My first exposure to Sacramento’s Church came back in September of last year, when I witnessed them nearly level the Starlite Lounge while opening for the mighty Dispirit. Like a complete idiot, I didn’t write about them at the time in spite of being thoroughly impressed with their set, largely due to the fact that they didn’t have much of a web presence or any recordings to point IG readers in the direction of (I did however post some footage to my YouTube channel). But much has changed since that early show; Church have finally released their debut album in the form of Unanswered Hymns and rest assured friends, this three track, forty-five minute long beast is every bit worth the wait.
What strikes me immediately about Unanswered Hymns is how accomplished it is for a debut album. It typically takes a band a few recordings to find their footing, but Church appear to have arrived on the scene with their sound fully formed. That sound is characterized by a downright stunning command of songwriting dynamics; the shortest track on the album clocks in at almost twelve minutes, but things never become monotonous or tiresome. Church knows exactly when to change things up and every part is well-crafted, whether they’re pummeling you into dust with colossal death doom riffage or lulling you into a trance with eerie, droning ambience.
That aforementioned sense of dynamics is what makes Unanswered Hymns feel like a truly cohesive musical journey rather than just a collection of songs. I often talk about bands being able to bring you into their world and this is something Church accomplish with ease; each track flows seamlessly into the next to create a total environment, yet each track holds its own as a separate, self-contained entity. It’s all too easy to lose yourself within the labyrinthine sonics of songs such as “Dawning” and “Stargazer,” such is the expertise with which the band has constructed and honed them.
Production-wise, Unanswered Hymns is immense. The guitars and bass are at the forefront of the mix, characterized by a warm, thick distortion that seems to seep into the album’s every nook and cranny, while the drums pound away just behind them, pushing the music ever forward at a glacial pace. The vocals are ever so slightly buried, making them sound as if they are echoing up from somewhere deep within the seething abyss of distortion, lending them a uniquely haunting quality. This is pretty much the perfect production scheme for a doom album, emphasizing the band’s overwhelming heaviness without sacrificing clarity or atmosphere.
2015 has already been quite a year for doom, but with Unanswered Hymns, Church surely sits at the top of the slow and heavy heap. The album is available on cassette through Transylvanian Tapes or digitally for all you tape-o-phobes out there, with a vinyl release coming later in the year. Normally this is the part where I’d tell you to expect big things from this young band, but the truth is, Church have already created something absolutely massive.