Sabbath Assembly - Restored to One [Ajna / Feral House - 2010]When alt publishers Feral House took to the road to promote their new book of insights from former members of The Process Church of the Final Judgement they wanted to avoid the usual staid bookstore readings and do something more aligned with the maligned cult’s practices. The ensuing roadshow attempted to recreate aspects of The Process’ Sabbath Assemblies that included oral recitations (this time carried out by the likes of Adam Parfrey, Genesis P-Orridge and Lydia Lunch) and performance of some of the hymns developed by the Church. For the latter, vocalist Jex Thoth and drummer Dave Nuss (No-Neck Blues Band) formed the nexus of the travelling band that sought to recreate these hymns despite the absence of any recordings from the mysterious gatherings of the late Sixties. ‘Restored to One’ features nine of these appropriated hymns whose seriously catchy revitalisations have been naturally captured by Randall Dunn (previously producer of Sunn o))), Earth and Boris).
Working from the original sheet music, Sabbath Assembly curiously elected to evolve the hymns away from the stiff amateur choir remembered by former members as similar to a Catholic Mass, and instead explored the seductive, psychedelic pop style that was emerging in parallel to The Process, particularly on the west coast of America. So although lacking authenticity, the songs are a faithful blend of blues, beat folk, Eastern ragas and acid rock indicating a thorough, studied approach to the popular music of the time. It’s a style that’s been around for over four decades, becoming synonymous with both the counterculture hippie movement and its decline blamed on the potent mix of mind-altering drugs and an occult revival with The Process Church heralded as a key perpetrator (mainly due to dubious links with Charles Manson).
Jex Thoth’s voice is central to the album and manages to be both smoky and saccharine as it sincerely sews The Process’ words into strong harmonious melodies firmly supported by a twanging guitar, groovy bass, tight drums, and an ominous organ. So familiar is the sound, works like Jefferson Airplane’s ‘White Rabbit’ (particularly on ‘Hymn of Consecration’), Russ Meyer soundtracks, and more recent revivals by the likes of Broadcast, Stereolab and even Andrew Lloyd Webber’s rock operas of the seventies all come to mind at some point throughout the album. And the lyrics, being the only true remnant of the original ceremonies, are like most hymns: mainly dull, designed to inspire congregations to “pledge your voices at the sky” and “join in the worship of God”. That would be the case except for the apocalyptic tone portending Armageddon (as vividly voiced on the gospel-styled ‘Glory Hallelujah’) and the sharing out of devotion to not just God or Christ, but also to Satan and Lucifer (as the call and response of ‘Judge of Mankind’ clearly demonstrates). These aspects confirm some of the central theological themes of The Process Church where Jehovah, Satan and Lucifer were seen as opposing archetypes of human reality whose unification would bring about the final judgement at the end of the world.
Until then, while social historians may find the gregarious grooviness as impure evidence, the rest of us pop pickers can turn on, tune in and drop out to these apocalyptic sermons revived with a seriously catchy sound of the decaying Age of Aquarius.Russell Cuzner