Since Sabbath Assembly‘s inception six years ago they have released four full-lengths with the purpose of performing the hymns of the Process Church of the Final Judgement. Each release has been marked by mixes of acoustic passages and gospel tinged instrumentation which is what makes this fifth album, Sabbath Assembly, such a departure. Along with shedding the Processian ideas and going with original material, the band leans heavily on traditional heavy metal to create a sound that, at times, sounds bigger than ever thought possible.
This album’s sound shouldn’t come as a complete surprise, as they have touched on this style before. I’m referring specifically to “I, Satan” from Quaternity (2014) and select tracks from their 2010 release Restored To One. The band makes this transition seamlessly, as it really should with the likes of Gorguts alum Kevin Hufnagel on guitar and the talented drummer, and founder, David Christian mixing it up on “Burn Me, I Thirst For Fire.” The guitar passages are, at times, furiously paced while the drumming is fluid, switching time effortlessly and allowing for large spaces in the otherwise heavy-handed delivery.
The infectious hooks on “Only You” recall the glory days of Judas Priest while “Ave Satanas” recalls mid-career Iron Maiden, specifically in the uptempo, guitar heavy moments of the song. Nowhere is the occult aspect the band has mined all this time more present than on “Ave…”, with the wide vocal range of Jamie Myers and her trademark smoky sound, the occult flows fluidly like a stream. Moving on, the lead guitar work in “The Firey Angel of Desire” is some of the best on the album, driving and catchy with a low punch to it. If by this point there are any thoughts of this album being ‘retro’, this track and the instrumentation on display pulls that completely off the table. It may sound old, but in reality is new and full of life.
I can see where this shift in sound may be galvanizing to long time fans of the band. But upon a deeper journey into the album even the old guard should find plenty to love. The first half of “Sharp Edge of the Earth” is acoustically driven and Jamie sounds more in line with past releases. Closer “Shadows of Emptiness” is entirely in this same manner but not as uptempo, rather a cross between singer-songwriter and gospel.
Even though the album ends on an emotionally somber note, Sabbath Assembly has, in grandiose form, reinvented and re-imagined themselves and, at least for me, it is a welcome change. Particularly with the way they chose to do it, with searing compositions so reminiscent of the metal warriors of days past. The triumph here is, it all sounds unforced and as if this was the plan from the beginning.