SABBATH ASSEMBLY – Ye Are Gods (2012)

Review by: Franco Micale
Album assigned by: Ahmed Khālid

Religious music has never really been a personal favorite of mine. A major part of that is most likely because I don’t believe in the concept of an all-loving God, so I just can’t really find much a connection to lyrics about how I can truly be righteous if I just convert my evil ways and follow the Holy Spirit. There’s also the fact that much religious music just sounds monotonous. Most often, they are only trying to engender one emotion in me, and that is to feel enlightened and overwhelmed by thou holiest. Now, with that being said, just because I don’t believe in a point a work of art is trying to bring across doesn’t mean I can’t feel affected by it. Even with my lack of faith in most organized religion, I still feel uplifted by “My Sweet Lord” or “Supper’s Ready”. On the opposite end of the spectrum, I am not a nihilist or an existentialist, but listening to Current 93’s “I Have a Very Special Plan For This World” was still an absolutely terrifying experience. This is because, naturally, many of us homo sapiens have the ability to put ourselves in other people’s shoes, and empathize with how they feel, even if we don’t see the world from their exact perspective. This is only assuming, of course, if their artist succeeds in putting their shoes on our feet.

So with that being said, let me talk about Sabbath Assembly. From what I’ve gathered, these guys are huge followers of the “Process Church of The Final Judgement”, a large religious cult that believes in both God and Satan as equal deities. I don’t know about their other work, but their beliefs are such central focuses on “Ye Are Gods” that listening to this album feels like I am attending one of their church gatherings. Because of this, I would say that this album is an essential for people who follow the Process Church, or who are at least intrigued by their ideas, because you can really feel the passion these guys have for their religion, and many of the concepts they believe in are laid out quite clearly. However, since I am not a member, I cannot feel much emotional attachment to anything on here. The album never attempts to make the religion relatable or accessible to the everyday person, so conceptually, this ends up making me feel similar to how I feel whenever my parents force me to go to church with them, alienated and distant.

So with that out of the way, let me now discuss the music on here, which most part I quite enjoy it. Even though nothing on here is extremely amazing, they all slightly stimulates my senses enough to make me feel all pleasant and chill inside. The general vibe and production on this album makes me imagine the music is being played in front of me at a gothic cathedral, with a choir and a rock band, joining in time from time. In other words, while this isn’t exactly a diverse listen in terms of musical styles, there is a lot of different moods on here.

I will now give a little blurb on each and every song.

1) Let Us Give Praise And Validation: Has a folksy melody that turns into a gothic rant. Not really much to it, but I like the first section of the song, and it works as an album opener. 6/10
2) We Come From The One: A neofolk tune that has grinding cello sounds buried deep into the background, and a mandolin plucking along the left, as well as some chimes and violins. It’s good. 7/10
3) Bless Our Lord And Master: The second best track on here. The first half of the song has a hauntingly beautiful melody that, just vaguely, reminds me of a soft tune Genesis might have penned in their prog days. Underneath the front, I can hear what sounds like a…piano with some phaser and reverb attached to it? I can’t tell, but it’s a sweet touch, giving the piece even more of a gothic vibe to it. However, what really makes the song stand out is when, suddenly, mid-way, unexpected, it suddenly rocks out hard in a very powerful, almost death metal-esque way. Yeah, this one deserves a solid 8/10
4) We Give Our Lives: This song is a lot more bluesy than the other songs, and on further inspections, a lot more minimal too, with just an acoustic guitar and a bass backing up the vocalists. I like the way the singer gives out her voice, in a very dismal, whimpering, bluesy way. 7/10
5) Exit: This is one of my least favorite on the album. Like everything else on here, it boosts a cool vibe and production, but the repetitive chorus sounds much too much like cliched religious rock for me to enjoy, oozing head to toe with cheese. Up to this point, the album had an intriguing enough vibe to narrowly avoided being classified as “corny”, but alas, it seems as though the line has been crossed with this track. I remembered digging this on my first listen, but subsequently I found myself enjoying it less and less. Sigh, a 4/10 it is.
6) Christ, You Bring The End: Just a simple acoustic song with an okay melody. 5/10
7) And The Clarion Calls: A mid-tempo song that sounds very dark, airy, and ethereal. I like the electric piano and the way the singers harmonize in the mid section, and there’s a lovely little chime melody that pops in and out. However, the song I feel goes on for way too long at 5:30. I wouldn’t have put in the false ending. 7/10
8) In the Time of the Abandon II: This song I feel tries to go for a disturbing, apocalyptic mantra ala Current 93, but doesn’t quite hit it for me. The song doesn’t go on long enough, and there is not enough going on to really suck me into its atmosphere. 4/10
9) Transcendence: A spoken word track. I don’t fucking know what to rate it. -/10
10) The Love of the Gods: The only track that I can call “really really great”. I love the joyous, uplifting melody of the song, the layering of pianos and tinkering bells, and the celebratory vibe that the piece gives off. I get the image of an entire choir singing this song at the end of church, everyone in the pews enthusiastically joining and dancing along as it finishes. Wow, what a way to end the album. 9/10

