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Where savagery and technical skill collide - 86%

Valfars Ghost, November 16th, 2015

Fusing pagan sensibilities with not folk metal but a varied and technical thrash sound, Sabbat’s History of a Time to Come is perhaps the most memorable British album of the late 80s. In a country without a strong thrash scene, the short-lived powerhouse team that was axmaster Andy Sneap and singer Martin Walkyier crafted some solid thrash that frenetically bounced between slow and fast passages while maintaining tight, complex songwriting. Though it doesn’t stand quite as tall as its immediate successor, 1989’s Dreamweaver, this odd little gem is a treat for anyone who wants to try out a thrash album that isn’t just a fast and heavy onslaught from beginning to end.

The composition of this album is thoughtful at every moment. Sabbat has a more intellectual approach than just about any other thrash metal band, with its profound and poetic lyrics and well-crafted interplays between guitar, drums, and bass. Speed-laden passages charge onward with complicated riffs that are rough-shod enough to keep the album feeling organic. Then, suddenly, the song will switch to a simpler passages that creeps forward with a strong sense of purpose. You often can’t predict when it’ll happen but when it does, it’s in a spot that makes sense and the transition, whether it’s smooth or abrupt, always feels right. History frequently shifts back and forth between complex but recklessly fast rhythms and slower moments, maintaining enough variety through the album’s runtime to keep it from ever getting boring except during the mostly pointless ‘A Dead Man’s Robe’. Even ‘Horned is the Hunter’, the album’s epic, 8-minute centerpiece, is a dynamic beast that feels far shorter than it is and delivers almost nothing but thrills.

History has a damn fine production job that gives each instrument a chance to shine, while also sounding dirty, as European thrash metal should. Even the bass is prominent enough to provide a strong pulse just beneath the guitar and drums without calling attention to itself. This makes the album feel fully-realized and fleshed-out, with its roughness and balance providing the perfect backdrop for the vocals.

Speaking of vocals, forming an opinion on Martin Walkyier’s singing is tough because it has two separate flavors. They’re both consistent with each other but far apart in terms of quality. The one Walkyier prefers and uses the most is thankfully the best. During these passages, his voice has a vicious flair that’s truly demonic. His other vocal style is a shriek that fits with the music but is a bit grating. Luckily it doesn’t appear often.

Another thing that keeps Walkyier’s vocals from being as delicious as they could be is this habit he shares with Flogging Molly’s singer of putting a short ‘a’ sound after almost every goddamn syllable. The line “through each strata (sic) of society the poison infiltrates” from ‘Behind the Crooked Cross’ would more accurately be written as “Through each strata of-a society-a the poison-a infil-a trates-a.” Those extra syllables aren’t subtle either. It’s like Walkyier takes pride in this technique that sounds almost like a speech impediment and emphasizes it as much as he can.

With Walkyier’s raspy vocals and the album’s overall production bringing the nastiness of mainland Europe’s thrash metal and the instrumentation providing the sort of technical prowess that was a hallmark of the West Coast scene, what we have here is a beast of an album. While its members, particularly Sneap, certainly have some impressive chops, nothing ever seems like a pointless display of skill. People who love technical thrash should find plenty to love here but the album’s strong focus and complex yet sensible structuring should make it easy for any metal fan to approach.