The morbid Yakuza known as Church of Misery have been at large for around 24 years, with only bassist Tatsu Mikami remaining since the day they were born in blood and decided to dedicate their careers to musically documenting the lives and crimes of the very real ghouls that have walked among us. These samurai of doom were to play Pittsburgh once before in 2013 only to be halted by visa restrictions, making this underground (in all respects) gig hotly anticipated and amply attended. Cattivo became an abbatoir.
Toke, whom I first caught at last year’s second annual Descendants of Crom festival, were exactly the bluesy, sludgy power threesome I’ve come to expect and respect, inaugurating the mass with shots of Molly Hatchet to go along with their Corrosion of Conformity and Eyehategod moonshine, Jason “Bronco” Pierce leading his pack to highway freedom with a killer’s wink and a film idol’s smile. Church of Misery’s frontman, Hiroyuki Takamo, even joined them onstage for a song.
The Atomic Bitchwax, like Church of Misery, were another long-time doom/stoner band I’d never seen before. Having formed just a few years prior to Church of Misery, The Atomic Bitchwax brought a Southern rock essence and ethic like Toke did, but added a bit of ZZ Top boogie, Hawkwind-ish psychedelia, and a faster Agony Column-like element to their set, so much so, that I was surprised no one moshed, the ‘bangers on the floor waiting until Lord Takamo’s command during the encore to commence the stampede.
Make no mistake. The majority of us fiends were there for Church of Misery, and the grand liquidators gave us the ornate death cult experience we craved. The Sabbatherian serial killer odes and ballads quaked the foundations of normalcy and decency, Takamo inverting life and fatal violence with a necromancer’s dance, tongue, and spasms, summoning ghostly, homicidal frequencies via his makeshift theremin/transmitter/wah pedal device as he howled mournfully and panic-stricken into Potter’s Fields full of John and Jane Does. Yasuto Muraki, Tatsu Mikami, and Junichi Yamamura invoked Iommi, Butler, and Ward as Takamo took Ozzy’s psychosis to a new level of depravity, all performers doing things with noise the Birmingham lads never thought to do, but at the same time respecting the houses that Black Sabbath have built. Immensely groovy, heaving, stomping, lurching monster “Brother Bishop,” a demented “tribute” to Gary Heidnik, a Philadelphian kidnapper whose terror spree lasted several months in the late 80’s, was a highlight. “Born To Raise Hell (Richard Speck)” punctured lungs with its “Fairies Wear Boots” jugular jive right before “Blood Sucking Freak (Richard Trenton Chase)” lumbered forth in butcher’s regalia. “Murderfreak Blues (Tommy Lyn Sells)” and “Shotgun Boogie” closed out the evening of very human evil. A deafening two-fisted finale, nothing supernatural was necessary to make these tales fearful and foreboding.
Cannibals, stranglers, and those who carve and dismember exist and have for centuries. Many remain, roaming and charming unwitting victims and delivering them unto horror, eluding capture for decades, some managing to never allow themselves to be identified, serving as the bone-chilling bogeymen that haunt our psyches whenever the sun falls and we find ourselves alone. Church of Misery serve to warn us of such diseased individuals through song. Their darkened chords, ominous words, eerie vibrations, and night-shattering screams keeping us aware of those who prey upon others without glorifying their heinous misdeeds so that we may evade their gory, garroted grasp and live to see another daybreak.