Born Under a Mad Sign by Church of MiseryRelease date: June 16, 2023
Label: Rise Above Records
Japan’s longest running doom-merchants Church of Misery return with Born Under a Mad Sign, their eighth full-length and fourth album released via Rise Above Records. With a well-earned status as cult legends within the doom and stoner metal scene, Church of Misery are answerable to no-one other than themselves at this stage in their career. Rather than reinventing the wheel they helped to create, their latest effort further cements their legacy as one of the finer bands in this genre.
Despite the significant amount of line-up changes over the years (bassist Tatsu Mikami has been the sole consistent member, with the remainder of the current band having joined in 2022), the band have broadly adhered to consistent sonic and lyrical themes. On the music front, Black Sabbath worship reigns supreme: crushing Iommi-inspired riffs pervade every song on …Mad Sign, punctuated by that iconic groove and swagger which characterised Sabbath’s classics. The first few songs follow this pattern: opener Beltway Sniper swaggers with a bluesy stomp, and the sparse, miasmatic riff in ‘Murder Castle Blues’ evokes the heavier moments of Sabbath’s Volume 4. Vocalist Kazuhiro Asaeda is on fine form, with his trademark growl growing ever closer to Gene Simmons at his most garbled.
In terms of lyrics, real-life serial killers and related sadists define the bulk of Church of Misery’s thematic output. Helped by interweaving vintage radio news broadcasts documenting the murders into songs, almost every track is themed around a specific historical killer. On this particular record, names such as Randy Kraft, H. H. Holmes, and Robert Christian Hansen as well as Waco cult leader David Koresh are all rather grimly name-checked. It’s a longstanding tradition with Church of Misery to fully or partially title their songs in this fashion, and wherever it falls on the ‘badass’ to ‘edge lord’ spectrum depends entirely on each listener’s perspective.
This record does have a number of less conventional elements which elevate it above much of its stoner/doom competition. Mad Sign displays a noticeable increase in audio fidelity when compared to the band’s previous output, much to the album’s benefit: the riffs remain groovy, momentous and fuzzy, but the hard edge of the usual muddy production has been removed. Although this runs the usual risk of alienating some of the ultra genre purists, this boost in production lifts the overall experience and adds a certain bass heft that these kinds of records regularly lose in the fuzz.
Further breaking with convention, this album features a stronger second half than its first.
‘Spoiler’ comes as a welcome change of pace, acting as something of a palate cleanser among the doomy haze. Bright keyboards accentuate the riffage and add an interesting sonic texture in the process, and the song manages to turn a bit funky by its conclusion. This leads on to ‘Come and Get Me Sucker’, which sweeps in with familiar Sabbath-inspired grooves before breaking into a hardcore-esque gang vocal chorus. This is as unexpected as it is welcome. Saving the best for last, the closing track ‘Butcher Baker’ represents the band’s most epic song on this album, with dynamic movements from its spindly post-punk intro building to climactic guitar shredding.
Over its 50 minutes, Born Under A Mad Sign delivers a near-constant stream of consistently excellent riffs and above-average songwriting for the genre. Although the obvious Sabbath obsession borders on imitation rather than flattery, Church Of Misery offers an engaging spin on the genre with some of the creative and production decisions taken on this record.