On second full length, None Shall Live…The Hymns of Misery, Churchburn take a lateral step into doom territory in lieu of continuing down the same charred, sludge path from their debut. Sludge and doom share many traits so it’s not a far cry but the violent and rough edges since The Awaiting Coffins have been hewn like a sculpture awaiting the art gallery. It most definitely is a surprise in approach but turns out to be a saving grace that not even I saw coming.
Full disclosure, my initial reason for checking out Churchburn back in 2014 was due to Dave Suzuki being involved. I’m a fan of Vital Remains and Dave’s multi instrumentalist work in that band. For me it was a no brainer to see what he was up to and The Awaiting Coffins did not disappoint. It was typical Dave; shredding riffs, larger than life songwriting and as violent as being ringside at a razor wire cage match. It wasn’t death metal or black metal but there were traces of each. It was however nasty and murky sludge wider than the River Styx full of malicious intent that was easily believable coming from who was dishing it out.
Now, four years removed, we have None Shall Live…The Hymns of Misery and first impressions were surprising. It wasn’t a left turn per se but I’ve come to expect a certain kind of brain jarring madness from anything that Suzuki is involved with but this time it’s not as much jarring as it is patient, well paced and well thought out. Not to mention the whole thing sounds light years ahead of the debut. If that sounded like shade on the debut, trust me when I say it isn’t. It’s just that the large dose of doom here is something you typically wouldn’t expect from a second effort, particularly when the first was oozing with sludge.
Songs like “The Misery Hymns” and “Before the Inferno” seethe with primal riffs, hulking low end and the kind of heft needed for any doom album worth its salt. “Lines of Red” is lava erupting from a volcano – you see and hear the explosion but are left with the aftermath of its crusty impression. Later, on “Authorized To Cleanse” the band goes full on YOB with emotive string work and, dare I say, uplifting passages. Moments like this are few and far between but when they happen it extensively broadens the scope of each track and the album as a whole.
Obviously it helped that the initial bones of the band, Dave and Ray McCaffrey (Sin of Angels, Grief) enlisted some mighty help in Timmy St Amour (Howl) and Derek Moniz (Headrot, Black Acid Prophecy, et al), along with a couple of special guests, to really make this album as huge as possible. If you’ll remember from The Awaiting Coffins, “Come Forth the Swarm” and “Kneel Upon Charred Remnants” were arguably the best tracks contained. Particularly comparing these two songs to what this expanded line up has accomplished here makes those sound eerily empty. But, the biggest improvement overall is the amount of dark atmosphere and energy the band has gained. Atmosphere is a make or break kind of thing when playing slow and low – it’s either there or it isn’t and the amount of dread encountered along this 45 minute journey is suffocating to say the least. Compare them both, listen to them back to back and what you’ll find is an amazing progression and an even more amazing sound. But don’t blame me when you emerge completely worn out from the experience.
With band membership as seasoned as the current lineup of Churchburn, nothing needs to be proven. But for listeners and fans to really connect, and especially with a somewhat new project, what’s being offered needs to at least be above par. On None Shall Live…The Hymns of Misery they’re not simply above par, they’ve effectively positioned themselves as a rising force in regards to doom metal.