1. The Descend
3. The Drift
6. The Preacher
7. The Rise Of Desiderata
For right or wrong, it’s worth considering going into experiencing an album, film or other art form believing that it will be a bit naff. Now, that seems rather a negative view (and indeed it is), but it saves the hope being raised. After all, it’s the hope that kills, etc. If the experience is indeed, naff, then you’ve lost nothing. If, on the other hand, it’s a thriller and one that you’ll run to your nearest and dearest to exalt the wonder and brilliance of what you’ve experienced with breathless excitement, then you can savour that joy all the more for the surprise.
Naturally, such a stance usually carries with it a certain degree of trepidation when considering new acts. An entirely unknown entity could be a slice of custard-covered chocolate dessert, or the dessert could be something far more unpleasant. So when an act described as a “musical force… dedicated to preaching the concept of spiritual and theological balance” comes across the desk, the taste buds do begin to quiver in fear. Enter London’s SERMON.
Well, for such trepidation, a great deal of repentance shall need to be undertaken, because the band’s debut in “Birth Of The Marvellous” is nothing short of breathtaking. A beautiful mixture of progressive rock mysticism, jagged, metallic riffs and soaring vocals make it a stand-out debut amidst the usual dross the world has to offer. In fact, the religious themes that course through the album serve only to give it a certain regal majesty and pomp that can only be lapped up gratefully. Suddenly, the album title seems oddly prophetic as it most certainly is marvellous.
From the opening staccato of “The Descend”, through to the final screaming throes of “The Rise Of Desiderata”, SERMON lead a procession in some absolute songwriting highlights. Progressive music can often have a wandering eye about it, but here they have sights firmly set on the song at hand. There’s nary a sliver of fat on the likes of the dreamy “The Drift”, or the opulent “The Preacher”: just balanced songwriting, hypnotic rhythms and guitars that crush as well as bewitch. Conversely, the album’s laser-like focus also navigates itself away from becoming too sterile: the slower moments breathe and flow, whilst the more uptempo sections (and the heavier ones), feel gargantuan.
“Contrition”, as one of the album’s heavier numbers, ranks amongst its highest moments. From the beginning, it proceeds with a menacing swinging riff that’s augmented with a discordant phrase atop before soaring vocals soothe melodiously. Yet there’s room for surprises when the band unleash a guttural roar, before descending into a headbang-worthy riff replete with pinch harmonic splendour. Suddenly, you’re wondering when OPETH’s Mikael Åkerfeldt turned up. And it is very much worthy of an Åkerfeldt special, it has to be said. If you were a fan of OPETH before they phased out the screams, then SERMON may serve as a welcome reminder in places.
“Birth Of The Marvellous” is steeped in such resplendence that it could quite happily punch it with some of the progressive community’s biggest. For all the beauty that is evident across the album’s seven tracks, there’s an undercurrent melancholy that threads its way through. The album itself was borne of tragedy in dealing with the terminal illness of SERMON’s mainman’s father and, whilst that fact may not be inherently evident amongst the religious imagery that can be found, the weight of it can be felt. Bad times makes for good music and all that, but you’ll be hard-pushed to find better evidence of that than here.
Balancing religions together to make for some sort of spiritual utopia may be rather an idyllic scenario, but if it could be done as easily as SERMON have done so with their songwriting, then the world might yet be okay. “Birth Of The Marvellous” sets not only a precedent for the band going forward, but for other bands debuting or aiming to put out future works. Progressive, meticulous songwriting and with a strong theme running throughout ties it all together in a wonderful sonic delight – over to you, other bands. In the meantime, gather forth with the congregation and prepare to praise our new prophets of prog in SERMON.