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Onward warriors! - 88%

Kalelfromkrypton, August 2nd, 2010

The title track moves around the concept that the ‘Master’s Command’ (in this case Jesus is the Master) is: ‘love one another as yourself’. You might think: ‘that is so cheesy I can’t stand it’. That might be true, but considering that Sacred Warrior was a straight forward Christian band it turns out pretty clear what they are all about so we need to move on preconceptions and listen to this otherwise wonderful album.

It is sad this band never got worldwide recognition even in Christian circles. I guess it is due to the fact they didn’t get the kind of distribution that would have pushed them forward or maybe it was the lack of promotional video clips, which is kind of rare since Deliverance, Tourniquet, Vengeance Rising, Shout, Ransom got video clips to promote them and they were part of the same label. Anyhow, it’s a pity because more exposure could have helped them raising to stardom but since that spot was taken by Stryper, Whitecross and even Barren Cross I guess we have to conform with the fact that this was a good band and their first two albums kick ass in many ways.

Being that said let’s move on to the music itself. Sacred Warrior sophomore album sounds in many ways to recollections of many bands that were not even at the peak yet, as far as I am concerned. Please remember that the year was 1989. The overall sound of the band is somewhat reminiscent of Queensryche circa ‘The warning’ era, especially in regards to speed and heaviness and even glimpses of Fates Warning circa ‘The Specter within’ &‘Awakening the guardian’. The vocals are very much alike those of Geoff Tate and Michael Kiske but not that high pitched as Kiske yet very melodic. Rey Perra’s incredible skills do not go unnoticed along with the precision of the bands’ complex drumming patterns and bass lines make the album a worthwhile experience, not without suffering some flaws. The musical approach to Master’s Command is similar to Operation Mindcrime (without the boredom of that tedious album) and the speed and pumping’ attitude of Painkiller by the Judas’ (please consider that Painkiller was put out a year later) so this was really ahead of its time.

Progressive elements are present although this cannot be considered progressive metal. It is melodic yes, but the progressive elements are just to spice the already ultra melodic music. If you listen to the instrumental ‘Onward warriors’ you will notice these progressive elements, including abrupt time changes, weird time signatures, lots of syncopated drum rhythms and virtuoso and rich soloing yet melodic enough to enjoy a lot, reminiscent of modern Dream Theater which points back to Fates Warning again. This happens throughout the album of course but they are less evident due to some issues that I will detail later on.

Opener ‘Master’s command’ is a really good song. It has a mid tempo pace with a really good vocal performance. Contrary to many albums this song is not really catchy and it is more focused on the lyrical topic and does not stick to your mind due to the complex and long chorus’ lyrics. The drumming patterns and exquisite use of crashes and cymbals, plus the double bass adds a lot of texture to the song or an expanded dimension, comparing it to regular heavy metal title tracks from those days. Next is ‘Beyond the Mountain’ which is now a catchy song and has a really catchy chorus due to the vocal melodies and simpler structure. There is only one ballad in ‘Unfailing love’. This one is not that sappy as those from Stryper but still suffers from the same disease. The lyrics are really corny and the vocal lines are over coated with sugar which makes me want to skip it. The ability to write good ballads is something that just a few bands achieve circa 1989, such as Poison, Queensryche, Iron Maiden, Bon Jovi, but a big pile of the rest failed to do this job and Sacred Warrior sure failed too. ‘Bound in chains’ is very forgettable and passes by unnoticed. By the time you come to ‘Many will come’ the second problem is taking shape (I know I haven’t talked about the first one yet): the riffs are starting to sound very much alike. The difference between the basic rhythm sections and chords is quite little, almost unnoticed, thus the mid tempo songs begin to sound similar and that drags the album a bit. It is so that ‘Bound in chains’, ‘Paradise’, ‘Uncontrolled’ and ‘Many will come’ sound very much alike between them. Perhaps a different track order might have prevented this. Next is the instrumental ‘Onward Warriors’ which is really nice and a surprise because, not even Barren Cross, Stryper, Petra, etc wrote such good instrumentals. Whitecross’ were basically guitar show offs by Rex Carroll but a good instrumental that nowadays brings memories of Fates Warning and modern Dream Theater is a nice touch. ‘The flood’ with Roger Martinez from ‘Vengeance Rising’ performing the vocals adds extra dimension to this song. Certainly there is melody in the riffs and yet with his raspy, screechy and tormented vocals take the song to new levels. This is a good kick ass song. It is faster and it takes advantage of the best elements Sacred Warrior had, which I already mentioned but due to the excellent execution in the vocal department it is a nice surprise again.

Finally, the album closes with ‘Holy, Holy, Holy’ which is a famous public domain church Sunday song (not only Christian mind you!). It is a little corny closing the album with this song and it sounds out of place. This is not because the song was incorrectly made. It is good and the performing is cool, transforming a simple church’s choir to a heavy metal quasi ballad but again, a different track list order might have helped this album to increase the score.

The first problem you might notice when you start listening to the title track and the one that becomes evident by the time the second song comes in is the fact that the guitars are too buried in the mix. The sound mixing is focused on the vocals and the drums. Unfortunately the guitars sound too light, ala Bloodgood, and Sacred Warrior’s approach was of course, heavier than Bloodgood. This takes away a lot of the entertainment as far as riffing style because you cannot fully enjoy them, taking away the punch that this album requires. Fates Warning did not suffer from this.

Thus, this was a band that did not get the recognition they deserved. There are some cheesy aspects of their music (even back then). Sound mixing problems and a different track list order might have helped to increase the score a lot. If I pass by these flaws I get a hell of an album (oh so sorry, this is Christian remember?). Let’s say this is an awesome ride with some twists like raspy growls, great instrumentals, nice guitar soloing, outstanding drumming and powerful emotional vocal delivery. This is what only a few and selected and good Christian bands could do.