Welcome to the second installment in my examination of the music of Sabbath Assembly, a recent retro-metal/occult outfit inspired by the infamous Process Church of the Final Judgment. In the first installment I broke down how Sabbath Assembly came about. Essentially drummer/band leader Dave Nuss stumbled upon vague descriptions (and even a few pieces of sheet music) of hymns composed by members of the Process and performed by a band they assembled known as the Process Version while reading Love Sex Fear Death: The Inside Story of the Process Chuch of the Final Judgment, a collection of essays by former Process members. Through Adam Parfrey (the legendary Feral House founder who edited Love Sex Fear Death) Nuss was able to contact Timothy Wyllie, an early member of the Process who has provided the public with the most thorough examination of the cult. Wyllie also happened to be a member of the Process Venture (he played lead guitar) and one of its chief songwriters. Wyllie provided Nuss with the sheet music for nearly 60 Process hymns, which served as the genesis for Sabbath Asembly.
While Nuss and his chief collaborators (mainly the lead singers) in Sabbath Assembly have taken extensive liberties with the musical arrangements of the Process hymns (and even some of the lyrics) they have generally tried to remain true to the spirit and theology of the Process, and can thus provide us with some useful insights into those aspects of the cult. In this installment I shall chiefly focus on the actual music of Sabbath Assembly. While this series was never meant to be a thorough examination of the Process Church there are many more details about it and its use of music in the first installment of this series.
So far Sabbath Assembly have produced two albums, 2010's Restored to the One and 2012's Ye Are Gods. I would strongly advise the curious to start with the debut album as it is both stronger overall and somewhat more conventional. Musically it merges 1960s psychedelica with American-style gospel for a one-of-a-kind atmosphere. Imagine wondering along the streets of Haight-Ashbury circa 1968 with a head full of acid while a witchy Processean sings peons to the gods and the coming apocalypse accompanied by a choir and several members of Jefferson Airplane in the background and you'll have a rough concept of what this album sounds like.
The hymns on Restored to the One seem to be conceptually organized, with the opening tracks centered around the beginning of an initiatory process. The middle tracks envision a new age dawning while the latter ones introduce the pantheon of Process gods. The album closer hails the coming Apocalypse in glorious fashion. Before we begin with an analysis of the hymns found on Restored to the One let us first consider the Process gods, as many of the hymns revolve around them.
"The Process theology that had started to take shape in Xtul, when the Beings who had guided us gradually morphed in our collective imagination into the three 'Gods,' Jehovah, Lucifer and Satan, with their emissary, Christ, was shaped and polished in those endless meetings. And when they consulted theology it came to be.
"The three Gods themselves were seen as essentially co-equal , and yet revealed different qualities. These aspects also manifested as a duality: Jehovah may display strengthen and leadership, but could also lapse into tyranny; Lucifer the Light Bringer could degenerate into a cold detachment; Satan could manifest as fiery inspiration, or self-indulgent excess. It was also not quite so clear what Christ represented, apart from a self-sacrificing unifying principle that could collapse into victimhood.
"Within the community, I believe most of us thought of these gods more as archetypes that represented four different types of human personality. Thus each of us became, in Mary Ann's eyes, a representative of one of the four gods. Mary Ann became self-identified with Jehovah, as Robert was with Christ. I, in turn, became known as Luciferic. It wasn't too long before these types became expanded so that each of us represented some combination of two of these gods. Mary Ann claimed herself as reflective of Jehovah/Satan; Robert was identified as Lucifer/Christ, and I, along with many others, was dubbed L/S for Lucifer/Satan."
(Love Sex Fear Death, "My Life Inside the Process Church," Timothy Wyllie, pg. 54)
|the symbol of the Process Church represented the four gods|
Of the Process gods (excluding Christ, who was seen as a kind of emissary between the other three) Robert DeGrimston (who co-founded the Process with his wife, Mary Ann, and who was its figurehead) himself wrote:
"For the three Gods represent three basic human patterns of reality. Within the framework of each pattern there are countless variations and permutations, widely varying grades of suppression and intensity. Yet each one represents a fundamental problem, a deep-rooted driving force, a pressure of instincts and desires, terrors and revulsions.
"All three of them exist to some extent in every one of us. But each one of us leans more heavily towards one of them, whilst the pressures of the other two provide the presence of conflict and uncertainty.
