Church of Misery- Born Under a Mad Sign (Album Review)

June 19, 2023


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When it comes to Japanese metal that has had success internationally, Tokyo doom band Church of Misery is one of the first many listeners may think of.  Since the mid-90s they’ve been channeling the same slow grooves of Black Sabbath and other classic bands while singing/screaming about serial killers, and it’s given them a space within what Is already a crowded genre.  Like a lot of other long-running acts, Church of Misery has gone through quite a few lineup changes with original bassist Tatsu Mikami keeping things going.  The last time we heard from the group was 2016’s And Then There Were None…, which saw Mikami recruit an all-American lineup with Repulsion’s Scott Carlson on vocals.  It was a decent effort, but sometimes came off more like a side project that lacked some of the nuances past Church of Misery albums were known for.  Fast forward some seven years and Mikami is working with an all-Japanese lineup again, which includes original singer Kazuhiro Asaeda (who you may be familiar with if you listened to Vol. 1).  The resulting album Born Under a Mad Sign gives us some of the better riffs Church of Misery has offered in some time, bringing in some additional blues and hints of psychedelic rock alongside the expected Sabbath grooves. 

Church of Misery’s core sound hasn’t changed that much over the decades, but there are some noticeable tweaks that emerge on the second half of the record that give it a bit more diversity compare dot some of the band’s other material.  They once again are masters of the instrumental tone, as the songs have that crunchy sound coming from both the guitar and bass alongside some real weight to the drums that give the grooves quite a bit of punch.  “Beltway Sniper” comes lurching out of the gate following some sound clips of the DC Sniper shootings with grooves that will immediately have you banging your head, and the riffs here build naturally over time in ways that help to differentiate one song from the next.  It’s still very Black Sabbath at heart, but once you get to “Freeway Madness Boogie” a few additional influences start to seep in.  There’s a bit more guitar freakouts and hints of psychedelia and blues woven into the material from this point onward, with the shortest track “Spoiler” coming across like a full-on blues rock boogie for much of its run-time.  Despite the similarity of the riffs, there’s something on each song that has the ability to hook listeners, and that continues to elevate Church of Misery above some of their other doom peers.  I particularly like the punchy stop and starts of “Come and Get Me Sucker” alongside the flashier guitar solos that channel equal amounts of warm and hazy atmosphere, as well as the more abrasive edges of “Murder Castle Blues”, but there’s a consistency to the entire album.  A few moments do run a bit longer than they need to and feel just a tad bit overstretched, but this doesn’t hurt the impact that much and the group’s ability to capture the power of the riff has drawn me back again and again.

With seven new songs you get takes on new serial killers alongside cult figures like David Koresh, and there are sound bites for those that terrorized the public in more recent times.  They’re not overdone and often placed as a lead-in to each song, which keeps the pacing natural and not stilted.  If you heard Kazuhiro Asaeda’s earlier work with Church of Misery, you may remember that he had a bit of a rough around the edges singing/screaming approach, and I’m not sure what he’s done in the years since but his performance on Burn Under a Mad Sign is significantly improved.  As soon as he comes in on “Beltway Sniper” you’re met with an abrasive singing pitch that has some real grit behind it but comes across as much more confident than before.  The jagged edges and rougher pitches suit Church of Misery’s sound perfectly, and there are a few moments where he even channels a little bit of Lemmy’s gruffer singing.  I’m sure long-time fans have their own preference as to who their favorite vocalist is over the band’s almost thirty-year career, but Asaeda makes a strong case with this performance.

Following another long gap between releases and more lineup changes, many wondered if Church of Misery could recapture the quality seen on the likes of The Second Coming or Houses of the Unholy.  A few of the songs on Born Under a Mad Sign may run a bit long, but as a whole it offers the same powerful and catchy riffs as those two albums and throws in a bit more psychedelia and blues that recall the band’s earlier days.  Add in the cover art that takes a photo of German serial killer Fritz Haarmann and changes the color palette to look like a Blue Note jazz record, and you have a strong later career showing from these guys.  Born Under a Mad Sign is available from Rise Above Records.

-Review by Chris Dahlberg