CHURCHBURN – Genocidal Rite (2021)REVIEW

It is better, therefore, to conquer it than to cheat it; for a grief which has been deceived and driven away either by pleasure or by business rises again, and its period of rest does but give it strength for a more terrible attack; but a grief which has been conquered by reason is appeased forever.” Seneca, De Consolatione ad Helviam

Embodying the brutal haze freshly stinging grief’d provide in the midst of mourning, Rhode Island-based blackened sludge/death-doom metal quartet Churchburn suffer the post-apocalyptic isolation and mental wilderness beyond a great loss on this their third full-length album. Through potent statement and dire atmospheric weight ‘Genocidal Rite‘ wills the mind to both confront and align with death, to crumble within the miserable physicality of the riff in strengthening catharsis. A boldly succinct record lead by imposing professional-grade extremist fidelity and the ever-climbing sling of their lead guitars, this third point of evolution for the band reinforces the idea that sludge and black/death metal co-mutation yet has potential to mystify in the right hands without stymieing compromise.

Formed in 2011 between drummer Ray McCaffrey (Sin of Angels, ex-Procreation) and guitarist/vocalist Dave Suzuki (DNR, ex-Vital Remains) and staffed by various folks from their spheres of Rhode Island/New York-based death and sludge metal musicians since, Churchburn have always presented a relatively accessible take on the elaborate riffing of quality early 90’s sludge/doom metal but with a clear, prominent influence from various niches of extreme metal. This is only remarkable at face value because it simply hasn’t been done all that well in the past, sludge metal by way of folks who’ve some tangible connection with black or death metal proper ensures a basic understanding of what passes for a death metal riff and this is key insight when melding these forms within a sludge/doom metal format. Described flippantly, but perhaps somewhat accurately, as “blackened Crowbar” on their self-titled EP back in 2013 it didn’t take long for Churchburn to adapt and refine their sound and style in presentation of their debut album (‘The Awaiting Coffins‘, 2014) a year later, seeding their signature but not yet arriving upon it. It would be their second album, ‘None Shall Live… The Hymns of Misery‘ (2018), where the band appeared to be firing on all cylinders, having found a brilliant crossover between the ugliest misery sludge has to offer and the imposing sophistication of blasphemic extreme metal.

Though we aren’t all that far beyond the crater left beyond their previous release this decisive third strike from Churchburn lands as that of band on a mission, or at least one that has taken notes and implemented a keen editing ear to ensure ‘Genocidal Rites’ is the band’s finest, most considered in vision from all angles. By trimming away a considerable amount of excess and whittling down to only the most purposeful movements we get purest funereal venom from the quartet on this third album. The larger checklist here meets a very high standard, starting with an emphasis on Suzuki‘s impressive lead guitar work, more elaborate sludge metal riffing, and an increasing lean into the death/doom (or, “blackened death/sludge”) side of things from the angle of mid-90’s death metal and late 90’s sludge metal scoping each other out beyond “God of Emptiness” and “Where the Slime Live”.

For my own taste sludge metal is traditionally a strong medium for conveying not only an imprisoned mindset but the extreme emotional and psychological reactions resulting from repression or, natural process of dire emotion including a minimum of anxiety, depression, addiction, mayhem, obsession and such. ‘Genocidal Rite’ doesn’t speak to me directly in this way, instead presenting a realm of the aftermath of these things accumulating — A mournful disorientation set within colorless post-apocalyptic doom. Some manner of occult nuclear rapture into the void provided by the incredible cover art from Nestor Avalos allows some imaginative narrative to form in mind and the music has a pronounced finality to it, less a yearning for loss and instead a final push of Charon’s oar in departure. In the past we could ascribe the categorical likeness of sludge metal extremists like Indian, Lord Mantis and Coffinworm tangentially to Churchburn‘s sound but the severe finality of ‘Genocidal Rite’, in terms of delivery and implied theme, bears its own weight and mood which transcends the typically obvious distinction between classic death/doom metal and blackened sludge. We could look to more amateur bands for similar precedence but it wouldn’t paint as clear a picture as opener/title track “Genocidal Rite” wastes no time showing the rhythm guitarist’s mastery of extreme sludge metal forms, whipping downwards with every leap of the riff and yanking back as if starting the engine on some manner of massive death machine.

We can consider “Genocidal Rite” an example of what makes Churchburn a notable band in an spectacular nutshell, making good on the promise of lunging doom metal riffs and death metal extremity crossed over with the feral vomitus and howl of sludge thanks to Suzuki‘s vocals, which are bolstered by layers of backing from The Vomit Arsonist and I believe some additional vocals from bassist Derek Moniz (Black Acid Prophecy) on certain tracks. “Swallowed by Dust” is the initial descent beyond that impressive intro a rasping vortex to reinforce the downward flow of the album from this point on. The break into an extended solo around ~2 minutes into the piece, which is eventually harmonized, reinforces this idea that this guy is going to shred all over this album but the curveball here is the dead stop in the middle of the song, a pause which allows the second half of the song to sling a groovier death/doom metal riff. Both “Swallowed by Dust” and album closer “Sin of Angels”, which features John McEntee (Incantation) on vocals, should drive home a hint of Rutan-era Morbid Angel‘s slower-chunking austerity suggested earlier.

Because there are only five tracks here beyond a brief intro it’d be difficult to convey the stylistic reach of ‘Genocidal Rite’ without mentioning each piece. No doubt the outlier that’ll catch folks off guard first will be “Unmendable Absence”, an elegy for classical guitar in the form of a four minute instrumental. For my own taste this arrangement adds valuable respite and thematic development away from the dense pulverization of this otherwise relatively short record (~32 minutes) without feeling tacked-on as dubious filler. I’d understand if it’d initially appear as an an interruption for some listeners but only before the context of its reprisal in “Scarred” sets the duo of songs as a sort of frayed sludge metallic ballad to kick off Side B. One of the main reasons I’d clung to this record from the first listen was due to it ending at just the right point of saturation. After five memorable hits of strong resonance the conceptual vision of ‘Genocidal Rite’ is realized without any severe redundancy, not a thoughtless second on display. This made each full listen count in terms of not allowing the mind to wander out of focus for the entirety of this imposing half hour. It may appear scant in terms of immersion from a sludge/doom metal obsessive perspective but quality over quantity means Churchburn‘s third album smartly demands to be re-examined, meditated with, and appreciated for its easily read yet ambitious statement. A high recommendation.

High recommendation. (82/100)

Rating: 8 out of 10.
TITLE:Genocidal Rite
LABEL(S):Translation Loss Records
RELEASE DATE:November 5th, 2021
BUY & LISTEN:Bandcamp
GENRE(S):Blackened Sludge Metal,
Death/Doom Metal

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