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Independent? Definitely not. Guess they want to fool us. I do not know much bands that were less autonomous than Phil Rind and his sidekicks. They followed each and every trend (mostly a little bit too late) instead of sticking to their guns. Due to their erratic behaviour, the band's name became a symbol of fickleness and the lack of authenticity casts a shadow over their late works. To be more precise, I mean all their albums with the exception of the debut and "Surf Nicaragua". But due to whatever reasons, I am not able to hate the band wholeheartedly, probably because the guys penned some fascinating songs during their entire career. The title track / opener of the here presented effort is musically brilliant and thrives on a vigorous riff, but already the first line of the lyrics ("Read my lips, I don't care what you say") is simply a lie. It is therefore no surprise that each and every tune leaves an ambivalent impression - or a really bad one, because some compositions go down the tubes.
Did I write "some" compositions? Honestly, there are more downers than solid tunes. The hard times already begin with track no. 4, "Supremacy". Sacred Reich deliver a couple of pseudo-thrash ejections and mix them with likewise stupid work samples with untypical configurations. "If Only" is a soft instrumental that nobody ever wanted to be part of a heavy metal album. A complete waste of time. "I Never Said Goodbye" will be enjoyed by fans of lubricious rock ballads. Despite its fairly aggressive instrumental part, this song sucks. More or less the same must be said about the fittingly named (and totally tedious) "Crawling". It wants to appear extremely heavy in view of its fat guitars, but even every ballad of the Scorpions would "rock you like hurricane" after the senseless "If Only". "Pressure" can score with its dynamic chorus and that is certainly better than nothing. Yet it is a shame that the main riff of "Open Book" lies in very close proximity to that of the aforementioned chorus.
On the positive side, we have lyrics that omit to glorify violence and a proper production. But at the end of the day, the quality of the sound is always just a technical detail. I would not rule out that even some non-metal albums have a good production, maybe two or three in the history of commercial music. Be that as it may, let's keep the focus on "Independent". In terms of the songs, I don't see many reasons to be joyous. Leaving aside the title track, only "Just Like That" develops a sustainable effect, although it is performed with the enthusiasm of a sleeping groundhog. The robotic vocals during the chorus have the effect of hastily taken sleeping pills. Nevertheless, a fairly good song with catchy guitar lines.
Finally, take a look at the cover. You see the masses that Sacred Reich tried to impress with their "more variable style" (to express it politely). But no matter how close you look, you will not find a metalhead in the crowd. Are you surprised? Then I recommend to listen - only for a few seconds, I don't intend to damage your precious health - to "Product". This thrash-heavy-rock-whatever piece features a stuttering guitar work that has written "bullshit" all over it. It is therefore only logical that people with a good music taste left the meeting place. Believe me, I really wanted to love this album in view of a certain number of excellent previous tracks of the band, for example "Victim of Demise", "One Nation" or "The American Way". But sorry, I can't, because this album doesn't live up to its name. Independent? Definitely not. Dependent from the expectations of the management and the zeitgeist? Yes, definitely.
Sometimes bad music can cause one to have an epiphany. This personal revelation, coming about often at the absolute nadir of a lousy song or an album, usually provides a fresh perspective on a fair amount of similar music. For a long time, I've tended to dislike both groove metal and other various forms of metal and heavier rock music that are readily associated with the early to mid 1990s, but there wasn't a singular word in my vocabulary that could convey why this was the case, but rather a lengthy diatribe that would involve tearing apart several key figures from that time period from Machine Head to Nirvana. But upon recent review of Sacred Reich's sad little third full length studio outing Independent (irony knoweth no bounds nor shame in how said name was applied), a single word came to mind that summed up the fatal flaw of the music contained within and the vast majority of its contemporary equivalents, and that word was reductive.
This album is often wrongly described as being a thrash metal album, though in truth, labels like half-thrash or groove metal also fail to account for the wavelength upon which this collection of sloppy, grunge meets semi-metal infused trite operates. It carries a fair bit in common with the plodding and stagnant character of early death n' roll offerings courtesy of mid to late 90s Six Feet Under and Entombed, being a bit faster and heavier than full out grunge excursions like Anthrax's Sound Of White Noise and the sordid alternative rock drivel on Load and Reload, but being about as elaborate as the latter categories in question and having a similarly grungy vocal display out of Phil Rind. Truth be told, the one strong point that this album carries is that Rind's vocals manage to all but perfectly emulate the bellowing baritone sound popularized by Layne Staley and Eddie Vedder, doing a far better job at it than Robb Flynn while on the subject.
But for all its general lack of intricacies and highly derivative overall character, the most outwardly offensive aspect of an album like this is the overt pandering it exhibits, even compared to the previous commercialized style shift that occurred on The American Way. There is nothing "independent" about the presentation of musical ideas on here, but rather an utter slavishness to an earlier past than the 80s thrash scene, poorly realized and reduced to banal imitation or, more often, fragments of past songs stretched out to the lengths of full length ones. This is perhaps best displayed in one of the so-called thrashers found on here in "Open Book", which kicks off a single rock riff on the bass in a manner reminiscent of nearly every other Nirvana song to enjoy regular MTV play, which is then copied by the guitars. While this riff does see some variation, it is so auspiciously close to being directly stolen from the fast section of Sabbath's "Electric Funeral" that it smacks the listener over the head even when it isn't being played, resulting in a song that somehow comes off like every Godsmack hit a good five years before they hit the airwaves.
