by Jon Hunt
When I was in college, I went through a brief phase where I read nothing but “true crime” novels. My “favorite” (ironic quotes intended) of all of ‘em was Maury Terry’s The Ultimate Evil. It’s a terrible book, for the most part: released during the height of the ’80s ritual abuse “Satanic panic,” the author draws insane conclusions about a “Satanic underground” from extremely tenuous evidence. His theory: that Charles Manson and the Son of Sam murders were connected by a “death cult” called the Process Church of the Final Judgement of which both were (allegedly) members. The Process Church, a late-’60s esoteric organization founded by a bearded savior-type and former Scientologist named Robert DeGrimston and his wife Mary Anne (who many said was the true brains behind the organization), believed that Jesus and Satan (as well as Jehovah and Lucifer) should be worshipped equally, as it is only through their union that the “end times” shall finally be brought about. Terry asserted that the Satanic wing of this church was acting as a kind of “murder-for-hire” organization, wiping people out across the country for revenge or, occasionally, just for fun. Besides Manson and Son of Sam, he manages to drag Paramount producer Robert Evans and Sanford and Son actor Demond Wilson in to the proceedings. It’s an insane book, trust me.
As a result, I’ve been completely fascinated ever since with the Process Church. Besides possessing a lurid belief system (honestly, that’s the only word for it – there seemed to be a lot of Satanic hailing, robe-wearing and sex), the cult also produced a series of magazines they handed out on street corners with some of the most disturbingly “culty” images ever produced. Someone within the organization was a gifted graphic designer, managing to tie together psychedelic horror-flick imagery with the look and feel of ’60s science fiction shows like “UFO” and a healthy dollop of good old fashioned fascism to boot. Weirdly, once the church split up in the late ’70s, some key members (including Mary Anne) went on to found the Best Friends Animal Society, a gigantic no-kill animal shelter in Utah, while poor Robert DeGrimston was forced to take menial office jobs to make ends meet. I guess death culting didn’t pay worth a damn.
From this bizarre and fascinating history comes Ye Are Gods by New York-based collective Sabbath Assembly. Led by former No-Neck Blues Band bassist Dave Nuss, Sabbath Assembly have taken hymns from the Process Church of the Final Judgement and wed them to early ’70s “psychedelic praise music” arrangements. This is their second album of Process hymns – their first, Restored to One, was released in 2010. Both albums are completely fucking spooky. Rather than go for the obvious – head-crunching death metal, probably, which would have made sense with the subject matter – Sabbath Assembly constantly play it super light and folky, like a bizarre combo of Jefferson Airplane at their trippiest and Christian rock godfather Larry Norman (with a little bit of Manson’s family singalongs thrown in to boot). The female singers – Jex Thoth on the first one, Wolves In The Throne Room singer Jamie Myers on this one – never go for full wailing, either, preferring to live within hymn-singing mode. There’s something about this super-light approach, wedded to lyrics like “purify me, Lord Satan,” that make it way scarier than if they’d gone for an assaultive approach. It sounds like you’re being brainwashed. You probably are.
Ye Are Gods is set up like you’re actually at one of the Process Church’s sabbath assemblies (their highest holy ceremony, apparently). The role of the priest/priestess is played by transsexual Throbbing Gristle leader (and esoterica expert) Genesis P-Orridge, whose throaty british lilt reads creepy litanies between the hymns, interrupted occasionally by the sound of enraptured cult members shouting along with him. The music runs the gamut of ’60s psych/folk creepiness. “Let Us All Give Praise and Validation” sounds like it could live quite comfortably on a Coven album. “We Come From The One” is all sparkling acoustic picking and ominous low-note thrum, almost like Nico’s first album, with lyrics about “Christ and Satan joining in pure love.” “Bless Our Lord and Master” almost sounds like Goblin’s soundtrack to “Suspiria,” all cheerful “la-la-las” and cheerful lyrics about the final judgement. “Exit,” the best song on the album, goes full-on Floyd, with swaths of Hammond organ, distorted guitars and a rather transcendent chorus. “Christ, You Bring The End” could sit on any beard-folk album you’d care to name but for the weird lyrics (“Christ, son of the mystical East…now Satan and you are in unity”). By the time actual Process member Timothy Wylie shows up on “Transcendence” to read from one of Robert DeGrimston’s books, the shivers have gone straight up your spine and the goosebumps are standing at attention – and set ender “The Love Of The Gods” is there to put the capper on it, sounding like a chipper up-with-people track from Free To Be…You And Me.
To get into Ye Are Gods, you have to have a certain amount of tolerance for “outsider music.” If you already dig stuff like Larry Norman’s apocalyptic tunes (“I Wish We’d All Been Ready” has always been my favorite – and talk about creepy! The sound of the rapture as envisioned by those left behind!) or Coven’s satan-worshipping folk music from the late ’60s (and don’t doubt that they meet up in very Processian fashion), or even stuff like the impossibly-cheery Free Design or the Beach Boys’ Dennis Wilson (especially the Manson-penned “Never Learn Not To Love”) you’ll probably adore Ye Are Gods. If not – well, do you like psychedelic folk music like, say, Akron/Family or Devendra Banhart on one end or Incredible String Band on t’other? Do you also like “folk horror” films like “The Wicker Man” or “The Devil Rides Out?” Then you might also be in luck (and you should probably also check out the other stuff I mentioned – it’ll be right in your pocket).
And while you’re at it, definitely check out Restored To One, Sabbath Assembly’s excellent first record. It’s definitely a more electric album than Ye Are Gods, more in the psychedelic rock pocket as it were, but no less strange and disturbing. Singer Jex Thoth (who fronts her own witchy/culty metal band and looks just like a girl from any Hammer Dracula/Satan movie you’d care to name) has a chillier, more ominous tone to her voice, and her harmonizing with the unnamed bassist (who has a Nico-esque accent to boot) sounds like the Mirror Universe Mamas and the Papas at times. I woke up in the middle of the night last night with “The Saints Shall Inherit The Earth” stuck in my head – “Jerusalem! Jerusalem!” – but the album’s centerpiece is the deeply psychedelic eight minute drone-fest “Judge of Mankind,” in which praise is offered verse-by-verse to Jesus Christ, Satan, Lucifer and Jehovah. “The God of Love, lord Satan,” intones Thoth, “we offer our sacrifice,” while guitars cascade around her Velvet Underground-style. It’s great, gripping stuff, and utterly terrifying in places – you can picture the berobed people dancing amidst incense smoke and, I dunno, knives or something.
In retrospect, there might have been nothing more to the Process than a bunch of poor hippies with their own cafe, a weird-ass philosophy and a bunch of creepy robes. I’m certain the whole “death cult” aspect is (at least mostly) (probably! hopefully!) bullshit. But the music they left behind – as interpreted by Sabbath Assembly – is undeniably strange and creepy anyway. The church were definitely channeling something strange that comes through in the music. I can think of no better soundtrack for Halloween than this freaky and beautiful damn album.