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Politics and thrash metal were largely joined at the hip in the later 1980s, perhaps as a reaction to criticism from the hardcore scene that metal was a bit too obsessed with the occult and other tangential themes that supposedly had little to do with real life. While bands such as Nuclear Assault and Suicidal Tendencies had already exhibited punk tendencies both lyrically and musically, Sacred Reich tended to be seen as one of the more blatant early supporters to using thrash as a pulpit for social awareness, thus they were occasionally lumped in with the crossover scene. While this crossover association took on more of a logical basis later on, it was extremely tenuous both from a musical and a lyrical standpoint with regard to their mid-80s origin and their 1987 debut LP Ignorance, which has a fair degree of preachy undertones at times, but is much closer to the trademark brutality that was the staple of Slayer and Dark Angel circa 1986.
In terms of execution, this is nowhere near a crossover album, and has far more in common with Darkness Descends and Persecution Mania than it does anything that came out of D.R.I., Cro-mags or any other hardcore band that was dabbling in thrash metal between 1987 and 1990. It carries the similar mixture of mid-paced crunch to hyper-paced riff frenzies to that of Reign In Blood, with the former approach generally tied to introductory material, though recurring a bit more often at the endpoints or in the body of the songs, thus the song lengths are a bit closer to a mainline thrash album. The lead guitar work tends to function at a middle ground between the somewhat more disciplined style of Mustaine and Hammett, and the more chaotic shredding of Slayer's handiwork, producing some solos that are perhaps a bit more methodical and easy to follow than a Kerry King lead break, but about equally as fancy and biting.
At times this album almost becomes brutal and nasty enough to flirt with the earliest incarnations of death metal, though the production aesthetic and Phil Rind's standard gruff vocals cut against this a fair bit. In contrast to later efforts where things became overly obsessed with saving the world through rhetorical lyrics, songs such as "Victim Of Demise" and "Rest In Peace" throw all caution and hippies to the wind and depict images of gore and mindless violence in a purely descriptive manner with a wild volley of speed riffing that might have been picked up by Chuck Schuldiner back in the early days or even on some of the less dissonant sounding and more thrashing numbers out of early Cannibal Corpse. The brief instrumental "Layed To Rest" could be seen as a subtle precursor to Testament's ballad-like intro approach to creating a haunting atmosphere in between fits of violence, though it's also a fair bit similar to Sepultura's approach to the same basic concept.
But even where this band shows their colors as purveyors of thrash metal journalism with an eye to critiquing foreign policy and raising awareness, the musical approach is definitely more on the darker and deadlier side of the equation. While each one of these songs takes on the same basic character of the occasionally grooving but mostly blinding explosions of brutality as the more gory tracks mentioned earlier, "Death Squad" and the title song "Ignorance" prove to be the most memorable and give something of a preview for the absolute perfection of violence that Sodom would go onto achieve with Agent Orange. About the only strike against these songs is that they tend to be a bit slavish to traditional songwriting structures and come in typical verse/chorus packages, rather than getting a bit more adventurous with middle sections and interludes the way many Bay Area adherents that influenced this album had begun to do at around this time.
Although I'm not a terribly big fan of this band in comparison to the rest of the western thrash metal scene and their subsequent works proved to be sub-par at best, credit should be given where credit is due. While this album came out about a year too late to be truly revolutionary, it is extremely well realized and demonstrates the strength of this style when it isn't diluted with too many outside influences. Too often this album is associated with the neutered, repetitive and limp-wrist 90s output that this band became a bit better known for, but the truth is that this band started out with a healthy mixture of old school darkness and latter day political posturing that probably could have been followed up with at least one more killer LP before going the way of the wiffle ball. Don't let the ignorance of what came later ruin things, this is quality sonic violence for those who love and crave it.
Sacred Reich started with a strong debut, but afterwards their career was going in the wrong direction. Instead of staying loyal to the thrash metal movement, mastermind Phil Rind had some bad ideas that resulted in completely lousy tracks ("31 Flavors") or greasy ballads ("I Never Said Goodbye"). Admittedly, there was a very dark time when no musician defended the values of the lively genre. Anyway, Rind seemed to be of the questionable opinion that he had to expand the horizon of his formation, no matter what it costs. It is therefore no surprise that the pristine first output holds the top position in the discography of the guys from Arizona.
