SABBATH ASSEMBLY “Sing Alleluia!”
By: Lord Randall
SABBATH ASSEMBLY, over time, has become much more than evangels/documentarians of The Process Church, Released on Svart Records – fast becoming a stronghold of the esoteric on their own - Rites Of Passage solidifies not only the lineup of the band, but establishes SABBATH ASSEMBLY as a band unafraid to move beyond former confines in their sonic and spiritual journeys. Drummer Dave Nuss kneels at the altar with Lord Randall…
(For those seeking objective information on the Process Church of the Final Judgment and its unusual theology, here’s a Wikipedia link:
I’ve put a link to the Sabbath Assembly website at the end of the article.—Hierophant Mality)
Wormwood Chronicles: When “Quaternity” showed up in 2014, it felt kind of like when they updated the hymn books for the denomination I grew up in. Now this didn’t happen until I was in college, and you can only imagine how hard some of the churches were fighting even so small a change as adding a few dozen “recent” hymns and responsive readings. There are still churches that – over 20 years later – don’t use the new books. Did you begin SABBATH ASSEMBLY maybe even subconsciously knowing there’d be a time when you had to branch out from the original hymns?
Dave Nuss: We never sought to “update” the Process hymns, though, because the Process is long in the past; so “Quaternity” turned out to be a mix of our own musical ideas with lyrics that were primarily drawn from Processean writings. Guitarist Kevin Hufnagel’s role in the group had solidified at that point, along with Jamie [Myers, singer] and I, so that album became a mix of Processean tradition and our own demented sense of creativity.
WC: After BLOOD CEREMONY, LUCIFER and JESS AND THE ANCIENT ONES, was there a moment of “Oh, crap! We’d better do something coming from ourselves, or we’ll get lumped in with this fad mentality!”?
Nuss: I wouldn’t say that SABBATH ASSEMBLY has ever been a reactionary band, mostly because - speaking for myself - I’m terrible about keeping up with contemporary music. We notice a trend of ‘occult rock’ happening but because “Restored to One” came out before this we just kept moving forward with the ideas as established on that first record. I enjoy having musical peers and would love to do shows with any of the bands you mention because I think our own style is pretty apparent vis-a-vis these groups. We have spoken with BLOOD CEREMONY about doing shows but for some reason that hasn’t happened yet (hint to promoters!). To speak of references, many occult-y bands are referencing the 60s and 70s and I think our music references the 80s a bit more- at least on “Rites of Passage” and our self-titled LP.
WC: I felt like even on “Ye Are Gods” you were stretching, trying to flex your own creative muscles within the Process framework, do you see the albums since - and of course “Rites Of Passage” – as an aid in keeping the initial themes/occult desire to search for truth relevant to modern society?
Nuss: Post-Process, our ‘occult’ direction is as you define it - a search for truth in modern society; but in contrast to earlier albums, we were untethered to a particular ideology. I consider our current direction more ‘gnostic’ than ‘occult,’ although we can argue that distinction ’til eternity fails, but basically I mean that we are speaking more about self-knowledge rather than creating a new paradigm. Personally I am more of a Yeats occultist than a Crowley-an, simply because I see Yeats as an exceptional story teller at once grounded in mysticism and the minutiae of earthly life, whereas Crowley was exceptional at esotericism but perhaps a bit less adept at negotiating daily life. The members of SABBATH ASSEMBLY all happen to be pretty functional people.
WC: The term “occult” has, I feel, been co-opted these days, coming to mean to most a “darkness”, an “evil”, when any fundamentalist Christian delving into the deeper meaning of the Bible, of God as they see God is basically involved in occult studies. Lucifer was an “angel of light”, was called the “morning star”. There’s even a passage in Job (Chapter 33:15-18) where it talks about God giving secret wisdom to men in their dreams, then sealing the instruction so that man doesn’t become too prideful.
Nuss: I like that you’ve sort of liberated “occult” from only “darkness” in your way of thinking, and definitely appreciate the Job reference. And now decades on we can widen that across gender and cultural lines, which is a lot of what Jamie brings to the band being female and also having grown up for portions of her life in Africa.
There is a song on “Rites Of Passage” called “Twilight of God,” and the first half of the words are taken from Ezekiel’s vision of angels, which has always struck me as profound and beautiful, yet somehow paralyzing at the same time. Can you imagine witnessing that scene? In the song, the vision actually terrorizes the protagonist and causes a retreat from the divine, as can happen when our spiritual insight matures and our “Sunday school” version of God gets challenged.
WC: Do you feel that, to truly find your own enlightenment, you have to “test the spirits”, as it were, to “work out your own salvation according to fear and trembling”? To take what you can from various faiths/schools/beliefs and find where they fit to you? How great it must be to be able to wholeheartedly subscribe to one creed! Or is the credo of self and realization its own, individual enlightenment?
