Breaking from the embracing arms of The Process Church of The Final Judgement sees Sabbath Assemblyreborn, emerging from their cocoon blinking into the light with fresh purpose and a redefining self-titled release. Although officially the bands fifth release Sabbath Assembly (Svart) really does sound like a new beginning for an act reinvigorated by pursuing a modified philosophy. Whether the freedom comes from stepping away from the scriptures of others, or through the musical progressions and developments they’ve chosen to make, nonetheless the evolution is welcome.
No longer tethering themselves to releasing the hymns of The Process Church, Sabbath Assembly sees nine wholly original compositions that, while occult in reference and dark in musical style, transposes their previous work into a new entity. Musically, while influences and styles are clearly rooted in yesteryear, the move to increase the presence of distorted guitars and the proliferation of NWOBHM breaks and passages amongst the Trouble-ed moments is a celebrated addition to their genealogy, meaning the band no longer sit under the “Occult Rock” umbrella, but embrace now their own, more distinctive, sound.
Jamie Myers adds a stronger, more dominant tone of Hammer Horror idiosyncrasy to her previous geniality, as quasi-ritualistic poetic intonations add to an overwhelming atmosphere of 1700’s witchcraft made flesh. Her new approach dovetails with the inherent upbeat catchiness of tracks ‘Confessing A Murder’, ‘Ave Sathanas’ and ‘Burn Me, I Thirst For Fire’, while Kevin Hufnagel’s 80’s influenced guitar work segues from Candlemass dripped doom-shaking to Satan (the band) esque gallops. ‘Only You’ teases a Mercyful Fate bolt, settles into a darkened brood, before racing to the end in a bounce of classic heavy metal riffery. Traditional metal solos enhance and embellish the album throughout, as do the melodic Witchfinder General touches and leads.
Taking an atmospheric turn for the latter third of the album means, dynamically, Sabbath Assembly feels a little strange; not quite tailing off, but as if emerging out the end of a night-time ritual into the stillness of the darkness before dawn as ‘Sharp Edge Of The Earth’ and the beautiful, folky ‘Shadows of Emptiness’ are reflective and breathy.
Of course this isn’t a “new band”, but neither is this a representation of previous ideology, either musically or philosophically. Whatever the impetus for the change in Sabbath Assembly, the culmination of the transformation is overwhelmingly positive in terms of their artistic growth.
Kevin Hufnagel is one of the brightest and best guitarists and creatives in the underground scene, if not in all of music. He ha been in demand as a performer and a producer for over 20 years. You know his work from his many bands: Dysrhythmia, Gorguts, Vaura, Byla and Sabbath Assembly too. However, over eight solo albums Kevin has explored new territory, free of the parameters typical genre-bands have to work within. Chris Tippell of Ghost Cult caught up with him via email to learn about his new solo album Kleines Biest and what makes him tick as an artist.
As well as the likes of Gorguts and Dysrhythmia, you also have several solo efforts. How long has Kleines Biest been in the pipeline?
KH: Kleines Biest took a total of 6 months to make. I recorded and mixed it alone in my apartment, using only guitar through some effects pedals. Then I abstracted a lot of those tracks, digitally, in Logic. It was quiet an obsessive endeavor. My girlfriend would often come home to me sitting in the dark with headphones on, having not eaten or showered all day. I felt I was onto something I hadn’t really heard before in guitar-based experimental music. I wanted to have this mixture of bizarre, otherworldly sounds generated by warping my guitar sounds as much as possible, but with moments of more traditional soaring guitar harmonies. At least that was the concept in the beginning, then the material kept getting stranger and stranger.
Gorguts feturing Kevin Hufnagel (far right) at MDF 2014, photo by Hillarie Jason Photography
It’s such a radical jump from the larger bands you’re known for, and even from other solo efforts like Ashland which still had obvious clean guitar throughout, whereas its much less obvious and distorted. What inspired this leap?
KH: Well, there’s no point in making solo albums that sound anything like your other bands, first and foremost. Regarding the difference between this one and Ashland (which is all baritone-ukulele by the way, not guitar); even though I had enough material to make another album in the style of Ashland, I thought that would be unexciting, to me and the listeners. Instead, I had the desire to make something really abstract and futuristic-sounding. It still retains the darkness that seems to pervade everything I do, giving some coherence album to album.
You mention contemporaries such as Tim Hecker and Gas in the press release for this album. Were such artists your inspirations for this project, and if so what was it about them that influenced you?