"Ignorance", produced by the legendary duo Bill Metoyer and Brian Slagel, shines with its powerful and differentiated sound. The opening guitars convey the feeling of a merciless force, although the riffing can simultaneously be described as casual and well-hung. The band presents a kind of guitar intro that is integrated in the unrelenting opener called "Death Squad". Sacred Reich do not unleash an apocalyptic inferno, although the picture on the reverse side of the album points in this direction. (They actually wanted to use an equally nightmarish image for the front cover, but it was replaced by the rather political collage. You can find the banned artwork on the inner sleeve of the vinyl edition.) Nevertheless, this opener is pure thrash metal, not too slow and not too fast, created with a keen sense for effective tempo changes. Further highlights of the A side are the excellently growing, very aggressive title track and "Victim of Demise". The latter scores especially with its chorus that achieves a remarkable level of pressure. By the way, Rind's bass guitar is well audible and delivers a special flair of heaviness. By contrast, the lugubrious "Layed to Rest" was just a more or less superfluous intermezzo.
"Ignorance" surprises with its mature compositions. The songs have no progressive structures, but they are more complex than, for example, the pretty simple title track of "The American Way". Rind was the main composer and there is no doubt that he had a fine instinct for both compelling riffs and smooth (yet powerful) song structures. All songs are easily consumable without being based on primitive patterns. Inter alia the eponymous band anthem demonstrates the song-writing skills of Rind. Of course, the group felt the need to show a politically correct attitude while delivering anti-Nazi lyrics. Honestly speaking, don't call your band "Sacred Reich" if you hate the National Socialists. Of course, there are a lot of reason to condemn them, but don't expect an award for authenticity when acting under this provocative banner at the same time. Apart from this predicament, the song completes the highlights of the album. Yet it is a fact that the other tracks of the B side also do not fall short of expectations. Sacred Reich act ambitiously and confidently. Flattening riffs like that at the beginning of "Rest in Peace" prove them right.
It is still a pleasure to listen to this debut from time to time. It does not have the charm of imperfection like the first outputs of some other thrash bands that started their career in the mid-eighties. Its effect is based on the high level of professionalism of its creators. Sacred Reich worked with an incredible precision. Without lacking of emotions, their songs seemed to be the results of a mechanized production process. But, of course, that's just a fallacy. The group was just playing very tight. Too bad that the band members never reached this top form again.
The only moment on 'Ignorance' when Sacred Reich could be accused of wasting time is the opening minute and a half of 'Death Squad', the first song on the album. Perhaps that gently chugging mid-paced riff is meant as a gentle introduction to half an hour of thrash frenzy, since the band only settle down again once or twice on the entire album. The general feel of 'Ignorance' is one of urgency and doom, since all the instruments scramble ahead of themselves, especially the drums, and the vocals are never far behind.
I am having a few problems trying to decide if Sacred Reich were an important thrash metal band in the mid and late 80s or whether they were just another good group that put out one decent aggressive album, which fans have subsequently been mistaking for a classic. I'm talking about this album, because the band lost a fair bit of their intensity later on and opted for a more groovy approach, which doesn't sound so exciting nowadays. The moment you get your hands on 'Ignorance' though, it just screams "80s thrash!": from the short length to the post- (and pre-) apocalyptic lyrics to the nicely scuzzy cover and booklet full of corruption, torture, and disaster.
The band themselves don't pull off anything groundbreaking, but everyone is tight and focused, with no element underplayed despite the slightly weak production. There are a lot of super-fast sections to most of the songs and also at least one or two slower riffs to get heads bobbing and necks smarting; the mid-paced riffs have better variety and feel more thoughtfully completed in my opinion, while the thrashier moments have more than a hint of hardcore influence to them, as does some of the vocal phrasing. Phil Rind doesn't have an exceptional voice, but actually being able to fit all the words in is an achievement at this pace. My main complaint about his vocals would be that he doesn't sound angry or threatening enough to turn his lyrics (descriptive and astute, occasionally cliched) into a focus for the song. His bass, however, is always audible and very welcome indeed, with a nimble tone and a few creative moments.
