April 26th, 2010 8:44am

The Armageddon Approaches

Sabbath Assembly “Glory Hallelujah”

The first several times I listened to Sabbath Assembly, I had absolutely no context for what they were doing, and so I found myself wondering what their angle could be. The record is a mish-mash of gospel and psychedelic rock, and every track is concerned with the Apocalypse and the judgment of God. Some of it is a bit ponderous and grim, but for the most part, they seem to eagerly anticipate this devastation. “Glory Hallelujah,” the most groovy number on the record, welcomes the End of Days with an alarming cheeriness, as two women sing about Armageddon with a wholesome, sweet tone typically reserved for songs about crushes on dreamy boys. I wasn’t sure what to make of it. Were they for real? Did they write this music? Is this an ironic pastiche?

As it turns out, the songs are for real, but the band is not. The album is a collection of previously unrecorded hymns written by and for the Process Church of the Final Judgment, a quasi-Satanist religious cult that thrived in the 1960s and ’70s. It’s kind of a museum piece, really — a matter of preserving the music for historical record. There is some degree of irony here, at least in that I am reasonably certain these performers are not members of the Process Church, but the execution is straightforward, and the vocals at least simulate the appropriate sentiment and level of engagement.

The context is fascinating, but the project is mainly successful on purely musical terms. The essence of Process Church theology is a faith in the reconciliation of Christ and Satan, and their music played that out in genre terms, blending Christian church music with the darker, sexier end of rock and roll at the time. Obviously many other artists have gone for the same thing, but the Apocalyptic obsession of the Process songs has a feeling very different from, say, Jesus Christ Superstar. The rhetoric is more extreme, the mood is more intense. I suppose it would have to be, given that it’s all about actively wishing for the end of the world as we know it.

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