"JEHOVAH, the wrathful God of vengeance and retribution, demands discipline, courage and ruthlessness, and a single-minded dedication to duty, purity and self-denial. All of us feel those demands to some degree, some more strongly and more frequently than others.
"LUCIFER, the Light Bearer, urges us to enjoy life to the full, to value success in human terms, to be gentle and kind and loving, and to live in peace and harmony with one another. Man's apparent inability to value success without descending into greed, jealousy and an exaggerated sense of his own importance, has brought the God LUCIFER into disrepute. He has become mistakenly identified with SATAN.
"SATAN, the receiver of transcendent souls and corrupted bodies, instills in us two directly opposite qualities; at one end an urged to rise above all human and physical needs and appetites, to become all soul and no body, all spirit and no mind, and at the other end a desire to sink beneath all human values, all standards of morality, all ethics, all human codes of behavior, and to wallow in a morass of violence, lunacy and excessive physical indulgence. But it is the lower end of SATAN's nature that men fear, which is why SATAN, by whatever name, is seen as the Adversary."
(ibid, excerpts from "The Gods on War," Robert DeGrimston, pg. 270)
Restored to the One opens with "Glory to the Gods in the Highest," beginnig our journey in a wash of psychedelic guitars and female, gospel-tinged vocals courtesy of original singer Jex Thoth. It's a solid opening track that sets the mood appropriately but it's not to the second number, "Hymn of Consecration," that things really get going.
This hymn makes heavy use of the imagery of fire and water, with its incantations of "May the water give me life" and "Purify me with the fire" before the song drifts away into a wave of wordless chants and backwards guitars. Both water and fire were used regularly in Process rituals. Fire and water were both present in the assembly halls where Processeans performed their meditations, for instance.
"Lit by red and white candles, with two silver bowls --one with fire and the other water --in the center of the room, while we sat cross-legged in a circle, relaxed by a gentle guitar and the rote responses we knew so well, and reinforced the closeness of bond we all felt."
(ibid, "My Life Inside the Process Church," Timothy Wyllie, pg. 98)
In Process theology water was associated with Christ while fire was the dominion of Satan. Both water and fire share symbolic associations with purification and regeneration the world over, the chief theme of the "Hymn of Consecration." In Process theology Christ and Satan were united in bringing about the apocalypse, thus they would make a natural pair for different types of purification and regeneration. Conceptually, this can be seen as the beginning of the initiatory journey.
Beyond this, water and fire have had a long time connection in the occult.
"The symbolism of the Hebrews, the Seal of Solomon exhibits the triangle of fire, gold, or Light... and the triangle of water, or Blood... This Seal is the supreme symbol of Spirit unified with Matter, or God united with Man. It is a glyph of the Great Work, perfected in the O.T.O., by the union of Fire and Water, and thus represents the Ninth Degree."
(The Magical Revival, Kenneth Grant, pg. 142)
|the Seal of Solomon|
A union of spirit and matter are key concepts in Gnosticism, an ancient heretical strand that reportedly heavily influenced the theology of the Process. But more on that later. Incidentally, the Seal of Solomon (otherwise known as the Star of David) became the primary symbol of the Foundation Church of the Millennium, the organization the Process morphed into after Robert and Mary Ann (who took the bulk of the followers and became the undisputed head of the Foundation Church) went their separate ways.
The concept of initiation is further reinforced with the next track, the Velvet Underground-like "And the Phoenix is Reborn." The mythological creature that is the Phoenix has long been associated with initiation, among other things.
"Mediaeval Hermetists regarded the phoenix as a symbol of the accomplishment of alchemical transmutation, a process equivalent to human regeneration. The name phoenix was also given to one of the secret alchemical formulae. The familiar pelican of the Rose Croix degree, feeding its young from its own breast, is in reality a phoenix, a fact which can be confirmed by an examination of the head of the bird. The ungainly lower part of the pelican's beak is entirely missing, the head of the phoenix being far more like that of an eagle than of a pelican. In the Mysteries it was customary to refer to initiates as phaenixes or men who had been born again, for just as physical birth gives man consciousness in the physical world, so the neophyte, after nine degrees in the womb of the Mysteries, was born into a consciousness of the spiritual world."
