When all but founder, bassist, and songwriter Tatsu Mikami were removed from Church of Misery in 2014, it was an odd move. The group seemed to have a decent streak with the excellent Houses of the Unholy and the somewhat indulgent Thy Kingdom Scum. Though I was not huge fan of the latter, it had some solid material. Maybe Tatsu wanted more creative freedom going forward with the Church. For more sonic brutality, he brought in drummer Eric Little of Earthride, guitarist Dave Szulkin of Blood Farmers, and vocalist Scott Carlson of Repulsion for a new album, And Then There Were None…. With a fresh line-up, it was interesting to hear what direction the band would take.
Despite the line-up changes, the album is more of the same for the band that only talks about serial killers. It contains all those groovy, 70s-inspired riffs and doom-ladened songwriting that fans love. Though this style has become trendy in the last few years, Church of Misery has been at it for twenty years now and they lyrically stick to one topic, allowing them to stand out from the crowd.
Right away, I noticed that Scott Carlson sounds in the same realm as previous Misery screechers Yoshiaki Negishi and Hideki Fukasawa. It’s that same gravelly hoarse voice that sounds halfway between James Hetfield and the death growl. The main difference this time around is that I can actually understand the lyrics, partially because Scott is a native English speaker, but also his delivery is a bit more subdued than his Japanese predecessors. However, I do prefer Hideki’s delivery more, as he had more of an attitude and snarl.
The album is their shortest, at 39 minutes and 7 songs, which is a welcome aspect after the bloated Thy Kingdom Scum from 2013. The first track, “The Hell Benders” starts out with the sounds of a brutal murder via hammer. The track is about a family of killers who owned an inn in the 1800s. It has a really unwieldy main riff, a great way to open up the madness. “Make Them Die Slowly,” and “Doctor Death” continue the carnage, though aren’t as strong as the opener. Not much variety has ensued. “River Demon” follows and features cliched-ye-fun riffage of early 70s hard rock.
“Confessions of an Embittered Soul” has a sweet keyboard-backed refrain and some interesting songwriting. “Suicide Journey” is the most peculiar song of the bunch; a spacey instrumental about the Heaven’s Gate cult that committed mass suicide in 1997. This one definitely had me reading about this religious fringe group. The LP ends with “Murderfreak Blues”, which basically describes the band’s entire discography. It has a creepy bassline and more riffs to boot. The record is bookended by the two best songs.
While their grit is still intact, Church of Misery don’t do anything new (which isn’t necessarily a bad thing). I enjoyed the album, but nothing wowed me. “Born to Raise Hell” is still my favorite Church of Misery song. It has so much energy to it that is often lacking in this release. And Then There Were None… is a bit run of the mill, however that mill is grinding up butchered, blood-drenched body parts, so it can’t be too bad.
1. The Hell Benders (The Bender Familiy)
2. Make Them Die Slowly (John George Haigh)
3. Dr. Death (Harold Shipman)
4. River Demon (Arthur Shawcross)
5. Confessions of an Embittered Soul (Leonarda Cianciulli)
6. Suicide Journey (Heaven’s Gate Cult)
7. Murderfreak Blues (Tommy Lynn Sells)
Church of Misery are:
Scott Carlson – Vocals
Dave Szulkin – Guitar
Tatsu Mikami – Bass
Eric Little – Drums