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Sunday Old School: Church Of Misery

There are some countries that bands dream about making it in. For a British band on the hunt for success, to make it in the United States has always been one of the biggest targets, and I'm told the same is true in reverse. There's another country however, where bands from all over the world want to make their name, located in the far east and the centre of many popular trends, art and spirituality, Japan. The country has always loved their heavy metal and as a result, many of metal's biggest names such as Judas Priest, Ozzy Osbourne and Iron Maiden have recorded live albums and DVDs there, especially at the world famous Budokan. But it's not all take, Japan has given the world some excellent metal music in return, from the good time classic heaviness of Loudness, to the avant garde and macabre of Sigh and most recently, Babymetal, perhaps the most talked about group in metal right now. There are some other fantastic bands from the country too, including today's featured band, a must have in the record collection for any doom fan, Church Of Misery.

Church Of Misery were formed in 1995 in Shinjuku, a special ward in the city of Tokyo by bass player Tatsu Mikami, who was formerly a member of one of Japan's leading thrash bands, Salem (not to be confused with the Israeli group.) A fan late sixties/early seventies rock and psychedelic bands like Leaf Hound and Blue Oyster Cult, along with the likes of Black Sabbath and Saint Vitus, he wanted to put together his own outfit that would reflect these influences and soon found three partners in crime in guitarist Tomohiro Nishimura, vocalist Kazuhiro Asaeda and drummer Hideki Shimizu. The quartet would record their first demo, "ADV.1996" the following year and sent it out to labels, fanzines and friends across the world, before a company called Doom Records released the recording as "Vol. 1" without the band's permission, resulting naturally in complaints and the threat of legal action, but also in awareness and popularity for the band in doom metal circles.

After taking part in a Japanese compilation of doom metal bands and releasing a split with Canadian band Sheavy, as well another EP entitled, "Murder Compay," Church Of Misery folded, only to be brought back in 2000 by Tatsu Mikami and Tomohiro Nishimura, recruiting a new drummer named Junji Narita and a new vocalist called Yoshiaki Negishi, who brought a harsher sound to the band, having previously been involved with hardcore and death metal music. In addition to this, the group started to make use of synthesizers more and brought in psychedelic influences to their sound.

The next year, Church Of Misery finally released their first official album, "Master of Brutality," through Southern Lord Records. It sparked their theme of writing about serial killers, with songs about such criminals as Peter Sutcliffe and John Wayne Gacy, whose face also adorned the front cover of the record, as well as being featured on the back in his Pogo the clown outfit. The album itself garnered some very positive reaction from critics and listeners alike and was followed the next year by the EP, "Boston Strangler" and a split with Acrimony.

In 2004, with new guitarist Takenori Hoshi and vocalist Hideki Fukasawa in tow, the band returned to the studio to record and release their sophomore album, entitled appropriately enough, "The Second Coming." It was just as revered as the group's debut, if not moreso and once again, featured a tracklisting inspired by serial killers, this time writing about the likes of Ted Bundy and Andrei Chikatilo, as well as covering "One Way... Or Another" by Cactus and the closing track, "El Topo," which appeared to be more about the cult classic Alejandro Jodorowsky film than a serial killer. The success of these early releases allowed them to tour Europe more, performing with the likes of Orange Goblin and Eyehategod.

In addition to touring, the band were able to capitalise more on the home video market, releasing several DVDs such as "Houses of the Unholy" and "Live in Red, Eurotour 2005," before finally authorising the release of the "Vol. 1" album. It was also around this time that they replaced Takenori Hoshi with Australian guitarist, Tom Sutton, who had emigrated to Japan some years before, as well as signing to Rise Above Records, the label owned by Cathedral frontman Lee Dorrian. Through the label, the band released their fourth album, also entitled, "Houses of the Unholy" in 2009. Once more, it received near universal acclaim and continued their tradition of featuring a cover of an early seventies heavy metal band, this time performing "Master Heartache" by Sir Lord Baltimore, as well otherwise comprising of songs about serial killer such as Albert Fish, who appeared on the record's front cover.

This was to be their last release with Hideki Fukasawa, as he strangely disappeared not long after. In his place came the returning Yoshiaki Negishi, who made his recording return on the limited EPs "Greetings From Jonestown" and "Live at Roadburn 2009." These would be the only releases to feature Negishi on his return to the band, as he was to depart again in 2012 after a European tour. Mikami and Narita were able to seek out Fukasawa after this and convinced him to return to the fold, along with new guitarist Ikuma Kawabe, with whom they recorded a new album, "Thy Kingdom Scum," which was released in 2013 to solid reviews.

Strangely, Church Of Misery were soon faced with a mass exodus, when all members of the band except for Mikami quit. That hasn't stopped the bassist or indeed the legacy, as Mikami put together another new incarnation of the group, including Repulsion vocalist Scott Carlson along with former Internal Void drummer Eric Little and Blood Farmers guitarist Dave Szulkin. This lineup has just released a new Church Of Misery album, "And Then There Were None," which so far has earned some very positive reviews. Whether or not this lineup will continue, if Mikami will remain the only Japanese member or if ex members of the band return all remains to be seen, but fans will surely be in agreement that they have added yet another fantastic notch to their legendary belt.

Church Of Misery - "Frog's Funeral"

Church Of Misery - "Killfornia"

Church Of Misery - "Red Ripper Blues"

Church Of Misery - "Blood Sucking Freak"

Church Of Misery - "Brother Bishop"

Church Of Misery - "River Demon"

Diamond Oz's avatar

Ollie Hynes has been a writer for Metal Underground.com since 2007 and a metal fan since 2001, going as far as to travel to other countries and continents for metal gigs.

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