(The Secret Teachings of All Ages, Manly P. Hall, pgs. 281-282)
The next track, "The Saints Shall Inherit the Earth," envisions a new age. The children are advised to "arise" as "the chains of the old fall away" and "the pattern of death and decay/is overcome..." It's all so Aquarian Age.
After invoking "The Power That Is Love" Restored to the One moves on to the Process deities themselves. It begins with "Glory Hallelujah," appropriately the album's most gospel-infused track, where Jehovah and Satan are invoked and proclamations are made that "The Final War has begun." The next two tracks, "Judge of Mankind" and "We Give Our Lives" (the former coming on like an extended Doors track along the lines of "When the Music's Over" or even "The End" while the latter finds them at their most Jefferson Airplane), address all four of the Process deities. "We Give Our Lives" offers the most explicative look at this curious pantheon:
"A Hebrew word signifying:
In Job 26:6, and Proverbs 15:11, the word occurs in conjunction with Sheol."
- ruin, destruction (Job 31:12);
- place of destruction; the Abyss, realm of the dead (Job 26:6; Proverbs 15:11);
- it occurs personified (Apocalypse 9:11) as Abaddon and is rendered in Greek by Apollyon, denoting the angel-prince of hell, the minister of death and author of havoc on earth. The Vulgate renders the Greek Apollyon by the Latin Exterminans (that is, "Destroyer"). The identity of Abaddon with Asmodeus, the demon of impurity, has been asserted, but not proved.
While I've been able to turn up little on Abaddon the creature known as Asmodeus, whom some believe is the same entity as Abaddon, has quite a fearsome reputation.
"Asmodeus (Ashmedai in Hebrew, meaning 'evil spirit') is the undisputed king of the demons of Hebrew lore. He has three heads that face different directions. One is the head of a bull, the second the head of a ram, and the third the head of an ogre. He has the legs and feet of a cock and rides a fire-breathing lion. All of these animals are associated with lust, which is his specialty. His other power areas are wrath and revenge. He wrecks havoc in households and produces enmity between man and wife. His favorite place is the bedroom.
"Asmodeus is said to be the son of Naamah and it has been said that he is husband of Lilith, the queen of the demons. By name he is clearly connected to an ancient Persian demon of wrath, Aeshma. The cock feet of Asmodeus (and later, the Devil) can be traced back to Babylonian belief in the cock as an important divinity of night to whom sacrifices were made and indicates the power stature of this demon. In Christian lore Asmodeus retains his hybrid shape and powers and is also known as Sammael, one of the fallen angels, and at times becomes interchangeable with Satan. Asmodeus represents one of the Seven Deadly Sins --Lust..."
(A Field Guide to Demons, Fairies, Fallen Angels, and Other Subversive Spirits, Carol & Dinah Mack, pgs. 187-188)
Obviously this creature is most apt for ushering in an apocalypse. It is also in keeping with the Gnostic leanings of the Process, though the song was apparently not an actual Process hymn but rather a composition Dave Nuss wrote it in the spirit of such things. Interestingly, Sammael is one of the names of the Demiurge in Gnosticism, the deity some have linked with Jehovah. Beyond that, the sense of death "... Abaddon" evokes brings Restored to the One full circle conceptually. It began with a rebirth into the mysteries of the Process and ends in death, which is simply another step to being reborn again.
And so Restored to the One comes to a fitting conclusion. While the four chief deities of the Process were described as archetypes above it seems that they were also used as personifications of different aspects of a supreme, creator deity, a notion at the heart of Gnosticism. In Process theology God splintered into four distinct personalities when the universe was created. All of humanity has different aspects of these contradictory deities within us. By harmonizing these different aspects (or Aeons, in Gnostic terminology) we move closer to (and gain a deeper understanding of) the supreme deity, the Gnostic Abraxas or Monad, the ultimate aim of most initiatory journeys. Hence, the title Restored to the One.
So much for Restored to the One. Sabbath Assembly followed up this groundbreaking album two years later with Ye Are Gods, an album that seemingly found them in a state of transition. Jex Thoth had departed the group by this time to refocus her energies on her own band, a fact that hangs over this album like a shadow.
