It’s always fascinating following a band from conception through various stages, wondering what they are going to come up with next. Sabbath Assembly have certainly kept the interest levels up with their body of work since dabbling with the hymnals and esoteric mysteries of The Process Church with original singer Jex Thoth back in 2010 and debut album ‘Restored To One.’ Having thematically explored these paths over the first few albums and recruiting ex Hammers Of Misfortune vocalist Jamie Myers along the way their self-titled album of 2015 saw them kind of reinvent themselves and move away from previous texts consolidating their work into a more standard ‘occult doom rock’ orientation, one just as intriguing and mysterious as past works. I pretty much expected them to carry on down this path but should of course not taken the Americans for granted in any respect and I certainly feel like they have thrown another curveball at me here.
Naturally the underlying narrative here is a dense subject of its very own and the band are exploring “the transitional stages of life. Ethnographer Arnold van Gennep first defined “rites of passage” in 1960 as birth, childhood, puberty, marriage, parenthood, religious initiation, and funerals. Although I have never heard of him it’s something we can obviously to some extent easily understand although the more traditional ‘birth, school, work, death’ passage is probably what most of us would more readily identify with. Musically this ‘Rite Of Passage’ strikes as equally as leftfield as thoughts of’ religious initiation’ seem bizarre to a forward thinking heathen like me. If you have followed the band in the past you will be aware of deeply religious ties that founding member Dave Nuss and others such as Jamie grew up with living in the Southern Bible Belt so it is a theme that they can certainly and very honestly utilise as background, making this album a real interesting journey.
Opener ‘Shadows Revenge’ makes it clear straight away that there is change within the music itself as a much more progressive sound comes through rather than the doomy morass that was anticipated. I guess with members having played with Dysrhythmia, Gorguts, and Kayo Dot this shouldn’t be too huge a surprise but it did catch me off guard. There’s a real sense of skewed harmonics and experimental rhythms at play here, musically it doesn’t roll off the tongue as such but goes off at tangents and lurches around. Apart from the aforementioned acts here I am reminded partly of the avant-garde players within the Norwegian black metal scene such as Virus and Ved Buens Ende. There is a definite feel of weirdness and out there and with Jamie’s vocals the other-worldly play of a band such as Madder Mortem is not a million miles off target and neither is a more experimental Voivod as the band heftily chop, churn and groove around. Without lyrics, booklet and going on a serious reference search I feel I am only getting part of this and have to concentrate on the music alone. I’m sure with the finished product and time to research in depth there’s plenty of hidden mysteries to discover here. Mind you there is plenty of depth and intrigue within the seven songs to keep one very involved. That discordant pitch is all over songs such as ‘Angel’s Trumpets’ and the experimental flavours and Myers tones from strident to dreamy and mellow follow the instrumentation all the way conjuring all sorts of atmospheres along the way. The whole thing does at times set you on edge though and grates like nails down a blackboard or feeling like you are about to be sick. Yeah it’s probably not a huge endorsement but this is not on the whole music to particularly comfort you through much of the playing time.
‘I Did Not Die’ is hardly life affirming but gloomy and a bit more of a slower doom etched self-reflective ballad, spiritually a tale of not being broken and surviving; you can’t help but thinking after escaping from the talons of a sinister cult. Rocking out a bit towards conclusion, heart and soul are very much combined. It’s not all tumult and at last ‘Does Live Die’ provides some much-needed chill out and even hope by projecting more of a carefree hippy vibe yet it’s still cast with a sense of foreboding within the lyrics and the gentler tones flow into the next track really allowing the listener to grab a breath from the hurly-burly. Things build and that oft-kilter musical vibe comes back in with a bit of a post-punk drumming bounce on the short but quirky ‘Seven Sermons To The Dead’ Whether redemption is found within the 70’s sounding progressive riffs of final piece ‘The Bride Of Darkness’ is uncertain but it’s possibly my favourite track on the album and in its own way the catchiest.
A tricky album this I have to admit. It’s taken far more listens than your average band to even get close to reviewing and I’m still in two minds about it. ‘Rites Of Passage is definitely not going to be my favourite album by the band but their coming of age has certainly been interesting. As it finishes I am even getting some vocal tones reminiscent of the late great Vi Subversa of the Poison Girls and a musical drift into Fleetwood Mac territory. This has certainly screwed with my head, odd, very odd.
(7.5/10 Pete Woods)