The air of post-grunge before there was such a thing as post-grunge tends to recur fairly often on this album, though it's not quite the only factor in play. Among the somewhat more thrashing yet not fully thrash half-measures include stands opening speeder and title song "Independent", which would be a decent song if it were not so repetitive. This issue is similarly felt on other faster numbers like "Pressure" and "Do It", both of which have extremely similar sounding riffs to the other two aforementioned songs, resulting in a fairly one-dimensional experience, though to be fair, "Pressure" also makes some time for a really crappy Pantera-like breakdown. On the slower end of things are a full out nod to Pantera in "Free", bound up in a slightly more melodic package and with a sloppy ass lead guitar display. That's another thing about this entire album, former shred artist and technician Wiley Arnet (aka the guy who lit the fret board on fire at every lead break on Ignorance) finds himself sounding like a third rate rock guitarist, bound to bluesy cliches and occasionally sounding out of tune like a Fast Eddie Clarke with his fingers broken.
There isn't really much to be said for an album like this when all is said and done, as it is wholly a product of its time, and a crappy time at that if thrash metal is one's poison. When not outright ripping off ideas from grunge and groove outfits and dumbing them down even further with an eye to keeping their music videos on regular rotation on MTV (which incidentally ate this album up at the time), they even make time to write a really lame homage to Black Sabbath in "Crawling", which occasionally sounds like a cover of "Hole In The Sky", and decide to throw together an instrumental acoustic interlude called "If Only" that's suspiciously similar to Metallica's "Nothing Else Matters" yet bucks the trend of the rest of the album by being a bit more elaborate than its inspiration and becoming the best thing on here. This whole steaming pile of vapid, uninspired pandering would solidify any newcomer band's status as wannabes, which adds insult to injury as Sacred Reich falls more into the "has been" department as well. Fans of earlier works by this band see it as a fruitless departure from a working format and tend to hate it accordingly, whereas my hate for it tends to flow from general principle, as it should for anyone else.
Some people complained Sacred Reich had lost a lot of speed on the American Way album. No matter how much a statement like that might be true, it still was a thrash metal album, built around palm muted riffing but focussing much more on vocal lines and catchiness. I’ve always had a soft spot for the American Way. It remains one of those rare thrash metal albums with an overdose of midpaced songs that actually does work. The majority of the songs simply was that good! On Independent however we hear a band losing their grip. Not only qualitatively but also stylewise.
Thrash was pretty much dead around 1992, true, and the bands who didn’t call it quits went on playing watered down groove metal or whatever. Sacred Reich unfortunately were one of those and definitely not the best ones. Phil Rind was a great vocalist, charismatic and a great lyricist, but he alone was not enough to save the album. It’s pretentious groove which ruins the album and an almost total lack of aggression and energy on the non-fast material.
We have 4 good songs here, the title track "Independent", "Open Book", "Pressure" and "Do it". But somehow these songs sound different from the assault we had on Ignorance. Why’s that? These fast songs aren’t really thrash, they’re crossover. Good at that, but not thrash like the band played earlier.
And then there were a few songs with just good ideas but never reaching their full potential. Rhythmically the song "Product" was a great tune and "I Never Said Goodbye" had a good format and dynamics. The rest? The rest of the album consisted of groovy midtempo based music which made the album get boring after a while with "Just Like That" and "Crawling" being two of the worst and tedious songs in Sacred Reich history.
Now those 4 good energetic songs and those other two with nice ideas are reason enough for me to hold on to this album but I can imagine the average thrash metal collector not paying interest in this album. However I must say you’d be missing out on the titletrack which easily is one of the best Sacred Reich songs, ever.
The year was 1993 and the mainstream music scene was opening up to the idea of accepting heavier forms of music. Bands like Ministry, Helmet, Soundgarden, Alice in Chains and even Nirvana may not be metal bands but they all opened the ears of the mainstream crowd to music that's heavier than your standard MTV or radio programming would play.
Sacred Reich released this album that year and I remember the title track getting played almost weekly in MTV's Headbanger's Ball. "Independent" - the song is a throttling thrasher that pounds you senseless. I was psyched to find out that the album was released locally in my country.
True enough, repeated listenings of track one would bring similar results - each time sending me into a headbanging frenzy within nanoseconds. Then track two played and it bore a similar formula to the first single only not much better. Track three sounded the same and so on and so forth. What would break the monotony would be the slow, Sabbathy "Crawling" which was mildly interesting and the pseudo-ballad "I Never Said Goodbye" which fails being at being ballad because of Phil Rind's unconvincing vocals.
Thus, "Independent" turned out to be a monotonous experience. And the mainstream music scene didn't really warm up to heavy music at all. Ah, such disappointments...