seattle. Not to imply they were some sort of occult Monkees, of course, but that’s I believe how this project came to pass. The New York ceremony was officiated by Genesis Breyer-P-Orridge, who has long been fascinated by the Process (and who wrote the introduction to the book).
From the Sabbath Assembly press release:
Restored to One is a modern response to the musical activities of a cult known as The Process Church of the Final Judgment, who used music to spread their visions of Gnostic reconciliation in a time of cataclysmic change. Sabbath Assembly has re-charged the original hymns of The Process Church and worked them into moving renditions that unite the trinity of rock, psychedelic, and gospel into one triumphant re-awakening.
The Process Church was an intensely creative, apocalyptic shadow side to the flower-powered ‘60s and New Age ‘70s. The influential group opened chapters in London, Europe, and across the United States. Dressing in black cloaks and walking the streets with German shepherds, they created their own intricately designed magazines, and promoted a controversial, quasi-Gnostic theology that reconciled Christ and Satan through deeper awareness and love…
So far, so good, right Dangerous Minds readers? It should sound pretty good, on paper, even, because it’s one of the most interesting albums of 2010.
To begin with, the “sound” of the recording is fairly stunning. It’s quite difficult to achieve a truly authentic early 70s rock sound, but the group, consisting primarily of The No Neck Blues Band’s Dave Nuss, San Francisco-based doom/psych singer Jex Thoth and Sunn O))) producer Randall Dunn perform ably in this regard. If someone played this CD for you and said “Hey, listen to this rad, witchy-sounding metal album from the early 70s that no one’s ever heard before” you’d not question it. (Although having said that, a typical rock snob like me might say “This sounds like Coven. Or Amon Düül.” Not that this is a bad thing, of course!)
Musically, Restored to One consists of earnestly rendered doom-folk, ominous proto-metal, gothy call and response gospel and other minor key favoring musical genres. Some of the 40-year-old lyrics are intensely devotional, others quasi-blasphemous. As you might expect, this being from the Process, the lyrics name-check Christ, Jehovah, Satan and Lucifer. They sing of GODS and not God. The entire project is charged with a special kind of energy. The performances are inspired, in a way that only religious music can be (save for Christian Rock, natch). Religious music has a different quality to all other types of music—I think that makes sense, right?—and the Sabbath Assembly project is infused with that soaring, ineffable quality. As with the films of Kenneth Anger, there is a beautiful evil at the center of the art form, and a lot of conviction behind what they are doing. As a listener, you feel it.
Then there is the voice, the heavenly pipes of Jex Thoth, possessor of a powerful set of lungs and a uniquely retro sounding singing voice. I know the concept of having a “retro” voice seems absurd, but once you hear her voice, you’ll know what I mean by that. Overall the Sabbath Assembly sound does remind me of Coven, which is an obvious comparison, but an appropriate one, nevertheless, but Coven fronted by “Mama Lion” Lynn Carey. If this sounds even remotely like something you’d like, I urge you to check out this unique recording.
Above, a live performance of Glory to the Gods in the Highest (which more or less starts at nearly 3 minutes into this clip) my favorite song on the album.