Wiley Arnett is the band's real trump card on lead guitar. He solos frequently and introduces a few atmospheric melodies to the introductions of 'Sacred Reich' and 'Administrative Decisions'. The best part is that he can play quickly (and boy do his fingers work on some of the fast sections) and also with thought and technique: he doesn't end up sounding like Kerry King or the early Kreator material where they play fast but without content, which is simply pointless for me. His influence is sufficiently powerful for the album to include an instrumental track called 'Layed to Rest', which contains little but his lead work and ends up sounding great. The band gives him great support to make his leads always surprising and necessary, so they clearly understood where their strength lay.
Some of the songs are difficult to choose between in terms of quality, though I would pick out 'Sacred Reich' and 'Victim of Demise' as the standout tracks. 'Rest in Piece' has an amazingly catchy riff and solo section in its second half too. Nothing falls short in general, though there is a certain sameness about elements of the album, which disappoints for such a short release and perhaps explains why the band changed their direction. 'Ignorance' is well worth your time, but it's not essential.
Sacred Reich became one of the most popular acts of the second wave of thrash, along with people like Flotsam & Jetsam, Hirax, Agent Steel or Atrophy, who put out their records by the late/mid-80’s when the subgenre was firmly evolving into something more advanced, slightly commercial in some cases. Many of their peers were determined to make melody and progression part of their music, moving away from the early thrash stage of total brutality and velocity, like Toxik, Paradox, Forbidden or Meliah Rage on their respective debuts. These guys preferred to play it mostly straight, technically humble, yet introducing very occasional competent instrumental variations and some riff modifications in their structures to avoid absolute simplicity, pushing away melody as well.
A pretty pedestrian discharge of energetic thrash is what tunes like “Death Squad” and “Administrative Decisions” bring, both featuring a thicker intro before real action starts, based obviously on menacing riffs, fast tempos, at times including an alternative passage but generally remaining direct and easy. The band provides their music of even greater vigor on “Rest In Peace” and the title-track, whose main tempos are nearly uncontrolled, occasionally alternating heavier rhythm shifts and quieter instrumental series with extended pickin’ parts. Structures aren’t incredibly complex or diverse; riff changes are still limited and predictable, though you'll hear worse from these guys in the future, anyway. Actually this stuff is far from versatile or imaginative, hah! Their schemes stay unchanged during the whole record, with few exceptions like the more infectious choruses of “Victim Of Demise” or the explicitly vocal-based homonym number, which incorporates the group's characteristic 1 or at most 2 distinct song-structure patterning and primitive riff progression, getting rather generic and impotent. However, aggression, attitude and speed are at times notable and continuous, remarkable particularly on cuts as “No Believers”, whose verses are an evident expression of immaturity and topics, yet instrumentally diverse, fierce and professionally executed. Melody isn’t part of any of these songs, as they prefer thrashing raw and intense without making use of harmonies or sophisticated arrangements. The “Layed To Rest” prelude is the exception, an acoustic intro of sentimental guitar lines in the style of those Peterson & Skolnick would later abuse of on the The New Order record, here interrupting the uniformity unexpectedly of Sacred Reich’s intentionally incessant messy aggression. After all, titles like “Violent Solutions” are not musically pretentious…
So these guys are neither technical, nor melodic, they only play thrash without much brains, refusing to incorporate complicated arrangements or especially juicy instrumental series. They modify the riffs and introduce different sections in general during the compositions, yet keeping them far from complex; they do it that way just because every other thrash band is doing. Their potential and possibilities as musicians and composers seem to determine the configuration and nature of this material, unable to design something difficult or impressive, simply honest and natural, reflecting their attitude and predilection for speed and aggression exclusively. Usually embracing a uniform methodology to construct these cuts, it’s clear this stuff is lacking variety and fresh ideas, stuck inevitably in the formulaic limitations set by the subgenre, also a consequence of the band’s discreet originality. By 1987 there were already lots of thrash acts performing something alike, and Sacred Reich didn’t offer anything peculiar or truly distinctive; they followed predictable patterns musically and lyrically, making their music certainly generic. Rhythm section is also sluggish, very unintrusive, defining the fastest sequences and tempo changes efficiently but deprived of real virtuosism or grace. Rind’s unusual voice is the only characteristic that makes a difference, at times tender, cheesy, so scruffy and stagnant in a typical mid-range but distinct from the topical Steev Esquivel/Chris Astley/Chuck Billy raspy tone. Both Arnett & Rainey are technically poor guitarists; most of the time abusing of tricky effect pedals and delivering stereotypical dive-bomb soloing. Production isn’t proper either, too clean, dry and weakening the texture and presence of guitars, though the best production in the planet could’ve not made this music sound better (the noisy Draining You of Life and Metal Massacre VIII demos show the same uninspired primitive essence).
