Keep on Movin’: Burn it all Down: Local legends Churchburn do doom and gloom right

ChurchBurnThis issue, the column takes a decidedly bleaker turn (in a good way), as we make our first foray into metal. Maybe you’re lukewarm on the genre. Perhaps it’s the screaming vocals, heavy guitars, and Satan worshiping that scare you away, not to mention those indecipherable band logos. But there are some very accomplished bands here in little Rhody, and the state has produced acts that are known nationally such as The Body, Dropdead and Vital Remains, and I encourage everybody to check out the great doom and gloom in their backyards, possibly starting with:

Churchburn: Something Wicked Heavy This Way Comes

Churchburn, one of the scene’s leaders, started 11 years ago as a side project between frontman Dave Suzuki and drummer Ray McCaffrey, two Rhode Island metal veterans. Suzuki was a member of Vital Remains for more than 10 years, while McCaffrey, 45, was in Sin of Angels. “We never intended it to be a live band — we just figured we’d jam and maybe write some music and put it on YouTube,” said McCaffrey. Guitarist Timmy St. Amour (ex-Howl) and bassist/vocalist Derek Moniz signed on when the band got going.

Though I admit to being a metal neophyte, I’d say their sound is closest to doom metal, characterized by slow tempos, down-tuned guitars and a super “thick” sound. Black Sabbath and Pentagram are credited with inventing the sound in the early ‘70s, and bands like Sleep and Electric Wizard carried it into the modern era.

Churchburn’s latest release was last year’s None Shall Live … The Hymns of Misery, released by Armageddon Shop Label and affiliated with the record store of the same name on Broadway in PVD. It’s a seven-song behemoth, with chugging, brutal riffs that make plants shrivel up and die.

From the first massive intro chord in the album’s instrumental opener “Vexare,” you know some serious shit is about to go down. The term “wall of sound” doesn’t do it justice; it’s more like a punishing tsunami mixed with an earthquake.

“The Misery Hymns” is an eight-minute powerhouse with three distinct movements, each more ruthless than the last. “Relieved by Burning Lead” and “Misery Hymns” provide more of the same. “Authorized to Cleanse” begins with interlocked guitar harmonies and culminates in Suzuki’s guttural screams and a trancelike riff. These descriptions sound excessive, but none of the performances are ultra-showy like in some heavy metal; they’re just there to serve the song.

Much of their music sounds like a slow build-up to some unknown destination never revealed to the listener. Somewhere along the line, bands like Churchburn figured out that the build was the most interesting part of the whole equation. Once you settle into it, it is surprisingly easy to become one with the drone and let it all wash over you.

Even for a self-avowed music nerd like myself, the sub-genres for metal are dizzying. Is it death metal, black metal or grindcore? Where does doom end and stoner metal begin? I asked McCaffrey.

“People definitely do like to put labels on bands. The one thing we try not to do is define our sound into any kind of subgenre,” said McCaffrey. “We’ve played every kind of metal bill, and I feel that we can fit in with most ‘extreme music,’ which is the one subgenre I would use if I had to choose. Labels ultimately aren’t that important to us.”

Lyrically, metal is often known for its macabre iconography, but Churchburn keeps things on a more human level. “We tend to shy away from the Satanic and religious themes like other bands,” said McCaffrey. “Dave [Suzuki] is the lyricist, and tends to focus on suffering and the dark side of human nature.”

But what drives a person to seek out this alternative lifestyle, peddling tales of suffering and ferocious riffs? “I was a Metallica fan, more of the mainstream side of metal. One day I remember going to the now-closed R.B.’s Records on Mineral Spring,” said McCaffrey. I bought Death’s Scream Bloody Gore and Napalm Death’s From Enslavement to Obliteration. Those albums changed my life musically, and showed me the extreme side of music, and I knew I had to be a part of it.”

Ironically, it was this violent music that helped keep McCaffrey on the straight and narrow. “Growing up in Pawtucket, hanging with a bunch of crazy friends, I saw them get into drugs and other heavy stuff,” said McCaffrey. “I saw that and sort of diverged into the metal crowd in Providence, playing in bands, leaning instruments, going to shows. I’d say that playing in bands may have saved my life, or at least put me on a better path.”

Churchburn embarks on a small run of East Coast dates this month, including shows at O’Brien’s in Allston (March 22), Brooklyn’s Saint Vitus Bar (March 23) and Kung Fu Necktie in Philly. They head home for a show at Machines with Magnets in Pawtucket on Friday, March 29 with Haxen, Hell Bent, Shabti and Fed Ash.

Churchburn’s music can be purchased at

The Lincoln Tunnel — Glass Streets

There’s a new three-song EP from Lincoln Tunnel, who have in the last few years been dependable for some refreshing, straight-up rock ‘n’ roll. “I’ll Take a Chance” is heart-on-sleeve, late-era Replacements, and “Broken Bottles” expresses frustration at the country’s political situation. “Promises to Keep” is the best of the trio, with a hooky chorus and a guitar riff that cut deeper than the blade the song refers to.

Catch The Lincoln Tunnel, along with The Rationales, and Ghost Grl on Sat, Mar 9 at The Parlour.

Glass Streets is Available for purchase at:

Shows of Note

Guster — The Strand

Like many WBRU (RIP) devotees of a certain age, I grew up a big Guster admirer, a fandom that probably peaked with my band covering “Barrel of a Gun” when I was, like, 15. They always put on a great show, and this go-round are supporting a new album, Look Alive.

Guster at The Strand happens Thu, Mar 14 at 9pm

Neutral Nation — Stumpy’s 50th Birthday Show

Decorated punk legends Neutral Nation are coming to Diego’s in Middletown, the day of the storied St. Patty’s day parade in Newport. Try not to go too hard at the parade so you can catch this one (or maybe sleep it off and find a second wind). Local rockers Dopey Lopes and looping artist Lee Ross round out the bill.

Neutral Nation are at Diego’s Barrio Cantina in Middletown on Sat, Mar 16 at 9pm.

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