Style: Thrash Metal
Release Date: 23 Aug 2019
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I wasn't living in Phoenix three decades ago when it was the next big thrash scene about to explode. I was six thousand miles away but I was listening to a lot of the bands that were tearing it up in what I probably thought at the time was just an endless desert. The name that most people remember today is probably Flotsam and Jetsam, especially after Jason Newsted elevated their name when he left to join Metallica, but they were far from alone. I bought Sacred Reich albums too and those of Atrophy, who were just down the road in Tucson.
If Flotsam and Jetsam were the most famous Arizona thrash band, I hear that Sacred Reich had the biggest and wildest mosh pits. I hope that's still the case 23 years after their previous album. And yeah, only 23 years. I bought Ignorance and the Surf Nicaragua EP back in the day but I don't think that I knew that they had knocked out a few albums in the nineties, before taking a break. I guess I wasn't paying attention, though I also see that they weren't entirely well received. It was a tough time.
They only went away for a little while, from 2000 to 2006, but they've only got round to a new album now, one that feels strong and punchy, as if they were just itching to make it. They've had a pretty consistent line-up over the years, though I do see one key recent change, namely that Jason Rainey, the only founding member to last until their debut album in 1987, has been on rhythm all the way through, but he left this year, to be replaced by Joey Radziwill. That seems like an important break. I wonder if it had anything to do with this album.
All the others who took part in the band's heyday in the late eighties were the second people in place. Phil Rind, the songwriter, vocalist and bassist, joined in 1985, replacing both Dan Kelly and Mike Andre. The lead guitarist, Wiley Arnett, showed up a year later to replace Jeff Martinek. After a year of Ray Nay on drums, Greg Hall took over and stayed for most of the band's life thus far. It's Dave McClain here, though, who took over from Hall for half of the nineties and did so again last year.
But what about the music? Well, the title track, which kicks things off, is a heavy, mid-paced song with a real punch. I don't remember Rind's voice as being this clear or this strong. He's quite obviously on top form here and the production aids him, as it does McClain's drumkit, which is relentless. Divide & Conquer is faster. It doesn't care about doing anything fancy; it just drops its head and blisters.
If Rind deserved the first overt compliment, the back end gets there too. It continues to deliver, song after song, so amazingly tight. That chugging at the outset of Manifest Reality is dream material for me. Then it kicks into high gear with Arnett's buzzsaw of a lead and I'm in heaven. Revolution's close as well. This is quintessential old school thrash, textbook stuff. Killing Machine also features the socially aware material we expect from Rind, anti-war material telling the stories of a succession of bright new soldiers, all of them inevitably "bodies for the killing machine". This album is far too long a time in coming but it delivers.
And there's variety here too. Death Valley is wildly different: alternative and even southern. Something to Believe starts out like a Judas Priest song but gets alternative in a very different way, almost like Priest covering a Creed song, if that remotely makes sense, with a notably heartfelt delivery from Rind and strong work on the bass too.
The flaw isn't in the music but in the fact that this is just a breath over half an hour in length and it feels short at only eight songs. Sure, this is authentic for the era it ably resurrects but I can't but feel greedy for the first album Sacred Reich have done in 23 years. I want more! Please, folks, let's see another album in 2020 or maybe 2021. We're glad you're back, even if you never really went away.