They weren’t the most promising, nor the most talented, but they reached certain recognition and popularity among the fans, still nowadays they’re considered a cult group. They even headlined important festivals with people like Sepultura, Napalm Death, Heathen or Pantera like The New Titans Of The Block and so. “Beware! The new kings of thrash are here! From Phoenix, Arizona Sacred Reich unleashes a thundering debut. Destined to be a classic, buy this album now!”, the promo poster said…Well, whoever wrote that had a very good sense of humor. And they obviously didn’t manage to give continuity to their discography afterwards: the Surf Nicaragua title-track was decent, while the rest of the EP failed miserably, and the follow-up The American Way soon reflected a total decline. So, this might be the greatest thing these guys did, after all. There's no need to say more.
After one of the most sold demo ever in thrash metal, and not only, field (Draining You Of Life), Sacred Reich in 1987 released their very first album that is still their best in my opinion. Here we can really breathe the true essence of thrash metal. The group is on pure adrenaline and the violence is always at high levels.
“Death Squad” is the perfect opener with a massive, bombastic mid-paced riffs that ends in a pure up tempo assault. The only slowest part is during the solo. Greg Hall is great behind the drums (he did an audition for the vacant place of drummer in Slayer after Lombardo left). “Victim Of Demise” is even faster than the previous song. Anyway the riffs are never boring because the guitars are always inspired and heavy. The pounding, clear production exalts all the instruments and the vocals are not too harsh.
“Layed To Rest” is a sort of intro to the title track. This intro is instrumental, with only arpeggios and solos. Very obscure and melodic. The title track is HUGE! My favourite song here, definitely. The mid-paced, apocalyptic intro is one of the heaviest things in thrash metal with the heavy drums stomps. The up tempo parts are like a river but never chaotic with lots of variations we have complicated guitar riffs/solos parts too.
Check out the bass/guitars parts in “No Believers”: speed, variations, technique, fast tempo. Awesome. “Violent Solution” begins very similarly to “Death Squad” to turn in speed. The mid-paced parts are full of strange solos. The speed ones come literally “out of the blue”! The beginning to “Rest In Peace” is tragic and apocalyptic, with a following drums march and hyper fast tempo.
The guitars riff on the title track get stuck in the head and won’t come out. This is the most important part in this album: the thrash violence is always balanced with melody and impressive sense of songwriting so that each song has something to be remembered for among a bunch of other ones in this genre.
A great album, made even greater by the very intelligent music and lyrics. This is the true masterpiece by Sacred Reich that any thrash metal fan must own. GREAT!
“…get up off your knees, there’s no God in heaven…”
DRI would release Crossover seven months prior to Ignorance and it seemed every offering that had an inkling of hardcore persuasion was automatically a crossover effort and vice versa. Some called it crossover, some called it the more obvious tag metalcore (much different than what it is nowadays), and while my eyes sparkle to the tune of thrash/speed, I have no dislike for most hardcore, therefore crossover/metalcore is quite acceptable in my world, though I am a bit thrown off when I read reviews of Ignorance, mostly recent ones, that dub the album a crossover event.
If Arizona’s Sacred Reich are a crossover band, it’s at the very fringes they dwell, perhaps as little as three toes in the hardcore realm while every other atom explodes with some of the most exciting, passionate, propulsive and true thrash the ‘80s had seen. The only things hardcore (in the style sense) about this 8-tracker are perhaps shavings of Phil Rind’s usually harsh, gruff monologue that in my opinion was always picture perfect for thrash and the socio-political/economic/government lyrical plots that hardcore bands often delved into, but at that time no style had a monopoly on lyrical themes. Besides those pinches, I’m at a loss.
