Japanese doomsters Church of Misery – who made a huge impact on UK audiences when they toured with Cathedral in 2010 – were all set to release their debut album, the aptly titled ‘Volume 1’, back in 1997 when they developed what many might see as a decidedly unhealthy interest in serial killers and decided that was all they wanted to write about (and that’s basically about all they have done ever since). The resulting first two full-length offerings, originally released back in 2001 and 2004 respectively (the planned first opus was shelved and didn’t see the light of day for another decade), have now given the full expanded reissue treatment on both sides of the Atlantic thanks to a collaboration between the Metal Blade and Rise Above labels.
The body count on ‘Master of Brutality’ quickly mounts up, as the quartet tackle subjects as gruesome as the giant necrophile Ed Kemper, ‘Yorkshire Ripper’ Peter Sutcliffe, Herbert Mullin, John Wayne Gacy and ‘Candy Man’ Dean Corll, who between them accounted for almost 100 victims. The death toll on the follow up is no less horrifically impressive, as they turn their attention to the likes of the infamous Ted Bundy, the Russian mass murderer Andrei Chikatilo and Aileen Wuornos: somewhat ironically, with their own country’s blood-soaked history, CoM look solely to the west for their subject matter…
The music spread across these two companion albums – they’re not a package or ‘concept’ as such, as, although they do share a common theme, they are two distinct yet interwoven but complete releases in their own right – is similarly as dark and evil as the material which they tackle. ‘Master of Brutality’ kicks off with ‘Killifornia’, which itself opens menacingly with the words of Ed Kemper – who started his killing spree at the age of 15 by murdering his grand-parents, then dismembering six female hitch-hikers and finally knocking off his mother, who then capitated, finishing the act by performing oral sex with her head… pleasant chap (he’s currently awaiting his latest parole hearing, after 39 years behind bars). It then kicks in with a thoroughly brutal bass riff from Tatsu Mikami, that bears a heavy Sabbath influence but is about ten tonnes heavier and certainly a damn sight more evil: the riff is picked up by the extremely down-tuned guitar of Tomihiro Nishimura, which adds to the overall feeling of foreboding, before Yoshiaki Negishi spits and growls his vocals like a demon exploding from the depths of hell (or a serial killer’s soul).
‘Ripping Into Pieces’ and ‘Megalomania’ –the former interspersed with recordings of news reports about the capture of Peter Sutcliffe – continue the dark, heavy, nasty aural assault, with the evil of the subjects seeming to seep from every note. The instrumental ‘Green River’ offers an almost pleasant, psychedelic respite, before a surprisingly suitable stoner version of Blue Oyster Cult’s ‘Cities On Flame (With Rock ‘n’ Roll’), which in itself may seem an odd choice of song amid the rest of the collateral on offer, but is strangely apt in the circumstances. The original version of the album finishes off with the epic title track, about John Wayne Gacy, which again is built on a frighteningly heavy distorted bass and guitar riff and is a glorious, although blood-soaked, slice of stoner doom.
The three bonus track add a frightening 33 minutes to the original running time (just over 40) and fill a worthy gap for those wishing to plug the gaps in CoM’s prodigious back catalogue: ‘Boston Strangler’, from the follow-up EP of the same name, is actually quite catchy and again wears the band’s Sabbath influences very heavily on their sleeves (something also evidenced by the repackaging of the artwork, which replaces the original image of a blood-spatter Gacy with a blatant ‘Masters of Reality’ rip-off – obviously itself taking its influence from the band’s own pastiche with the cover of the belatedly released ‘Volume 1’), while ‘Candy Man’ is an earlier working of a song later re-done for the follow up album: closer ‘Lucifer Rising’ – a jazz-style workout loosely based on an excerpt from the soundtrack of the Kenneth Anger film of the same name – is a pure collector’s only addition.
‘The Second Coming’ picks up exactly where ‘Master…’ left off, opening in a wail of distortion and feedback behind news reports about the hunt for and subsequent arrest of Ted Bundy before the bombastic main riff of ‘I, Motherfucker’ kicks in: the most immediately noticeable difference between the first two albums is the much more forceful performance of drummer Junji Narita – maybe he threatened to go on a killing spree of his own, but his superb sticksmanship very much comes into its own and is more obviously technical and to the fore than the mere beat-keeping role he appeared to keep on the ‘debut’.
Again, the bass lines in particular take their influence very much from those of Geezer Butler, although the influence of later counterparts such as Pentagram, Candlemass and Cathedral also creep into the mix. And, again, there is a heavy emphasis on the use of distortion to build layer upon punishing layer of sound. ‘Soul Discharge’ is almost thrash in its use of speed, but contains enough doom and gloom about to ensure that one foot is still very entrenched in the mud and blood of its subjects: it also features a glorious rolling bass riff from Tatsu and a superbly complimentary solo from Takenori Hoshi (Tomihiro left CoM almost immediately after the release of ‘Master..’), and the new guitarist’s touch is overall lighter and jazzier than his predecessor, especially on the likes of the sprawling, psyched-out ‘Red Ripper Blues’ (about the most prolific of the killers featured on this duo of releases, the Ukrainian-born Andrei Chikatilo, who was responsible for at least 52 murders in Russia), which evolves into the sort of stoner blues the likes of Clutch would be proud of, and the menacing powerhouse ‘Filth Bitch Boogie’, which would easily stand alongside any heavy electric blues song produced from the late ‘60s onwards.
CoM have always been known for their interesting choice of covers, and two are included here: from the original pressing comes ‘One Way… Or Another’, originally recorded by US supergroup Cactus and a challenging workout for any band – but one which they pull off with aplomb, especially Junji, who nails Carmine Appice’s original drum work perfectly; less effective in an extended version of Brit power trio May Blitz’s ‘For Mad Men Only’ which suffers by being dragged out to almost 13 minutes – like the bonus material on the earlier offering, one for purists only.
So, the final verdict? Well, these are not easy albums to listen to, particularly in light (is that the right word in these circumstances?) of the subject matter, and some of the tracks suffer by being overlong. However, the musicianship is absolutely stunning throughout and the production (it’s not clear if they have been remixed, remastered or re-whatever-ed) brings out each of the performances effectively and in a way which ensures that, overall, these are essential classics of the stoner doom genre (although you may want to leave the bonus material out of that conclusion).
‘Master of Brutality’ – 8.5 / 10
‘The Second Coming’ – 9 / 10
Church Of Misery play Desertfest on April 7 and Bristol’s Fleece and Firkin (with Orange Goblin) on 8 April.