KH: Those artists mentioned in the press release were more the label’s (Handmade Birds released the cassette version) impressions of my material rather than actual influences on me. This question just made me check out Gas though, and I’m enjoying it as I type this. I would say musically for this record I drew from influences as disparate as Fennesz, John Cage, This Mortal Coil, various ethnic and industrial musics, and the guitar harmony work found in Fates Warning and Mercyful Fate’s early catalogs; a combination of some of my earliest, more traditional influences and later, more avant-garde ones.
Do you agree that Kleines Biest has a soundtrack quality, perhaps in a sci-fi/horror sense?
KH: Certainly. I would say ultimately when it comes to influences on my work, they are more visual than musical. With this album I found that when I started a musical idea, I would immediately envision a landscape or a scene. This vision helped guide the rest of the piece, and thus I would sculpt an accompanying soundtrack… basically bringing to life what I imagined I would hear in a dream if what I was envisioning visually was just that. I was also heavily into watching the TV show called Disappeared, which is about true missing persons cases. The eerie, unsettling nature of those stories, episode after episode, started to seep into my work as well.
Kleines Biest (and your other solo outings for that matter) is so far departed from metal, much more so than anything else you have done before. Do you think its stuff that people who know you primarily for Gorguts will be in to it or is it a different kind of crowd?
KH: I don’t really consider whether fans of my bands are going to like my solo stuff at all while I’m writing it. Fortunately, those who follow my bands tend to be open-minded types. Still, I feel it’s mainly only the die-hards who really get what I’m doing and support it. I would like to reach more of an audience outside the world of metal, but it’s tough when that’s what you’re primarily known for.
Is this kind of more ambient music something you would like to venture with further or is this a one off?
KH: I’ve been making ambient guitar music since the 90’s, so it’s nothing that’s new to me. I’ve already got another EP finished that’s ready to go. It’s a little less jarring than Kleines Biest, and is meant to be a companion piece to my ‘Polar Night’ EP from a few years back. Both will be issued together as one package, on cassette, later this year.
With touring with other projects, is there any plans to take this album out on the road or to do any shows for it, or is it just a studio project?
KH: Live I only play the solo acoustic compositions, so mainly stuff from Ashland and Songs for the Disappeared, as well as unreleased works. I haven’t figured out a way to perform the abstract, ambient material yet. So much of it is manipulated in the computer and layered in a way that I could never duplicate live, and I wouldn’t want to be one of those laptop guys that just presses play and pretends I’m doing something.
Do you focus on one project at a time, or switch between different things? How do you balance doing diverse projects?
KH: I’m involved in too many things to really just focus on one thing at a time. I usually split up my days, when I have the time, working on a variety of projects. Sometimes I will lean towards working on one more than the others if I’m really on a roll creatively, or there is a show/tour/recording coming up. It can feel overwhelming sometimes. These days I really need to be disciplined with documenting all my ideas sonically, as well as notating them in written form, because it gets to be too much for my little brain to remember everything.
What is in store for Kevin Hufnagel for the foreseeable future?
KH: Finish writing the next Dysrhythmia record, which I hope we can record this winter. Track the new Gorguts EP in October. Release my next solo record before the end of the year. Vaura is demoing new material currently, very different from our precious recordings. I’m also working with the band Sabbath Assembly now and our new record will be coming out in September on Svart Records. So expect a lot of new music coming from me in 2016.
I saw Slayer open for W.A.S.P. in a small town in Texas on the Reign in Blood (Def Jam) tour. Slayer was out of hand, I remember blacking out from being crushed in the mosh pit. And then everyone left when W.A.S.P. came on. Blackie Lawless was so pissed! It was the end of the bullshit hair-era and the dawn of thrash!
Olympia, WA metallers Christian Mistress will be hitting the road across North America in support of their upcoming third full length release To Your Death, out this fall via Relapse Records, with Sabbath Assembly and a September run with High Spirits and Savage Master. The new album was recorded at Louder Studios with Tim Green (Melvins, Earthless, Sleater Kinney) in April. Watch the music video for “Pentagram and Crucifix” below.