Nuss: I think in the information age it is basically impossible to subscribe to a single creed. We simply know too much. So how do we construct a personal belief system? I feel like my peers do this by experience rather than doctrine - “testing the spirits” as you say. And part of this experience is the rituals that move us from one phase of life to the next: child to adolescent, adolescent to adult, etc. Each song on the new album re-envisions the “rites of passage” concepts originally defined by anthropologist Arnold Van Gennep: birth, childhood, social puberty, betrothal, marriage, pregnancy, parenthood, initiation into religious societies, and funerals. For many of us these rites are archaic, and modern society provides us with a much murkier picture to demarcate when we’ve passed from one stage to the next. How many people really consider baptism something to be taken seriously? And we know that marriage as an institution has been shot to shit. So each song on this album identifies a moment that for us as a band has caused a transition and maturation.
WC: If you could, describe the inspiration behind ‘I Must Be Gone’ from the new album?
Nuss: In ‘I Must Be Gone’ the rite I want to identify is betrayal. We all have felt betrayed on a fundamental level. For some of us it happens when we’re kids, some of us later in life. But when it happens it leaves a scar that generally affects the rest of our lives. “I Must Be Gone” is about a particularly horrific kind of betrayal - rape, and in particular rape by God - or perhaps the image of God we each create. So there is the physical act of the rape itself, and also the betrayal by another, most trusted, being. Either we can think of this concept as our image of God failing us, or we can think of it as something like a father or older man raping a child. The influence for ‘I Must Be Gone’ is the Yeats poem ‘Leda And The Swan’ in which Zeus, in the form of a swan, rapes Leda. Yeats’ telling of the tale is especially brutal. This is the most profound sense of betrayal; how can one recover from such a tragedy?
WC: Was there anything you knew you wanted to stay away from going into the writing/recording of “Rites Of Passage”, maybe lessons learned from past “not that great” ideas? Anything you wanted to be sure of focusing on/exploring this time around that maybe you hadn’t before?
Nuss: “Rites Of Passage” is the first time that SABBATH ASSEMBLY has operated as a full band with a solid line up writing songs in a rehearsal studio in real time. The days of [the band] as a “project” with revolving members seem to be over. So what you’ll hear as a result are solid through-composed pieces that are the product of many hours spent in the practice room hashing out parts, with the kind of intricacy that only comes when band members are spending a lot of time together building chemistry. I think the listener will be surprised at how different and strong of a record this approach has made.
WC: I remember speaking to Morgan from MARDUK awhile back about bands we considered full of passion but with completely disparate belief systems, and the ones we settled on were CANDLEMASS, 16 HORSEPOWER/WOVEN HAND and DEAD CAN DANCE. Even though you may not agree with (or in the case of DCD even understand) some of what’s being sung, you can’t deny the passion. Is that something you’ve striven for within SABBATH ASSEMBLY?
Nuss: I would say that starting with “Rites Of Passage”, that is the case. One critique I have of SABBATH ASSEMBLY in the Process Church period is that the band has working in service of a concept, and now have we created an album ex nihilo, out of nothing. We literally had no idea what kind of album we would make, or if we were even going to make an album. Then Kevin brought in the parts for ‘Shadows Revenge’ and we thought - well, here we go! That’s why that song is first on the record, because it was the song that started this journey for us. Then Ron [Varod], guitarist brought in the riffs for ‘Angels Trumpets’, and our heads all blew off. That awakened the passion in all of us, I think, because from that point the riffs just kept coming. The rites of passage concept was born out of the songwriting, rather than the other way around, because we as a band were going through our own ‘rite of passage’ as we grew together as a team through the music.
WC: Seems ever since the resurgence of occult-themed music a decade or so ago, artists have been keen to refer to live events/concerts/shows as “rituals”. Do you feel such overuse of the term cheapens what should be/is happening during actual rituals? In ancient times, even in Christendom, ritual occasions/sacrifices weren’t something that happened daily. At the same time, there should be some connection between the artist/band and audience/congregation. Otherwise, why not just stay home and listen to the album?
Nuss: Rites and rituals are definitely missing from the modern age, and that’s sort of what “Rites Of Passage” deals with. If rock concerts could be a way to create ritual, I’m all for it. I’m pretty sure seeing SLAYER in ’87 was as cool as watching a bull getting its throat slit at a temple thousands of years ago. We take our music seriously, and Jamie is always creating intense visual aspects for our shows to bring about a transporting element, like hand-painted stage banners that we’ve even burned onstage at the end of specific shows. Maybe heavy metal is better than church!
WC: Plans for the remainder of the year?
Nuss: We have a NE tour in May, and then we will play the Southwest Terror Fest, October 2017.