All in all, it’s not a bad album, but it’s not like the most amazing special unique exciting mind blowing ejacuation-inducing musical work ever made. Just some pleasant, melodic music you can listen to while you worship Satan with your friends. B

THE UNDERTONES – Hypnotised (1980)

Review by: Ahmed Khālid
Album assigned by: Charly Saenz

Due to time and budget constraints lol, I am forced to twitterize my review:

Unfortunately I lack the proper musical background to appreciate 70s pop punk (I don’t get Ramones haha), so here goes my absolutely unapologetic ignorant opinion, based on 3 listens:

I didn’t like it. The music is bright, but the production is too old, the sound is always in the ambience, not gripping you front and center (kinda like Soundgarden’s Badmotorfinger as opposed to Superunknown, the way things should always sound) 
Everything is knowing and ironic, but done in a too-obvious way, maybe irony didn’t exist back in the 70s so they had to spell it out for us. Not impressed.
Howevs, it’s servicable enough for a ⅖

LE TRIO JOUBRAN – As Fâr (2011)

Review by: Kevin O’Meara
Album assigned by: Ahmed Khālid

Upon receiving my album recommendation- Asfâr by Le Trio Joubran- I knew that I had been presented with a daunting task. Being a relatively uncultured Canadian man, I unfortunately had no frame of reference for evaluating Palestinian folk music. I obviously heard music like it before, but the sources have inevitably been unreliable and intrinsically tied to particular imagery. Often appropriated in media as placeholder soundtrack music, I have not explored the genre in a meaningful way.  I was excited to hear it in context, freed from visual associations and abstracted from immediate visual associations.

Of course, a similar issue also emerges from the context of the music- the fact that it is inextricably politicized. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been a prevalent and contentious issue for a long time, and the cultural implications presents me, a simple music reviewer, with some potential difficulties. To say that this band is from Palestine would be met with raised eyebrows in a number of circles in the western world, and to make any claims pertaining to the issue would best be left to experts. As it stands, I do not adhere to any dogmatic view and only wish for peace and love for all people, regardless of their nationality. My job right now is merely to evaluate the contents within the proverbial jewel case.

As Fâr was released in 2011 and is the most recent album by Le Trio Joubran, three Palestinian brothers joined by percussionist Youssef Hbeisch and vocalist Dhafer Youssef on a number of tracks. They have won several awards for their soundtrack work and promulgation of Palestinian culture. They split their time between Nazareth, Ramallah and Paris, having recorded Asfâr in the French capital.

The songs are all relatively similar, being in minor keys and the instrumentation being limited to three ouds, percussion and occasional vocals. They are almost all uptempo, but are easily differentiated by their arrangements. As I mentioned, I lack a precise context to determine how this album sits within the genre as a whole, and it is difficult for me to hear the nuances that set the songs apart from one another. Nonetheless, the different permutations of the musical elements, such as sparse percussion/ vocals combinations resolving into oud sections, allow the songs to evolve, continue propelling forward and keep things fresh. Excessive reverb has the potential to turn beautiful music, for lack of a better word, tacky. Thankfully, it is used tastefully and sparingly on the album, emphasizing the beauty of each note and allowing the instruments to breathe.

As little as I wanted to emphasize the social context within which it was created, the emotions of the brothers, the spirit of a nation could be felt pulsing through the pieces. This album was a captivating experience, flawlessly executed and a pure joy to listen to. While not a progressive masterpiece, that is not what its purpose. To assign a numerical value to a piece of art meant to inspire love and hope in a battered nation is to strip it of its significance. The music was not made to capitalize on the novelty of this genre, it is not merely an insincere excursion into the art form for arts sake, with the express purpose of garnering critical acclaim. This music comes from a rich cultural history that, with each note, expresses a unique perspective of the human experience. The only proper way to evaluate such an album would be to acknowledge how it affected me, and I can certainly say that I will be returning to the album again.

I am writing this review in light of the recent attacks on Paris, wherein 89 people were killed at an Eagles Of Death Metal concert. Le Trio Joubran, as I mentioned recorded their album in Paris. In our postmodernist society, many people behave as cynical critics, privileged defenders of irony. It takes a piece like this to remind people of the importance of music on our lives. Music should not be regarded as a valueless pastime, meaningless background noise as we go about our lives. Music is legitimately meaningful cultural expression that should not be evaluated according to the number of sales or a rating out of 10 that it has. As feeling fades and people like myself disjoin themselves from this realization, they will begin once again to view music critically and try and attribute to it a value based on its progressive tendencies. However, we should always keep in mind why we listen to music in the first place.

Life is important and music is a mode of expression that many find offensive or try to suppress. However, music remains one of the only anthropological constants, something that people of all backgrounds can relate to on a primal level. On Asfâr, I hear these men communicating in an unfamiliar musical language, but thankfully we can transcend these barriers and appreciate the beauty no matter who we are or where we come from. The expression of music is universal, and it is of the utmost importance that we appreciate its value and importance.