Sacred Reich – Heal Review

The 1990s were not kind to a lot of Thrash Metal bands. Some broke up. Some went soft or tried new styles. Some went too progressive or too extreme. Some just ran out of good ideas.

There are of course, always exceptions to every trend. Heal by Sacred Reich is one such exception. This album is an underrated gem. Now; They may have moved into a Pantera-influenced Groove Metal style for half the album, which could be off-putting to die hard Thrashers, but half the record is still aggressive speedy Thrash and the songs that aren’t are way better than you’d expect from anything in 1996 anyway.

Part of what makes it work so well is Phil Rind’s vocals are perhaps the best of his career. He really developed over the years since Ignorance. Another thing that makes it work so well are that the songs are just so damn catchy and memorable. Finally; The slower moments really help the band’s trademark political and socially aware lyrical content easier to get across. When its not constantly all 1,000mph then you get to take it on board a bit more.

As described above, its an album of two halves. Highlights from the faster stuff includes “Break Through” and “Don’t” which are punchy and energetic, and perhaps best of all the furious album closer “The Power Of The Written Word” which is perhaps the band’s most pissed off song since their debut. (Talk about going out with a bang).

Highlights from the slower stuff include the Sabbathy grooving Title Track, the memorable anti-racist “Blue Suit, Brown Shirt” and the very fun “I Don’t Care.”

Even the Oingo Boingo cover works. The only thing that doesn’t quite do it for me is “Low” which is a bit too Alice In Chains for even my tastes. People who thought that tracks like “A Question” from the previous EP or “Crawling” from the last album weren’t Thrashy enough may want to avoid that one track in particular. (Don’t let it put you off trying the whole record though).

After this album, drummer Dave McClain would go on to join Machine Head for around two decades and Sacred Reich would break up and only play intermittently over the years. (Although things have come full circle now, with the band back full steam ahead with their superb new album, Awakening, and guess who’s behind the kit?).

Although their comeback record is superb, for the last two decades this was a fine ending to the Sacred Reich story. It may not be all fast, all the time, but it is all entertaining, all the time.

Exodus – Force Of Habit Review

The 1990s had a very mixed effect on Thrash Metal bands. Some, like Megadeth and Metallica toned down their sound and became superstars (or bigger stars than they already were). Some, like Sodom and at one point Testament, decided to incorporate some influences from the Death Metal scene and get even harder. Some, like Heathen, Hirax and Death Angel broke up.

One of Thrash’s most important bands, San Fransisco’s Exodus had some line-up trouble, bereavement and a whole lot of confusion. Right before it all went upside down, they released their fifth album, Force Of Habit, in 1992 (the year after Nirvana’s Nevermind album).

Like Anthrax’s Sound Of White Noise, Testament’s Low, Forbidden’s Distortion and so many other Thrash band’s albums between 1992-1999, the album is not the all out speed and violence fans had come to expect. There were new ideas, slower tempos and alternative lyrical themes than just the usual things like blood, war, slaughter and the glory of metal. There was a fatter production sound, and more of a Rock feel than their previous all-Metal all the time material.

If you just want face-melters like ‘Piranha,’ ‘Thrash Under Pressure’ and ‘Faster Than You’ll Ever Live To Be’ from previous records then there is some material here that may come as a bit of a shock. The single ‘A Good Day To Die’ has a southern groove like Pepper Keenan-era C.O.C. The 11-minute ‘Architect Of Pain’ is a dynamic, slow, sludgy number with an almost Alice In Chains feel.  The Rolling Stones cover song ‘Bitch’ has a horn section and ‘Pump It Up’ has sing-along choruses and a punky tom based drumbeat.

There are a few bones thrown to Thrash fans though. Other single ‘Thorn In My Side’ has a crunchy riff and great energy. ‘Feeding Time At The Zoo’ & ‘Count Your Blessings’ pick up the speed. ‘Me, Myself & I’ has razor sharp riffing, gang vocals and a chorus which could fit on any of the previous three albums.

After this album, the band would disband, then later reunite with original singer Paul Baloff and release a live album, before disappearing again, and going through numerous line-up shifts over the years, but releasing some of their best albums to date along the way (Tempo Of The Damned for example is definitely worth looking into).

History has sort of forgotten about (or intentionally overlooked) this album. How do I feel about it, you ask? It’s a bit of a strange record, but interesting. If I was ranking all of Exodus’ albums, this would be dead last. It however, is not bad. Uneven maybe, but still worth your time. It is refreshing to hear them thinking outside the box, but its also good it didn’t last for too long and they got back to doing what they do best later.

Annihilator – Criteria For A Black Widow Review

Canada’s superb Thrash Metal band started off strong, releasing their best two albums first, and the next three albums they released were also pretty darn good, but the critics and audiences drifted away. Then they released the ill-fated and misguided Remains album in 1997, and needed a major rethink to get back on track.

1999’s Criteria For A Black Widow was that rethink. The linear notes on the reissue state it was originally meant to be called Sonic Homicide but the record label at the time changed it. The big talking point on this record is that the line-up from the band’s classic debut Alice In Hell was back. The artwork harkens back to Alice In Hell. There’s even an instrumental track called ‘Schizos (Are Never Alone) Part III’ which harkens back to parts I & II of the same name from the debut too.

(Also, confusingly, there’s a track called ‘Back To The Palace’ that clearly refers both lyrically and musically to ‘The Fun Palace’ from not the debut, but the sophomore record. Hey its still calling back to some of their best material, but slightly off theme!).

Now; in terms of righting the ship, this album is undoubtedly a huge step up from the controversial Remains album which preceded it. Unfortunately however it didn’t reach the insanely high quality of the band’s near-perfect debut album. Arguably, its not even the best album they released during Thrash Metal’s wilderness period in the 1990s. King Of The Kill and Refresh The Demon were a lot better than you’d expect for their lack of fame, its just the grunge focused times and lack of record label/press support that hindered their success.

That’s not to say it’s a weak album, its just not the huge return to form and game-changer it was intended to be. There’s still some damn fine material to be found. The Pantera-influenced ‘Nothing Left,’ the speedy ‘Double Dare’ and the title track that never was especially, ‘Sonic Homicide’ are all worth checking out.

There are however a few draw backs, such as a few underwhelming tracks like the disappointing ‘Punctured’ and ‘Criteria For A Black Widow’ which don’t quite reach the band’s usual high standards, and returning singer Randy Rampage doesn’t quite recapture the old magic here either. This material would mostly probably have suited lead guitarist Jeff Waters singing on it like the last few albums.

Its not the worst Thrash Metal album from 1999 (Just ask Megadeth what they were up to at this time); but if you were expecting Alice In Hell part two, expect into one hand… you know how the old saying goes.