Sacred Reich’s Ignorance debut dropped in 1987, a year that would turn out to be pivotal for thrash metal. The Arizona group was the first Metal Blade bands to have a debut get major label distribution through Capitol Records and the band would sign with the Hollywood Records imprint for 1993’s Independent but they didn’t leave quite the same mark as Testament, Death Angel, or even Coroner who also emerged on the scene the same year.
It didn’t help their legacy that they broke up in 2000. The band did reform 2006 but hadn’t released a note of new music until this year with the track “Don’t Do It Donnie” from a split with Iron Reagan and now, Awakening, the band’s fifth album. Reawakening might have been a more appropriate title under the circumstances.
Back in the day Sacred Reich seemed like a product of the speed metal underground and wasn’t given a lot of credit for being particularly innovative. Hindsight shows that may have sold the band short as they were churning out proto-groove metal around the time Pantera unleashed Cowboys from Hell and before Sepultura’s groundbreaking Chaos A.D. You can hear it in the older material more clearly now, especially through the lens of Awakening.
Maybe it’s more obvious since Dave McClain returned to the fold. His furious double bass and tempo-shifting polyrhythms provide a foundation not unlike the one he provided for Machine Head the better part of two decades. Longtime guitarist Wiley Arnett’s chunky, syncopated riffs augmented with classic metal solos also highlight the cadence rather than speed or heaviness of the material. “Death Valley” is the most obvious example of this and the first single “Awakening” has a decidedly Prong-ed approach.
The biggest difference in Sacred Reich in the new millennium is Phil Rind. The bass-playing singer was always staunchly left wing, finding common ground in Black Sabbath’s anti-war metal anthem “War Pigs” as well as the nonconformity of the MDC’s “The Big Picture,” two songs they used to cover. Even though the profane anti-racist message of “Blue Suit, Brown Shirt” is unfortunately just as relevant today as it was in 1996 when Sacred Reich first recorded it, you won’t find such blunt negativity on Awakening.
Which isn’t to say he doesn’t abhor racism anymore; the presentation is what changed. Discovering Buddhism might have been the cause. Maybe it was just growing up and becoming a father. The line, “when I was young, I had to change the world; now I know I can only change myself” from “Manifest Reality” speak to a maturity found in either pursuit.
The album ends with “Revolution,” the most purely thrashing track on the release, and “Something to Believe,” which starts with a churning bass-chugging Maidenesque and devolves to a bright chorus. Both songs in context show that Rind still wants change, only he’s not demanding it anymore as much as appealing to the sensibilities of people that things need to improve.
There aren’t any standout cuts such as the S.O.D.-styled stomp of “Death Squad” or “Surf Nicaragua,” but maybe that’s for the best since at the time folks heard the hyper-speedy “Wipeout” break and misinterpreted Sacred Reich as a mosh-happy joke band. More importantly, the album does no disservice to the band’s past and actually enhances it in many ways, which is no mean feat.