Bothering to deconstruct the Process Church, a now-defunct polytheistic boutique religion with a particularly sweet aesthetic, is like going into detail about why the 1985 Yugo GV was a bad idea: plainly put, it was built like crap. But it's fun to get nostalgic for a time period in which you couldn't just use your phone to Google the weird guy in the cloak who was making a little bit of sense to see if he was going to lead you down a dark, emotionally confusing path where you'd be forced to beg on the streets, semi-starve, have your romantic life dictated to you, and live in squalor in order to support your teacher's lavish lifestyle, all in the name of God.
The Process Church started as the 1960s London equivalent of the intellectual kids in a particularly well-organized punk house, tired of society, and ready to cut themselves off . They hacked one of those creepy "stress test" machines the Scientologists try to hook you up to in Union Square (psst, it's called an E-meter) and started hosting deep psychological discussions on the regular and training themselves and their many dogs in telepathy until they realized that they'd stumbled upon new enlightening religious ideology.
In 1966, a group of about 30 Processeans moved to Nassau, and then to some ancient ruins in the Mexican jungle upon the urging of deities they called the Beings. The general point of this migration was to be holy and learn special things. They ate mostly fish and coconuts, and tried to build a house from scratch, starting by digging a hole for the foundation with a reclaimed coffee can. That is undeniably hardcore. So is hiding out in said hole huddled beneath a tarp when a lethal hurricane roared through, and surviving with only messed-up hairdos. After that, who involved wouldn't believe their weird little project was touched by the hands of Gods?
This and other international feats fueled by such stupidity that the Gods must've been looking out for them, in turn fed their intensity. Though the two big Processean cheeses performed some pretty serious mindfucks via forced orgies, a well-orchestrated hierarchy, favoritism, and sudden falls from grace, over six years the group grew into a legitimate church with chapters in London, New Orleans, Munich, New York, Rome, Boston, Chicago, Toronto, and Miami. True to their genre, their congregation was supergood at begging for money, and they spent it on fancy gifts for their leaders and extensive travel. Dressed in long black cloaks, they maintained a façade of sexual abstinence as they traveled the US and Europe with enormous packs of German Shepherds, spreading their straight-edge, anti-vivisectionist, apocalyptic word.
Their theology centered around four Gods: Jesus, Jehovah, Lucifer, and Satan. The religion, when it was clear--which it wasn't always--or often--sought to unify opposites while damning the rest of the world for not believing the same things they did. This, among other things, to them, meant that Satan and Jesus were reconciled through focused awareness. It's intriguing stuff if you believe light and dark have values that are diametrically opposed and in need of fusion, or that a similar dichotomy is conceptually valid.
The Processeans looked and sounded fucking scary, a seriousness that some people who needed a little bit of structure after all that Free Love business found real attractive. Not many other people did. And while "Satan Is Love"—one of their more popular messages—is surely inhabiting a Hot Topic t-shirt purchased by masturbating purple-haired tweens across this great nation, spreading that message across Christian England and America 40-something years ago caused them loads of trouble.
Let's save a rather predictable stroll down memory lane for another time, fast forwarding past the parts where they had some public image and legal issues, fought too much amongst themselves, kicked out key members, dissolved into new factions with new names, and ultimately ended up as the Best Friends Society, an animal sanctuary in Utah. (It's no longer affiliated with any sort of spiritual or religious mission.) In the meantime, they had their shit together enough to host weekly telepathy-building circles and midnight meditations, publish and print and circulate numerous books and magazines and newsletters, create radio and cable-access TV shows, and form a band that wrote original songs of worship.
This last bit caught the attention of Jex Thoth and Dave Nuss of No Neck Blues Band, who found some Processean sheet music in Love Sex Fear Death, an exposé/confessional mainly written by founding Processean Timothy Wyllie. (That's also where all the above historical info is coming from, and you can read an interview we ran with him about his book here.)
After tracking down something like 60 hymnals, they settled on nine songs to "re-Process" with a full-blown band called the Sabbath Assembly. Randall Dunn (producer of Sun O))), Boris, and Earth albums) super-produced their ethereally bare CD, Restored to One (Ajna). As its name implies, the record's an exercise in total integration—everything sounds exacted, thought-out for a purpose, smooshed-in together. The Sabbath Assembly cut out the mind-game bullshit surrounding the Church and focused on the melodies it created, and their version of the songs have the softly quivering but resilient quality of an acid casualty from the 60s with Parkinson's.
Jex, who leads with the nearly-tearing voice of a healthy muscle supporting its limit, is one of those incredibly beautiful people who's willing to go there all the way down from the core of her being on outward, as far as it can reach. Simultaneously vulnerable and protective, she appears to truly feel what she is singing without getting all histrionic about it. In fact, the whole band shows amazing restraint—from the soul of a previously ascended master reveling in its current reincarnation as a mescaline-fried guitar to the booming tom tom and tambourine shakedowns to the howls of feedback that die quietly in their sleep—something that might be lost on musicians with less skill or thoughtfulness, especially ones inspired by hymnals of a cult.
Where someone else may draw the line between exaltation and theatricality is their business; for me, this shit falls on the side of true hosanna. It's so uplifting I get goose bumps every time I listen to it, though to be fair I should say I also get goose bumps every time I watch an episode of Glee. Sensitive types may need to work up to being able to listen to it all the way through--there's something moving inside this record that might make you feel a little bit shaken or even sick by the seventh track, an eight-minute slow-burner called "Judge of Mankind."
These songs are equally stunning stripped down and performed live. I prefer them without the super private re-enactment of an actual new inductee ritual, even if it is presided over by Genesis P-Orridge and you get to become an Acolyte of the Church. That's how it was the first time I saw them, and I think I am now technically involved with the Church, or would be if it still existed. It gets a little squirmy when they're lighting candles and doing ritualistic things and speaking in their ominous solemn Cult Voices in between songs, not because it's freaky but because, like, even the people who wrote the liturgy admit that half the time they didn't know what the hell they were talking about.
The Processeans called themselves a church but couldn't articulate their theology. They just believed in things—big things—they strived not so much to understand but to experience their effects firsthand through miracles or phenomena that seemed as such. Jex told me that since performing these songs she's seen what she considers tangible proof of their effectiveness.
So just because some people practiced a religion, disbanded, and denounced their shaky work--that doesn't necessarily invalidate their beliefs. Why not borrow their language and system if it produces what feels like real results?
Some people will hear words about serving Jesus and God and want to snicker or run away. Some people will think that Restored to One is about worshiping Lucifer and Satan and think that's cool and dark and want in on it. The Sabbath Assembly could maybe even explode like YaHoWah13 did three summers ago, since people really seem to dig the whole New Age spiritual cult vibe. But YaHoWah's songs were part of their practice, whereas the Sabbath Assembly isn't even an attempt at resurrecting the Process Church. It's possibly a tool of invocation or maybe a chance to tap into something bigger than the self…or else it is simply really beautiful music.
Photos from Pendu Org's site.
- Vice Blog