April 17, 2019 Sabbath Assembly – A Letter of Red (Album Review)
Sabbath Assembly, the New York musical collective (by way of Texas), have recorded A Letter of Red, a fresh digest of songs scheduled for release April 19th through Svart Records. Featuring cover art from frequent collaborator Alex Reisfar, A Letter of Red offers eight tracks that range from slow vibrations to bass-thumping pop, from ethereal religious rites to Psychedelic Rock.
For anyone curious, the band take their name from the weekly meetings held by members of Process Church of the Final Judgment (often shorted to simply Process Church); a loose 1960s offshoot of the Church of Scientology. That tidbit of information provided, the band is led by David Nuss on drums, the sole original member, while weaving in weaves a thick tapestry of instrumentation Kevin Hufnagel and Ron Verod on guitars, and Johnny DeBlase on bass, punctuated with Jamie Myers; a singer whose voice mixes an icy cool monotone with the airy heights of a church choir soloist.
With their sixth overall album, they take yet another unique approach to the music. Kicking it all off, opener “Solve et Coagula” incorporates a percussive guitar sound that almost approaches shoe-gaze. The track was released to Revolver magazine this past Valentine’s Day and, fittingly, morphs the outdated chemical pursuit of alchemy into a positive metaphor for learning from human agony and suffering on the road to self-improvement. Myers is quite capable of different vocal timbres, but rarely takes the opportunity to do so in adjacent sequences, save for the acoustic progression in the latter stages. In the end, the result is a hypnotic vocal effect that changes with just enough frequency to keep one lobe in reality. Cryptic acoustic guitars entwine with nebulous psychedelic Seventies keyboards to further root the setting.
Then there is “Hymn of the Pearl,” a shadow title-track. Here the staccato guitars tracing the weary travels of one called home to his ancient home after “a letter of red” is sent by his ancestral tribe. This is while “The Serpent Uncoils” employs dueling guitars peppered by an Iron Maiden gallop drive, with lyrics exploring the lore of Ancient Egypt. The driving speed continues with “Worthless” while shifting focus to the pains and trials of adolescence and adulthood.
Wider and deeper topics, including current events such as the Syrian War and the effort of the United States and others against the forces of ISIS, also appear throughout the lyrical themes. The layered vocals of “Weighing of the Heart ” serve as a plodding introduction to the traipsing “Ascend and Descend,” which features an ’80s bassline that traces its fingers around a would-be Pop hit without taking the complete plunge.
Moving on, “From the Beginning” creates a soft crater for the closer and centerpiece of the album, “A Welcome Below.” Approaching eight minutes, this song follows the path of Nuss as he agonizes over his daughter, Marika Thunder, who falls into the trap of substance abuse at an early age. She eventually rises out of the depths of agony with the help of a plant medicine shaman; both women appear as themselves in the accompanying music video.
While the musical stylings of A Letter of Red may not be as diverse as the titles and topics, that could almost be the point; Nuss looks at the songs as a way of exploring the topics put forth by the Process Church, but without an outright inclination to recruiting members or glorifying the ideas and structure. The subtle repetition of musical themes within the songs lend themselves to the structure of a religious service, an obvious reference to the name taken by the band. Overall, the repetitions between the two serve each other well, and the entire album is an eye-opening experience for forces and topics both internal and external, international and personal. That is why Cryptic Rock is pleased to give Letter of Red 3.5 out of 5 stars.