Interview with Dave Nuss
Sabbath Assembly are an intriguing act who have been recording and performing live renditions of hymns from a long ago religious sect known as the Process Church. The Process Church teaches that Jehovah, Satan, Lucifer and Christ are all a part of the same spectrum and should be worshiped equally. With their newest album ‘Quaternity,’ they continue to demonstrate these teachings in an almost ritualistic, yet metallic nature that is sure to bedazzle and enlighten the senses.
Let’s begin this interview with a bit of background information. Please tell me a little about Sabbath Assembly as well as your musical backgrounds and previous bands that you may have played in.
Sabbath Assembly started as a project to promote the book, LOVE SEX FEAR DEATH by original Process Church of the Final Judgment member Timothy Wyllie. We received a book of church hymns, none of which had ever been recorded and set out to play them live and then record them.
Your music seems to be very ritualistic in nature, much in the vein of Crowley or Spare’s work, yet it seems to also soak in the waters of darkwave acts like Dead Can Dance or Unto Ashes, albeit with more metal elements in some regards. Might you explain the purpose behind these musical rituals? Would you consider this album a sort of magickal working as it were?
Our last album Ye Are Gods was our interpretation of the highest holy mass of the Process Church, so that album has the texts and feeling of a mass. But what does “ritual music” mean anyway? That there’s spoken texts? Or some repetitive, meditative aspect in the music? Is Motorhead ritual music? To me the “ritual” side is often in how we listen rather than what the music actually is. Quaternity is definitely an exposition on theological matters on one hand, but also a collection of songs of love and devotion on another. Because we are interested in both Christ and Satan, we like music that mixes the ethereal, like the opening chant on the album; with the material, such as “I, Satan.” Our ritual requires mind and body, head and heart – not only pretentious text readings. If you want that then “Four Horsemen” is your jam!
I’m quite perplexed, yet also fascinated by the very first lines of the album’s linear notes. You seem to be mystically representing Satan, Lucifer and Jehovah on the record, which some would see as a bit odd. Not to mention that on the left hand you’ve got “Praise Christ” and the right hand holds “Hail Satan.” Yet again, I’m reminded of Crowley’s work in the same fashion. What does Satan, Lucifer and Jehovah represent here and why are they considered three of a trinity?
The Process Church has them as a Trinity in their theology. Jehovah represents authority and discipline, Satan embodies extremes and Lucifer encourages full engagement with life. Christ stands outside as a kind of ‘emissary’ between the gods and humankind. Our interpretation of that is to combine the four deities into a “quaternity” because the “4” is more common in pagan traditions – the four directions, the four seasons, etc – and 4 seems more balanced. Also I see no reason to view Christ as an entity separate from the others.
Talk about the writing and recording of the album. Where did you record this album and how long did these processes take? What was the ideal vision that you had for this recording? Were there any troubles during either of these processes?
We achieved the ideal vision because we took a long time recording and many parts were recorded individually in our own studios. Guitar was laid down first, and then we built the songs from there, adding strings, percussion and vocals. What was exciting about recording this album is that we all had really long periods to let our imaginations come up with the wildest stuff. I was working with a team of classical musicians that study at a school across the street from my apartment in NY, so every time I’d find them smoking on my stoop, I’d invite them in to record. And then a cello part would lead to an idea for viola, and slowly the beast was taking shape. The trouble was in the mixing because there were so many ideas that we needed to sift through in order to find the ones that really supported a particular song.
Please explain to me The Process Church Of The Final Judgment. What exactly are your teachings and how does this relate to the music displayed on the album?
Let’s make this clear that Sabbath Assembly is not the Process Church and neither are we members of the church because it hasn’t existed since the 70s. The church basically believed in an integrative theology in which the deities of Biblical stories were understood metaphorically as personality types. So your personality would be analyzed and you would be described as Luciferic, Satanic, Christian, or Jehovic. None of these were thought of as “bad” or “sinful,” just aspects to be managed and balanced. Quaternity gives a voice to these deities, allowing them each to speak and be heard without judgment or condemnation. So the Process Church philosophy is an inspiration for the band and nothing more.
