In times of upheaval is partisanship the answer? In a world of divisive political opinions and warring religious ideology, where should one stand? Hate cannot be combated with hate, it can only be effectively defeated with love and unity. Theologically and spiritually seeking balance in the world is the main aim of UK anonymous mystic merchants, Sermon, and they do so with their debut album, Birth Of The Marvellous (Prosthetic Records).
Musically the album wears its influences proudly on its sleeve but never descends into pale imitation. Instrumentally it shares a kinship of intricacy with Tool and Katatonia, with nods to the world of extremity in ‘Contrition’, and it has the vastness of ideation and scope of Schammasch and Porcupine Tree often swirling into the transcendentally ethereal. In this elegiac meandering the album never loses focus; a great boon to its cohesive nature ultimately making it a pleasure to digest. Vocally, their anonymous frontman is reminiscent of latter-day Mikael Åkerfeldt of Opeth fame, bringing an airy and contemplative flavour to proceedings.
The likes of ‘The Descend’ deal with all things theistic and monarchic. “The crowd bellowed with scorn, Place the crown of thorn” an obvious reference to Christ while the seemingly sardonic delivery of “[…] the loyal, gracious King”, hints at an implied disdain for those birthed into power. However, the tonality of the song doesn’t imply scorn or disgust, but rather reflexivity. Sermon’s modus operandi is one free of religious dogma, looking for balance between warring factions, and they certainly set their ideological case out on the opening track. This isn’t a call for deicide or a Republican state, simply an observation of the barbaric moments of human behaviour.
The album is lean and cohesively constructed. Even the longer songs, ‘The Drift’ and ‘The Preacher’ feel far shorter than their seven-minute run times, and this only speaks to intelligent, concise and focused songwriting. The songs never disappear into themselves, instead of growing and flourishing in scope and musical breadth in a manner always fervently exciting. Finale, ‘The Rise Of Desiderata’ flies through its eight minutes at a break-neck pace, ebbing and flowing between softly spoken nothings and ferocious gang chanting of Sermon’s scriptures. Its crescendo is well-earned and a blissfully cathartic release, again speaking to a mature and natural flair for song-craft.
Sermon’s debut album is nothing short of excellent. A cinematic and cohesive set of songs that feel like a whole rather than a collection of parts, the album should be experienced in one sitting rather than individual moments. Vast, cosmic atmospheres and dynamic songwriting makes this an undoubtedly ambitious album and a resounding success.
Though their aim of creating a thoughtful intersection for all beliefs may not be fully realised on this album, or distinctly translated through the music, it’s a terrifyingly good start. They are a band that demands your attention, and if you afford it to them, you will reap a beautifully satisfying reward.
8 / 10