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A beacon of iridescent musical light amid the torpid fog of modern life, Sermon blazed brightly but briefly when they released their debut album back in 2019. Led by the shadowy figurehead known only as Him, they blurred boundaries between forward-thinking progressive metal and something deeper, darker and more emotionally demanding. Aptly titled Birth Of The Marvellous, Sermon’s first foray garnered widespread acclaim and the effusive support of listeners around the world. But then, after a single live show at Prog In Park in Poland, there was only silence.

In the years between then and now, the world has become a darker, nastier place. Summoned from their slumbers for a second time, Him and his collaborators are back with an album that accurately encapsulates the mood of the moment. An intense, dynamic and often startlingly heavy trawl down corridors of corruption and stairways of compromise, Of Golden Verse is an even more devastating artistic statement than its predecessor. As Him explains, the new material’s spiky spirit was an entirely natural development.

“This is something I’ve always done. I’m always making music,” he states. “But this one is a bit angrier, and that’s because I felt angrier. The first one was sad because I felt that way, and it’s really as simple as that. This time I upped the aggression, without really meaning to. When you put James (Stewart, Sermon drummer) on the kit, that becomes quite easy! Hopefully in an unpretentious way, it’s more riffy and more guitar-orientated. It’s a lot more technical on the drums. Maybe it’s a bit more primal. The first album had a lot of soundscapes and finger-picking. This is blunt force a lot of the time. That’s just how I felt.”

Recorded at Grindstone Studios under the legendary supervision of producer Scott Atkins,

Of Golden Verse was entirely written by Him, but the new songs reached their final, immaculate state as a result of a team effort, with drummer James performing a particularly vital role.

“James is the other side of this. I’ll give him the demo of a whole album and the drums will be written, and he likes me to do that, but when we get in the studio, he makes his suggestions and it often becomes this whole other thing. It wouldn’t sound remotely the same with another drummer. Meanwhile, Scott is the George Martin of the piece. So really Sermon is a trio. I give them something that’s fairly well formed, it’s almost there, and they add into it because they’re far more skilled than I am.”

If the first Sermon album was weighed down by grief and introspection, Of Golden Verse looks outward and recoils back in horror at mankind’s twisted morality. Even within the lush textures and hypnotic bombast of epics like Royal, Senescence and Departure, a tangible sense of furious dismay pervades.

“Broadly speaking, the whole thing is just about abuses of power,” Him states. “Whatever that might be. It could be as big as war, or it could be a more individual thing, like suicide. They’re just things I’ve noted down and turned into an analogy. That is the overarching theme, but it’s not a story. It’s lots of little stories, hidden in analogies. If I was too literal, I’d probably upset people!”

Preceding the release of the album early in 2023, first single Golden is a stunning entry point to Sermon’s reconfigured world. Dense with melody and melancholy, it showcases the band’s expanded sonic vision across seven minutes of noirish and unpredictable prog metal that feels like one long and highly eventful crescendo. Wed to lyrics that detail a slow, steady chipping away at the human spirit, it heralds the return of Sermon with an imperious flourish.

“Golden is what I want Sermon to be,” he notes. “It’s got the intricate, indulgent prog thing going on, it’s got a big old chorus and the structure is a bit weird. It keeps going up and up and up. It’s not just verse and chorus. It just keeps climbing. It’s all about the idea of people weighing each other down to get them to think the way they’re thinking. It’s like conversion – you’re constantly weighed down by other people and in the end you give up, and you say, ‘Okay, I agree with you…’ just to end it. That constant weighing down is an abuse of power. So with Golden, the idea is that you’re just raining down gold on this person until they’re completely cast in it.”

First time around, Sermon came, saw, conquered and then vanished. This time, Him confesses to having tentative plans to turn an enigmatic project into something more enduring and tangible. Having taken a heavier turn on album number two, the prospect of more and better live shows has come almost irresistible. Out of the shadows and into the light: Sermon’s second coming was written in the stars.

“I think these songs are going to work much better live… even though we’ve only played one show so far!” Him laughs. “I’d like to do a show, a one-off. That would be a good starting point. We’ll see what happens. I would like to make this more of a real thing and do great shows with a good production. I want James to be there and I’d be happy to not tour if he couldn’t do it. He’s the backbone. It might not sound like a grand ambition, but I just want this music to be out there and to make it real.”