Ye Are Gods is much more "theatrical" than its predecessor. Whereas Restored to the One was essentially a collection of songs conceptually arranged Ye Are Gods seemingly tries to re-create the experience of one of the Process' Sabbath Assemblies, which were discussed in greater detail in the first installment of this series. Unfortunately, I erred in my description of these assemblies in part one so now I shall make amends. Of them, the World Religious and Spirituality Project remarks:
"The Sabbath Assembly was held every week on Saturday night and was the time when all the members could get together. It took place in the alpha ritual room which was organized in a particular fashion. There was a circular altar in the middle of the room with stands on either side of it, one with a bowl of water on it and the other with a bowl of fire. The participants sat in a circle around the altar on cushions on the floor, and the two priests sat on opposite sides of the room facing each other on chairs. The two priests are called the Sacrifist and the Evangelist. The Sacrifist symbolizes Christ and the Evangelist represents Satan. The Sacrifist presides over most of the ceremony while the Evangelist delivers the emotional sermon. The ritual included the Sabbath Assembly Chants. Much of the symbolism in the Sabbath Assembly is concerned with the main tenet of Process beliefs, that of the 'dual relationships of the gods and the unity of Christ and Satan...'"
What this effectively amounts to is that the songs on Ye Are Gods are not so much songs as performances, with a "Sacrifist" reciting Process dogma while female vocals (the Evangelist) engage in call and response not unlike what millions of Americans experience in Protestant churches every Sunday (though with odes addressed to Satan and Lucifer as often as Jehovah and Christ). The role of the Sacrifist is taken up by the legendary Genesis P-Orridge, formerly a member of industrial pioneers Throbbing Gristle and later the acid house outfit Psychic TV.
While the Sacrifist dialogues are compelling at first they quickly become overused. What's more, they force new Sabbath Assembly vocalist Jamie Myers to share the stage with P-Orridge. As I noted in part one the decision to go with a female vocalist for this project was most apt as the Process, despite its exclusively male deities, was essentially a matriarchy based around the figure of Mary Ann DeGrimston, whom some members actually thought was the Goddess incarnate. Jex Thoth brought an incredible feminine presence to the first album that perfectly captured these contrasts. Her replacement, Miss Myers, does not have the raw mojo of Jex but her vocals do have a somber and atmospheric air to them that is captivating in its own right.
|Jex Thoth (top) and Jamie Myers (bottom)|
Unfortunately the full possibilities of her vocals are not realized due to the constant interruptions by the Sacrifist. Thus, while Ye Are Gods may be a more accurate presentation of the Process hymns the theatrical approach ultimately strips them of some of their power. Nevertheless, Ye Are Gods still provides us with compelling insights into the Process. I'll begin with the Sacrifist dialogue.
The Process view of Satan and Christ is is spelled out from the get-go with opener "Let Us Give Praise and Validation" with the Sacrifist stating:
"A musical instrument used to mark the most important periods of the day (reveille and lights out), to sound the charge or to proclaim a solemn ceremony, or to usher in so great a cosmic happening as the Last Judgment. The walls of Jericho were brought down by silent circumambulation interspersed by trumpet-blasts... Roman armies knew of and put into practice the terrifying alternation of deep silence and the shrill braying of trumpets.
"Angels are often depicted blowing trumpets and the Athene Salpinx (trumpet-player) from Argos clearly carried the instrument which joins Heaven and Earth together in common rejoicing. The start of a battle, too, partakes of a sacred nature, hence the use both in religious ceremony and warlike action of this metallic instrument...
"The trumpet symbolizes an important conjunction of elements and events, marked by celestial manifestation (air, breath and sound)."
(The Dictionary of Symbols, Jean Chevalier & Alain Gheerbrant, pgs. 1039-1040)
In this case, the clarion/trumpet ushers in the wake of the apocalypse in which "the Gods are One" once again and by default, humanity itself. Thus, the song urges you to "Lift your banners high to the Gods/and feel the new life flow."
"And the Clarion Calls" is followed by "In the Time of Abaddon II," presumably another original composition and every bit as creepy as the "Abaddon" track on Restored to the One. On this track Myers chants excerpts from a Coptic text known as "Discourse on Abbaton" composed by Timothy of Alexandria in the fourth century.
Ye Are Gods concludes with "The Love of the Gods," yet another realization of the Gnostic concept of many-gods-from-the-One after another celebration of the apocalypse. Here the Sacrifist dialogue is taken from "The Prophecy of the New Bginning" with Genesis P-Orridge proclaiming: