Live at Revolver in Oslo, Norway on May 15th 2014
Photos by Eivind Nakken
A somewhat surprising characteristic of the ongoing doom metal renaissance has been the prevalence of female-fronted bands. No longer a novelty, the otherwise heavily bearded scene has become rife with powerful and evocative pipes of the feminine kind. Although a world apart musically, tonight’s touring partners Sabbath Assembly and Uzala have both been skilfully riding the wave of revival. Despite the renewed interest in this genre, the small pub Revolver is far from full tonight, the sounds of Earth’s Hex creating a laid-back atmosphere before the show begins.
The audience numbers perhaps 40 people as the barbarian trio Uzala seizes the stage. Seemingly unconcerned with the poor attendance, the band serve a hearty helping of bare-boned doom. Fronted by the married couple Chad Remains and Darcy Nutt, who share guitar and vocal duties, their bassist is conspicuously absent. Despite being a member short, their orgy of slow riffs and the potent vocals of Nutt is a seismic assault on the senses.
The rolling thunder of Uzala is massive, and when Remains joins in with his gnarly growls on the crushing “Wardrums”, the band really flexes their muscles. Their take on stoner doom with a touch of the epic is not revolutionary by any stretch of the imagination, but they definitely come into their own in a live setting. From the way the pub is quaking, it’s frankly incredible that we’re only hearing two guitars and roaring drums.
If Uzala is the heathen sound of war and conquest, Sabbath Assembly are channeling sacred words of unity. The last time I had the pleasure of seeing the ministerial eclectics, they were performing a heavily liturgical ceremony on the Roadburn main stage. In tonight’s considerably more intimate setting there little room for their trademark processean rites. Handling the drums and percussion, the assembly’s mastermind David Nuss is not one for the spotlight. He is joined by tattooed singer and bassist Jamie Myers, violinist Eva Vonne, guitarist Jason Mullins, and James Magruder on an electric cello that also serves as a double bass, as well as a small synthesizer. They are all dressed completely in white, in stark contrast to the black-clad audience.
The title of their opening number “Let Us All Give Praise And Validation” speaks volumes about Sabbath Assembly’s singular vision. A religious congregation as much as a rock band, Myers performs soft hymns in praise of the quaternity of Jehovah, Satan, Christ, and Lucifer. These prayers are backed by the tender strings of Vonne and Magruder, with the occasional psychedelic solo harkening back to the rock of the late 60’s. Bringing these songs to the stage has entailed making them heavier and more rock-based than on the albums, which alleviates the bizarre notion of holding a sermon in a pub.
Despite the devotional tendencies of the band’s softer material, this is still at its heart a metal show. With the ominous drone of “I, Satan” the music takes a turn for the sinister. Since their Process Church Of The Final Judgment seems to be mostly about synthesis and unity, the juxtaposition of their songs are a fitting contrast. Some of these tracks were obviously not written for a live setting, especially the closing number “The Four Horsemen”. A 18-minutes long Biblical inspired epos, the live version has been considerably trimmed down and adapted for the stage. It’s a different take on the number, focusing less on the lingering dread, but the fire and brimstone spoken word of Magruder ensures that some of the old testament bombast remains.
Considering the nature of Sabbath Assembly’s music, it’s no wonder that their live presence is a rather two-faced experience. It might be foolish to hope for a fully-fledged religious service, and a rock and roll pub isn’t the ideal venue for the band. With that in mind, both of tonight’s band puts on formidable performances, and despite being let down by a crowd that should have been at least twice as numerous, those of us in attendance were witness to a wonderful show.