Reverend Bizarre are a rather difficult band to reckon with at first. I can tell you myself that I had a difficult time getting a handle on them for years. I’d started out with III: So Long Suckers, for whatever damn fool reason, and while that’s certainly a fine album in its own right, it is also about the worst way to get into their world. Then, I’d say about 6 or 7 years ago, the band’s all-or-nothing approach to the genre finally clicked with me and made sense, as it were. Though I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention their second album, II: Crush the Insects, is probably the easiest way to get into the band. Of course, the most rewarding things in life are the hardest tasks to accomplish, no?
There is a reason for that lack of accessibility, though explaining it to people beyond “goes slow & mostly stays there for 75 minutes” is a bit dicier, mostly ‘cause it requires a bit of an abstract touch to explain. An associate of mine once put it best: Reverend Bizarre essentially play doom metal with a “black metal mindset”, which is probably a contentious idea to state for a traditional metal website. But essentially, what I’m getting at is that the band essentially embrace the most fantastical tenants & aspects of the genre – the aesthetic, performances, and most importantly, the compositions – and do so wholeheartedly while dismiss notions of “taste” or “cheese”. In essence, the band dismisses the usual hangups about “cheese”, “taste”, the usual crap that prevents people from engaging with music in a sincere/genuine fashion. This all sounds awfully weird and strange, at first blush, but it is right there, implicitly present and that ultimately informs the more direct musical elements of what the band’s doing. (And, not for nothing, this is the band who got away with covering Burzum and Beherit tunes, and recontextualized them within the band’s idiom while remaining faithful to the spirit of the originals.)
In the Rectory… is a fuckin’ slow album; there’s no getting around it. The number of times across the entire 75-minute running time RevBiz speed up can be counted on one hand. And yet, the sheer commitment to these excruciatingly glacial tempos highlights a few things that need to be addressed. For one, these guys are bashing away with some seriously inspired riffage – while RevBiz certainly wear their influences on their sleeve, again, it is how they combine these together that matters the most. Whether it’s the bitterly forlorn sensibilities that underpin the opener and “The Hour of Death”, the mind-melting sense of cinema that underpins the melody of “Cirith Ungol”, or the macabre, midpaced power of “Doomsower” and its central riff, there’s a very particular sensibility that is uniquely the band’s and nobody else’s. You could listen to this next to, say, five other doom albums and I daresay you’d be able to pick this one out more easily then you’d realize, based strictly on the chord voicings & melodic sensibilities contained therein. And, not for nothing, these are some of the heaviest fuckin’ riffs ever laid down – the moment the first chord in “Burn in Hell!” hits, the band never really lets off bludgeoning you for almost all of the remaining 75 minutes of the album, delivered with an absolute physicality felt in pure weight & melodic content. The way the guitars & bass mesh together is inimitable in that regard. You hear it, you feel it, you understand the pure weightiness of the music.
The next couple of points go hand in hand with each other: Reverend Bizarre’s song structuring on this album is pretty nontraditional, as I’d mentioned above. None of the songs are really based on verse/chorus – rather, what the band does is that they basically take a handful of riffs, use them as central themes and expand on them over the course of a song. It’s a structuring format that’s closer to more… extreme forms of metal (shall we say those of a black variety?). In doing so on this album, Reverend Bizarre reveal perhaps their biggest strength, even more so than their brilliant riffcraft: their gift for arrangement and how to utilize tension and release within the context of these songs.
Basically: any ol’ bunch of assholes can go Low And Slow with their Epiphones and Orange Amps. But actually turning it into a song – based exclusively around a handful of riffs & basslines played at such a slow tempo – that not only does something interesting, but actually goes and takes you somewhere for its duration? That’s a hell of a lot more difficult than it seems like, when you sit down and listen to something. Reverend Bizarre’s skill is that they know exactly how to ride a riff and use it to build tension throughout a song – occasionally with subtle variations that build on it, eg the opener – and, for how rare the uptempo parts are on this album, when they appear they’re absolutely striking because outside of the sudden change, songs like the title track or “Sodoma Sunrise” internally build toward moments like that, instead of just using them as incidental throwaways (and even the cheeky “AWRIGHTNOW!” part in the title track fucking rules and adds a bit of verve to the song).
Songs like “The Hour of Death” express, amid the bombast, a genuine elegiac sensibility; the band’s handing of it isn’t via cheap sentiment, but the balance they strike between the riffs and, again, the sense of tension & release the band uses between them throughout the song. The climax of that tune might be their single crowning achievement on an album chock full of them. And while you can make the argument that “Cirith Ungol” is a tad overlong – as much of an apologist for this band as I typically am – it also succeeds brilliantly as a closer, constantly ramping up and escalating the tension, between the way it persistently builds off a couple riffs for dramatic effect throughout, and when you finally get to the song’s climax, it feels genuinely hard fought to get there. There’s a sense of bittersweet triumph to the conclusion of that adventure, which makes even its occasional unwieldiness rewarding in its own way.
Listening to a Reverend Bizarre album is a reminder that each record is an experience unto its own; an experience that sometimes requires you to be patient and empathize with what a band is going for, instead of asking a band to conform to a preset group of standards. I could prattle on and on about this record for ages – but suffice it to say for brevities’ sake: yes, I do consider it a masterpiece, certainly one that stands up there with just about anything else in metal’s history. Absolutely sublime.
Album rating: 99/100
Favorite track: The Hour of Death