Jun 11: Hindenburg (Covenant Fest) – Vancouver, B.C. (with Ritual Necromancy, Spell, Rites of Thy Degringolade, etc.) Jul 10: Elbo Room – San Francisco, CA (with Sabbath Assembly, Alaric & Ails) Jul 11: Starlight Lounge – Sacramento, CA (with Sabbath Assembly) Jul 12: Garberville Theater – Garberville, CA (with Sabbath Assembly) Jul 13: Wisp House – Salem, OR (with Sabbath Assembly) Jul 14: Old Nick Pub – Eugene, OR (with Sabbath Assembly) Jul 15: The Highline – Seattle, WA (with Sabbath Assembly and King Dude) Jul 16: The Shakedown – Bellingham, WA (with Sabbath Assembly) Jul 17: Obsidian – Olympia, WA (with Sabbath Assembly and Eigenlicht) Jul 18: Rotture – Portland, OR (with Sabbath Assembly) Aug 15: Linda’s – Seattle, WA (with Black Breath) Sep 02: The Triple Rock – Minneapolis MN Sep 03: Red Line Tap – Chicago IL (with High Spirits) Sep 04: The Cactus – Milwaukee WI Sep 05: TBA (with High Spirits and Savage Master) Sep 06: The Earl – Atlanta GA (with High Spirits and Savage Master) Sep 07: TBA – Richmond VA (with High Spirits and Savage Master) Sep 08: Smiling Moose – Pittsburgh PA (with High Spirits and Savage Master) Sep 09: St Vitus – Brooklyn NY (with High Spirits and Savage Master) Sep 10: Ralph’s – Worcester MA (with High Spirits and Savage Master) Sep 11: TBA Sep 12: TBA Sep 13: TBA – Toronto ON (with High Spirits and Savage Master) Sep 14: TBA – Detroit MI (with High Spirits and Savage Master) Sep 15: TBA – St. Louis MO Sep 16: TBA – Denver CO Sep 17: TBA – Boise ID Sep 18: The Know – Portland OR
Fascinated with the teachings and the hymns of Process Church of the Final Judgment, David Nuss founded Sabbath Assembly as a tribute to this underground, avant-garde, practically unknown sacred music. Since the Church worshiped both Christ and Lucifer equally, they were outcasted from society, even by other fringe religious movements, such as Scientology which they shared some history with. Because they were disbanded by the late 70s, the hymns were thought to be lost to antiquity until Nuss discovered them and interpreted them for his records. Ghost Cult scribe James Conway connected with Nuss for an interview and received an account of this history, a glimpse into their genius vision, and examined Sabbath Assembly’s new opus Quaternity (Svart) as well.
When did you first become aware of the Process Church of the Final Judgment?
In 2009 I met original Processian Timothy Wyllie who showed me an advance copy of his book Love Sex Fear Death about his time in the Process.
How did the music of the church first affect you when you first heard it?
There was no music to hear, only sheet music from the hymns. The hymns had never been recorded because they were thought of as liturgical, rather than commercial. So our idea is that these two could meet – not commercial in the sense that we’re raking in the dollars, but in that the songs could be presented in the public marketplace rather than exclusively.
Do you have any input from current members of the Church on the recording and writing process?
There are no ‘current members’ because the Church fell apart in the mid 70s, and most people who were members then are not very public about it now because of the negative press the Church received. Timothy Wyllie, who was in the Church from its inception til it morphed to be an entity called “The Foundation Faith,” was a kind of ‘spiritual advisor’ on our first album, Restored to One, as was Genesis P. Orridge on our second, Ye Are Gods. Then we started getting some critiques from a guy called Anthony D’Andrea who says he was in a Boston Chapter of the Church in the 70s. He said we weren’t playing the hymns ‘as they were’ back in the day’ – which I’m sure is true. We’re doing our interpretation! So he played a couple over the phone for us, and those became ‘Lucifer’ and ‘The Four Horsemen’ on our new album Quaternity.
Can you explain a little about the fourth element; the nature of evil and how it relates to the Christian Holy Trinity?
I don’t think it does relate to the Trinity exactly. The founding Church fathers (they were all men) deliberately left aspects out of the formation of the original Christian doctrines and creeds. These guys were not psychologists creating a balanced and healthy way for people to live; rather they were creating an autocratic government that needed a ‘spiritual’ component for validation of authority. Christianity was more multi-faceted before these guys starting decided who was a heretic and who wasn’t, creating a faux “Orthodoxy.” The idea of four elements is much more pagan, that is close to how nature actually works – solar/lunar, masculine/feminine, four directions, four elements (air water fire earth). The 4 is more about balance and natural reality, rather than political manipulation.
How did the recording of Quaternity come about and how does it relate to your previous two releases?
This is the second recording with Jamie Myers. How has she fit into the band and how does her approach differ from previous vocalist Jex Thoth? (If at all)
This recording was specifically crafted for Jamie’s voice. She came in a bit late in the game on the Ye Are Gods recordings cuz the songs were already done, so she had to fit what was there. This time we built our sound around her; we are so grateful to have her in the band. We took months making demos and sending them back and forth to her (between New York City and Texas where she lives), not rushing anything, so we could craft each track carefully, giving them each a unique voice.
