The 2013 dissolution of THE DEVIL'S BLOOD left a large void in heavy music. The Dutch collective's bewitching brew of psychedelic occult rock scratched the itches of those looking for haunting Satanic overtones and the warmth of classic psychedelic rock, their work resembling an overtly devil-worshiping spin on vintage JEFFERSON AIRPLANE. There are other bands that do great jobs of almost capturing the vibe that THE DEVIL'S BLOOD hit so perfectly—notably JESS AND THE ANCIENT ONES and BLOOD CEREMONY—but "A Letter of Red", the newest record from avant-metal supergroup SABBATH ASSEMBLY, is the pinnacle of acts hitting similar peaks of dark atmosphere and catchy rock songs.
The group's membership is an eclectic gathering of talented musicians from the artsier corners of the metal spectrum, counting among its ranks vocalist Jamie Myers (ex-HAMMERS OF MISFORTUNE) and guitarist Ron Varod (KAYO DOT), alongside members from the heavier side of the spectrum such as guitarist Kevin Hufnagel (GORGUTS/DYSRHYTHMIA) and drummer David Nuss (ANGKOR WAT). Over the course of six records and several lineup changes, the group has welded their disparate musical backgrounds into a fantastic display of ornate songcraft underpinned by a spooky enchanting atmosphere.
Opening track "Solve et Coagula" launches as a hard-driving rocker, with Myers casting a spell with an alluring croon. About halfway through the track though, the song slows down and transforms into a psychedelic haze, as keyboardist James Magruder delivers the first of multiple eerie horror film soundtrack-worthy synthesizer performances and moody guitar work from Hufnagel and Varod. The track then closes with a rock flourish, almost as if it was rescuing someone indulging in hallucinogens from a bad trip.
"The Serpent Uncoils" reverses the progression of the album opener by executing the aural equivalent of its song title. It starts off with the ominously quiet beginning before bringing the rock, and is buffered by Myers delivering a vocal performance as if she is summoning dark forces from ancient folklore with her chants. The dexterity and technicality that Hufnagel, Varod and Nuss have become known for in other projects asserts itself most on "Worthless", starting off with a heavy jam bolstered by Nuss's powerful drums and a slow-burn jazzy drum-and-bass interlude with melodic psych-prog guitars lurking underneath. The most haunting track on the record is also its softest. "Weighing of the Heart" is a forlorn soft-rock AM radio ballad scored by acoustic guitar, maracas and hand claps, but the production and Myers's vocal delivery give life to a memorable intermission that would have brought other albums to a screeching halt.
The remainder of the record shows SABBATH ASSEMBLY continuing to master the balance between dark atmosphere and entrancing songcraft. The second half of "Hymn to the Past" sees Myers seemingly summoning demons with a shout-along chant. Moments of heavy rock riffs remain incredibly catchy, before "A Letter of Red" closes with the eight-minute psychedelic slow jam of "A Welcome Below".
SABBATH ASSEMBLY has spent the last decade slowly refining their formula. With "A Letter of Red", the supergroup has created a masterpiece of catchy rock riffs shrouded with enough darkness to please those that like a little witchcraft and Gothic aura in their tunes.