True proponents of thrash do not merely lurk here, they pounce, raking with honed, bloodied claws of unbridled eagerness and fervor. Hunks of memorable songwriting embedded on rhythmic meathooks swing as if served on a whirlwind, commanding even the most reactionary thrash protester with the authority of a thousand Huns. Four talented kids who knew what they wanted to do created all this, and as far as I’m concerned is a top shelf release.
Gratefully, no goofy intro starts off the band’s debut, but instead a controlled, deliberate rhythm churns “Death Squad” with intrinsic force primed but not yet proven until it’s finally unfurled with severe consequences. A thick concentration of power coalesces into rampant speeds and hauling riffs, creating a chorus only the Juggernaut could overcome. Breathlessly, “Victim of Demise” takes over, a near relentless blitzkrieg that would have the Afrika Corps saluting just for the grotesque lyrics alone. Much more savvy is the short “Layed to Rest”, a roughly elegant, guitar solo-entrenched ditty setting an impassioned frame of mind for what would slowly transform into the title cut, another tank of a song with some of the more structured interludes thus far. Plenty of white-fisted groove bridges the speedier slices of “No Believers”, ending side one on the chorus’s bombastic strength.
More exchanging in their speed factor are “Violent Solutions” and “Rest In Peace” with the latter not only showcasing some nifty songwriting prowess, but also contains some of the band’s most cyclonic moments. “Sacred Reich” takes a striking, traditional rhythm a lot of bands could’ve conjured and fuses it with a might that many bands couldn’t have. “Administrative Decisions” is the basher that ends the lp, a steaming behemoth that doesn’t skimp on speed frenzy or mid-paced compression. I have little problem with Bill Metoyer’s production, believing it a crusty, solid achievement with perhaps the solo tracks needing to be magnified a bit.
There are a few examples of A-list thrash I throw on for those wanting to hear the style in its truest form. I like to stay away from the classics/well-known bands ‘cause everyone including my grandmother has heard them, so excerpts of Ignorance receive airtime along with Destructor’s Maximum Destruction, Pestilence’s Malleus Maleficarum, either of the Holy Terror platters, some Razor and a few others.
Ahh, Sacred Reich...I bought this when it came out, around late '86 or so, and it still holds up as one of the best American thrash albums released in that era. For what it lacks in the production department--the guitars are a bit cloudy, and the drums could have been not as thin--it makes up for with scalding amounts of steaming hot thrash fucking METAL. Production like this was pretty typical of thrash albums of this time period anyway.
"Death Squad" alone lets you know that you are in for some trouble with that menacing opening riff (Jason Rainey had a real knack for good riffs), and that fabulous opening sequence; mid tempo intro with pounding double kick drumming from the underrated Greg Hall (who almost got the drum chair for Slayer after Dave left the band--Kerry King was quoted as saying: "He looks like Barney Rubble, but damn, the man can JAM!!!"), some tricky syncopation thrown in, then once you get a good headbanging groove going...BAM! They kick it up a notch with chainsaw guitars and some vicious high-speed drumming from Mr. Hall, who shines all throughout this album. "Victim Of Demise" is more vicious thrashing highlighting Phil Rind's high-speed hardcore-like ranting about death and gore ( a rare subject with this band), and when I say hardcore, I mean the old school early 80s stuff, not this shitty metalcore garbage that the kids are losing their minds over these days. Sacred Reich were actually one of the first bands that made me start paying attention to lyrical content and being more discriminating in that field with their barbed sociopolitical commentary--again, a very old school hardcore tradition. Lead guitarist Wiley Arnette, another underrated player from this time, also shines throughout this whole album with killer soloing on every tune--and he was a devout Christian, too! Go figure, then, that he ripped so hard on guitar. "No Believers" has some of my favorite lyrics on the whole album: "The Bible is a lie, I defy the lying priest...I make my own destiny/Religion's for the weak, your soul will die forever/get up off your knees, there's no God in Heaven!"--in fact, Wiley was determined not to play on this song due to the lyrical content, but they railroaded him into it anyway!
Since most of their output after this album was weak and uninspired both lyrixcally and musically, this still stands as Sacred Reich's best and most consistent effort. If you're going to get anything of theirs, get this and take it fromt here if you must.