Restored to One, the album with Jex, was much more experimental in that she and I had been working with a huge variety of musicians in developing the songs, and the recording of the album was almost improvised with a couple of last minute hired-gun jazz musicians. And Jex was eager to get back to her own project. Now, Jamie and I are in this for the long haul, so we’re really working on a true band dynamic.
There are many guest performances on Quaternity. Can you describe how some of these came about?
Daron Beck has been Jamie’s friend and neighbor since they were kids, and we have both been long time admirers of his voice and his band Pinkish Black. Mat and Marja from Hexvessel are total cohorts in the world of ‘holy rock n roll” so including them was an obvious choice, which led to our subsequent tour.
You have performed on stage with several metal bands despite your music having no obvious metallic sounds. What kind of reaction have you had from metal audiences?
Metalheads love Satan, so anytime we sing about Satan they are happy. And Jamie hates singing about Jesus so we don’t really do that much anymore, ha. Even though our music doesn’t sound metal exactly, she and our guitarist Kevin Hufnagel (Gorguts, Dysrhythmia) and I were all born and raised on distorted power chords and double bass, so we’d like to think the spirit of metal is in there. If you check out what’s “metal” going back the last nearly 40 years there’s a pretty big variety so we are thrilled to be part of it’s ongoing development.
Is there a limited number of hymns for you to adapt on further recordings or will you be able to continue Sabbath Assembly with music inspired by the Church or similar?
The next album is going to be all original tunes, inspired by our time working with the Church, but completely separate from it.
Do you have a dream artist or band to collaborate with, that you have yet to?
Honestly we’re done collaborating. Our unit is so tight right now that we don’t need any extra assistance.
What touring plans, if any do you have on tap for 2014?
We are touring Northern Europe in May, beginning at the Heavy Days of Doom Town fest in Copenhagen on May 4th. See you there!
Why should readers of Ghost Cult check out Sabbath Assembly?
Our goal is to create beautiful and uplifting music that supports all your angels and demons. The intention is to be affirming of wherever you’re at.
Like a bat out of hell……Ghost Cult #18 is here! The new issue features none other than Down on our cover.We interviewed Jimmy Bower about the changes in the band and their amazing new EP, Down IV, Part II. Issue #18 also includes interviews with Lacuna Coil, Beastmilk, Sevendust, Sabbath Assembly, Kyng, Amenra, ReVamp, Lord Dying, Anciients, and Dragged In To Sunlight. We also have complete coverage of the legendary Roadburn Festival, and a recap the 16th annual New England Metal And Hardcore Festival. Plus concert reviews from the likes of The Dillinger Escape Plan, Carcass, Red Fang, Scale The Summit, The Ocean, & The Atlas Moth. We also have special feature with the late Dave Brockie, as well our largest section of album reviews to date. Made especially for your tablet device or smartphone! Check it out and tell a friend!Twice!
Dedicated to bringing to life the music of The Process Church of the Final Judgement, an obscure 70s religious movement that preached the necessity of worshipping evil as well as good to obtain spiritual balance, Sabbath Assembly is the vision of drummer Dave “Xtian” Nussand vocalist Jamie Myers. Performing original Process Church hymns as well as their own interpretations, the duo have faced accusations of being a novelty act that is the only logical conclusion of the current occult rock trend but they don’t appear to care one jot, as third release Quaternity (Svart Records) proudly declares.
The first thing that becomes apparent is that Myers has one of the most captivating and ethereal voices this side of Diamanda Galas as her otherworldly and sensual tones bathe you in golden light on opening track ‘Let Us Who Mystically Represent…’ which sets the scene nicely, aided by some haunting organ notes. The eerie acoustic folk of ‘Jehovah on Death’ features some captivating dual male/female vocals along with refined and dreamlike cello and strings and if you close your eyes, you’re right there in the congregation feeling the love of the Church wash over you in all its transcendental glory. Well not quite, but it’s a strong effort.
‘The Burning Cross of Christ’ is easily the finest song on Quaternity, a powerful and evocative folk number that allows Myers to sing passionately and without restriction. However it’s quite a light number and it’s not until the treble-heavy tones of ‘I, Satan’ that the darker side of SabbathAssembly is revealed and the teachings of the band take on a more tangible meaning. Unfortunately the goodwill generated is then tarnished by the eighteen minute long pretension fest that is ‘The Four Horseman’ which simply feels like a long and tedious afternoon in church rather than anything spiritually uplifting.
Not metal in the slightest, but truly a genuine piece of outsider music, Quaternity is an intriguing example of something that shouldn’t work at all, but somehow does. Whether they have God or the Devil to thank for that remains unexplained.