I’m also going to inquire about the cover. Though simplistic by some standards, it seems like a sort of alchemic sigil and needs no elaboration. What exactly is represented here? I’ve noticed a symbol at the very top of the triangle which represents an eye, yet I also see a symbol to the bottom and the right of the structure that resemble serpents. To the left it looks in the vein of an elaborate inversed pentagram, yet I’m probably quite a ways off with that. Forgive me if I’m touching too deep into sacred matters, I’m just too curious for my own good.
The eye is Jehovah, the triangular symbol is Lucifer, the snake going up is Christ, and the snake going down is Satan. The pyramid was the Process Church’s diagram of these four deities and their original idea with the names of the deities in the pyramid can be seen inside the album and CD.
What do you think are some of the strongest songs on this album and will you be playing any of these in a live format?
These songs are a challenge to play live because of the many instruments and the acoustic mood. “I, Satan” we are definitely going to play and we are working on more electrified versions of “Jehovah on Death,” “Lucifer,” and “The Four Horsemen.” We are bringing a violist and acoustic bassist on our upcoming EU tour to carry the string parts.
What artists or bands could you say inspired this work? What originally got you into music?
I came of age in the 80’s so pretty much all I think about is classic era Slayer, Metallica and Maiden and then Mercyful Fate, early Fates Warning and Sacrilege UK. Somehow when those bands get rolled together it sounds like Quaternity. For example, with the string quartet at the end of the 4th verse of “The Four Horsemen” Jamie and I were thinking Iron Maiden vocals all the way. So…. Maiden gone classical? (Laughs) Hopefully the record’s better than that makes it sound. Jamie loves a lot of darker folk music and honestly we write to suit her vocal delivery, which is so particular.
You end the record with “The Four Horsemen” which seems to offer another alternative to the Armageddon scenario, one much different than was taught in Christian texts. A quote proclaims that one can stand against the Armageddon with Lucifer and as is written, “defy the devastation of Armageddon.” You say that humanity is doomed to this fate, because they have accepted it. To be honest, there is so much about this song which I am curious about and I’d ask if you would only explain it a bit clearer. What is this “woman clothed in the sun” and who is this “seven headed dragon?” Might these be Lilith and Lucifer, or am I entirely off?
The Process Church was definitely an apocalyptic sect, which is what their hymn “The Four Horsemen” is about. I was brought up in a real end-of-times Christian church and I remember constantly being taught that the end of times was right around the corner – and I was scared! In addition to their apocalyptic teachings, the Process also has texts that advocate the admonition of fear by embracing the Luciferic and Satanic aspects of ourselves, finding strength and joy in the difficult aspects of life, including the prospect of death. So we juxtaposed their original hymn with their texts that encourage us to approach death without fear. The lines from Revelations Chapter 6 about the “woman clothed with the sun” were included for several reasons. First, they invite the feminine into the Apocalyptic imagery, which is important and second because the woman is described as “having the moon under her feet,” as well as the sun around her head, indicating that she is the connection between the solar and the lunar imagery. This is an important aspect of Christianity neglected in its mainstream, and it corroborates with the theme of reconciliation of opposites in Processian theology. The woman here is generally understood to be Mary and her child is Jesus; there is even a traditional Russian icon of this image.
As a younger fellow, I was always quite taken by the book of Revelations in general, as I thought it was one of the more intriguing books of the Bible. Yet I always found something quite odd and that’s the need for this “lake of fire” long after the world had been re-created. It just didn’t make any sense to continue torturing souls for eons after the new world had been established. I even went so far as to begin penning a book about the subject, dealing with the sheer fact that this “new perfect utopia” wasn’t completely perfect after all – not if there still needed to be a realm where souls are tortured for all eternity. Yet still, those of the Christian faith will tell you that it has already been prophesized that there would be a victory. And we’ve still got the ridiculousness of the Satan being chained for a thousand years, only to later escape and begin the final battle. It doesn’t make any sense to me for such a being to be chained up for this amount of time, only when you know that an escape will come later. What are your thoughts on these things?
