In some ways, it makes sense to think of the new Church of Misery album, Thy Kingdom Scum (Rise Above/Metal Blade), as a sequel to Houses of the Unholy. Like that 2009 full-length (review here), the title is a pun with a religious theme also based on a classic album — the Japanese outfit had a song “Kingdom Scum” on their first album, Vol. 1, that finally got released in 2007 with an Emetic Records reissue in 2011 (review here) and was a take on Sir Lord Baltimore‘s 1970 debut, Kingdom Come . Both Houses of the Unholy and Thy Kingdom Scum also have seven tracks with one cover from the canon of classic heavy — on the 2009 album, it happened to be “Master Heartache” from the aforementioned Sir Lord Baltimore LP, and on Thy Kingdom Scum, it’s the bluesy “One Blind Mice,” a single from Quatermass that’s been included on reissues of their 1970 self-titled debut. Both covers are even placed the same, as the fifth of the total seven tracks — track five is also a cover on 2001’s Masters of Brutality and 2004’s The Second Coming. And of course the band’s long-running adherence to serial killer-worship and raw, Sabbath-derived heavy doom rock remains at the core of what they do. Like no one else on the planet, Church of Misery are able to make familiar riffs sound new again, and Thy Kingdom Scum continues that tradition. True to its predecessor and everything the band has done up to this point, these songs offer unhinged bombast propelled by druggy grooves that reflect the madness and psychopathy their lyrics convey. As ever, each song is about a serial killer. As ever, bassist Tatsu Mikami resides at the center of the songwriting. As ever, they are among the best in the world at what they do.
Thy Kingdom Scum shares a number of similarities on a number of levels with Church of Misery‘s last effort — which along with sundry fest appearances throughout Europe and the US and extensive touring in both territories, helped establish them as one of the heavy underground’s most potent acts — but even more pivotal to its ultimate success are the differences between the two. The methodology behind their craft is largely the same, Mikami feels no apparent need to deviate and at this point, Church of Misery have turned their obsessions into their aesthetic, but the personnel involved is different. Guitarist Ikuma Kawabe has come aboard as a first-timer, and vocalist Hideki Fukasawa returns from Houses of the Unholy, but has been in and out of the band along the way, while Mikami — appropriate enough for the bassist — is the anchor as the only remaining founding member and drummer Junji Narita marks the 13th year of his tenure. Mikami‘s songwriting is also more hammered out on Thy Kingdom Scum, and some of the elements that made cuts last time around like “Shotgun Boogie (James Oliver Huberty),” “Blood Sucking Freak (Richard Trenton Chase)” and “Born to Raise Hell (Richard Speck)” so memorable find further development and realization within “Lambs to the Slaughter (Ian Brady/Myra Hindley),” “Bother Bishop (Gary Heidnik)” and “Düsseldorf Monster (Peter Kürten),” as well as the mostly instrumental opener “B.T.K. (Dennis Rader),” which makes an immediate chorus of its riff and relies on samples to carry across vocal ideas. Not an unfamiliar tactic either for Church of Misery.
While the penchant for gruesomeness has only seemed to add to the band’s charm over the years, they’ve had to get fairly obscure in their source material. Easy enough to look up who Dannis Andrew Nilsen is (the British Jeffrey Dahmer) and what he did (killed people and ate them, duh), but I have to wonder at what point Church of Misery might just decide to go back to some of the mainstays of serial killerdom and shift their approach somewhat. They started out with the likes of John Wayne Gacy and Ed Kemper on 2001’s Master of Brutality, and to go from that to John Linley Frazier and Peter Kürten begs the question why they couldn’t just write a second song about Charles Manson. Hell, there’s an entire album’s worth of material there. Why not do a whole record about the Manson Family, or Ted Bundy? Some killers, with countless books written about them and studies done, are legends worthy of another look. I’m certainly not going to complain about the surprisingly strong hook to which “Brother Bishop (Gary Heidnik)” arrives when Fukasawa guts out the line, “We shall make a new world!” or Mikami‘s ultra-righteous Geezer Butler-ing in the same song, and I guess there’s an endless supply of killers to choose from — and at this point it seems unrealistic to ask Church of Misery to write a song about anything else — I just wonder at the need to spread the theme so thin. Would anyone get mad if Church of Misery did another song about Aileen Wuornos?
In that end, that has little to do with the thrust of the songs itself, which again, is in some ways the most accomplished of Church of Misery‘s career. Where earlier offerings like The Second Coming were unbalanced in the mix, Thy Kingdom Scum sounds both rough and crisp, so that as the band departs the freakout swirl that emerges in “Brother Bishop (Gary Heidnik)” for the slower groove of the early stretches in “Cranley Gardens (Dennis Andrew Nilson)” — though they’ll get back there by the time the song is past fives minutes in and Fukasawa is issuing “I’m gonna fuck you/I’m gonna kill you” threats — the bombast holds no more sway than it’s meant to, and though I’d never accuse the band of being refined, there’s little doubt they have their process and their formula nailed down by this point, and as Thy Kingdom Scum relates to Houses of the Unholy, there’s no question it’s a formula worth reapplying. “Cranley Gardens (Dennis Andrew Nilsen)” (which also appeared on the 2008 EP, Dennis Nilsen) crashes and feedbacks into the Quatermass cover “One Blind Mice,” Mikami and Narita seeming to especially revel in the shuffle as Kawabe takes an echoing solo soon met by swirls of wah bass en route to the thicker fuzz of “All Hallow’s Eve (John Linley Frazier).” The penultimate groover on Thy Kingdom Scum stops short initially where one expects a landmark chorus, but the second time through, Fukasawa‘s shouts and screams provide enough catchiness to give the track its base, setting up more choice interplay between Mikami and Kawabe.
At 12:46, closer “Düsseldorf Monster (Peter Kürten)” is the longest track ever to appear on a Church of Misery full-length. Cuts upwards and past 10 minutes have shown up on the band’s slew of EPs and live albums, and the closing title-track to Master of Brutality was over 11, but by and large, the band has steered away from getting as expansive on their LPs as they do to finish out Thy Kingdom Scum. Kürten, whose mugshot also graces the album art, was dubbed the “Vampire of Düsseldorf” and is obviously significant to the band, otherwise wouldn’t get the treatment he does here, gracing the cover and longest song. Even the intro, which is a take on Sabbath‘s blues jam that starts “Wicked World” feels special. Maybe it has something to do with the reception the band has gotten in Europe that they’d close with a German killer, or maybe the jam just emerged in the studio and they decided to roll with it, but it makes a fitting end to Thy Kingdom Scum either way, devolving into a psych boogie that shows off Kawabe‘s fluidity and finally emerges into one of the album’s most satisfying instrumental sections. Just before 10 minutes in, there’s a slowdown started by Narita on the drums and the central riff reappears to lead “Düsseldorf Monster (Peter Kürten)” out on one final run through the chorus, underscoring the fact that although Church of Misery demand and get a lot of attention because of their serial killer thematic, there’s a consistency in their songwriting that proves to be the root of a lot of their appeal. Thy Kingdom Scum doesn’t do much to expand the band’s palette, but it doesn’t need to. “If it ain’t broke…” and all that. The band comes into Thy Kingdom Scum with arguably their most momentum ever, and since they deliver exactly what’s expected of them while also continuing to grow the process that’s resulted in those expectations, there’s nothing here to disappoint longtime fans or give newcomers a reason not to return for more of Church of Misery‘s particular brand of debauchery.