You are asking amazing questions. The whole thing does seem completely ridiculous and in the genre of hallucinogenic writing. Revelations is right up there with William Blake and Carlos Castanada. I just wish the author had had some paint and paper around to do illustrations of what he was seeing! Speaking personally, I agree that nothing is perfect so long as there is suffering and the fact that Christians keep the torture happening alongside their paradise reveals what an adversarial faith Christianity was in the beginning. Just after this book was penned was the beginning of one of the greatest times of persecution for the Christians by the Roman Emperor Nero, who was literally burning them alive for lamps in his garden. So it makes sense they would have visions of their enemies suffering while they would be kicking back having beers with Jesus.
Forgive me, as I am rational mind who looks at things in another perspective. I only try to understand and grasp that which seems to confound me. Yet I will ask a simple question, something I’ve already posed in a novella; yet I feel that you would be more suited to its answer being that you’ve done a great deal of more studying than I myself have. Jehovah created Lucifer as well as all of the other angels. And as I was taught; such a being was omniscient, omnipotent and omnipresent among other things. Yet I never could come to understand why the favorite and most beautiful of all angels decided to take the throne. The reason being, that angels had no free will, unlike the human race. They couldn’t make a decision to rebel. It doesn’t fall in line with the context. The only thing that I can think of, is that Jehovah himself may have planted the seed of rebellion into Lucifer’s mind on purpose. Yet he also had planned and foresaw the outcome being as omniscient as I was told. So this entire war in heaven had already been known and calculated the entire time. But despite this long preamble, my question is quite simple. If Jehovah had the ability to create anything from nothing, then why didn’t he create an entire separate universe for Lucifer to reign over? A one-hundred percent copy of the same one that Jehovah himself had created. Obviously, these two were rather close as the texts decree; and had I the power to do such a thing, I would. I have given things to others when I had the ability to do so and I am but a mortal human man. In all of my life, I’ve never been able to understand this.
Well, Jehovah in the Hebrew Bible is certainly not portrayed as either rational or compassionate. Throughout those books he continuously orders the death of neighboring tribes, the burning of their idols, the rape of their women and the plunder of their goods. We should also point out that Jehovah, also known by other names; is portrayed differently in each book, as each book was written by different sets of authors in different places across centuries. How can we expect an oral tradition of a nomadic culture thousands of years ago to portray a consistent idea of what “God” is like as a character? Most of the discussion about Lucifer occurs after the Testaments were assembled – you’ll see there is almost no writing about Lucifer in the Bible at all – and our perception of him comes more from texts like Paradise Lost by Milton and other Rabbinical treatises. People going back centuries have been wondering about questions like yours, trying to understand this relationship of God to Lucifer and what “actually” happened. In our album Ye Are Gods we put a piece of text in the notes, an excerpt from a larger piece called the “Discourse on Abaddon” by Timothy of Alexandria in which Abaddon, the angel of death, seems to be a mythological parallel to Lucifer – he’s a fallen angel whom God casts out because he would not follow God’s orders to fall down and worship man – rather Abaddon would only worship God. And then God goes on this crazy, irrational rant about how he’s punishing Abaddon for his hubris, giving him an ugly appearance and turning him into the angel of death that will terrify people – and all this because Abaddon wanted to stay loyal to his creator! Baffling.
What sort of things do you do when you’re not playing music? What are things that you enjoy in life?
I’m also a chef and for work I give cooking classes, teaching people how food can be a preventative medicine for most of the diseases that kill us. I am fiercely anti-corporate with my politics, especially when it comes to agriculture, so I am also involved with local farmers’ markets and community gardens and besides that a yoga teacher as well. Pretty metal, right?
Finally, do you have any specific message in mind for the whole of humanity and those who would purchase and listen to your album?
The message of the band is one of balance – find your personal moral boundaries and then challenge them sensibly. Most problems come from excess in either direction, either extreme austerity which leads to the propagation of secret lives – as is the case with celibate priests who rape the innocent in secret – or extreme indulgence which leads to carelessness, for example corporations that get so well-moneyed and powerful they become blind to the needs of their workers. We can see this dynamic playing out in small and large examples on a personal and global level. So my advice is: go to a Slayer concert and scream “Reign in Blood” at the top of your lungs, but also don’t forget to help old ladies across the street.
Purchase Quaternity here: http://sabbathassembly.bandcamp.com/