There have been few moments in Christian rock music history when past precedents have been completely annihilated. And fittingly, when Vengeance (later to be known as Vengeance Rising due to legal matters) burst onto Christian bookstore shelves in 1988, it did so on the Intense Records label.
And intense they were. Human Sacrifice was perhaps the greatest Christian thrash album ever recorded, although the 180-degree denunciation of faith by lead singer Roger Martinez has somewhat tarnished the bands legacy. But Human Sacrifice was a rare album that caught hard music lovers off guard. It was intense from the album cover, a spike driven through the nail of a bloodied hand into a cross of wood, to the growling screams of Martinez, that gave the band its definitive sound and made Stryper sound like Sandi Patti. Just listening to the screams at the end of the final track Beheaded is proof enough.
Can’t miss tracks on Human Sacrifice include the title track, Burn, I Love Hating Evil, White Throne, From the Dead and the instrumental Ascension. But there really isn’t a bad track among the 13, although a couple hardly qualify given their length. Musically, the guitar work by Larry Farkas and Doug Theime is lethal. Glenn Mancaruso absolutely destroys the drums and Roger Martin shreds on bass. Add in Martinez’s raspy, near-indecipherable shouts and growls and you have a perfect mix of raw, gritty thrash. Once Dead, the band’s 1990 follow up, may have been a better record in my opinion, but Human Sacrifice was the ground-breaking, ear-splitting record that landed like a bomb on the CCM industry in 1988. It was indeed a moment of shock and awe, and Human Sacrifice is definitely a genre classic.
Abrasive, chaotic and furious, The Chariot’s Wars and Rumors of Wars is a hardcore record that takes the band to new heights. Screamer Josh Scroggin’s act never wears thin, despite the numerous line-up changes that have befallen The Chariot. Wars and Rumors of Wars was the band’s third record, and an absolute burner at that.
Take the opener Teach which is superbly constructed. It bashes about and smashes into the chorus with shouts of “White Flag,” then breaks away into crunching guitar and Scroggin yelling the unforgettable line “victory is such a lonely word.” The second track, Evolve, is equally as compelling. It’s a brutal mess of electric guitars and drums, and when Scroggin shouts “stay calm, stay calm!” amidst the background of noise, you know the band is cooking. The rest of the songs? Well it’s more of the same sonic assault. Daggers is clearly among the best tracks, and the closer Mrs. Montgomery Alabama ii is excellent. The thing that makes the record good, though, is the way the band intersperses pummelling hardcore with lengthy breaks of feedback (Need), ominous guitar-only outros (Impress) or the subdued guitar/drums/howls that opens Abandon.
As with all The Chariot records, Wars and Rumors is not for the faint of heart. It is Converge-like in its delivery, thick walls of noise with plenty of abrupt stops, sudden starts and frequent breakdowns. The music is firmly planted in the metalcore/mathcore genre, but The Chariot, though, is a hard band to pin down, ’cause you just never know what lies around the corner. That’s what makes listening to The Chariot so interesting, and Wars and Rumors could very well be the best hardcore record I own.
5. Never I
10. Mrs. Montgomery Alabama ii
It’s hard to describe how much this record blew my mind. The Crucified’s debut album was hardcore punk that was high on both quality and quantity. At 14 tracks, the record had plenty of fodder for those looking to get into the mosh pit. And that’s exactly how the album began, with an ode called The Pit. It’s one of many songs that bashes about, then suddenly breaks off into relentless thrash.
Just like The Pillars of Humanity, it’s hard to nail down a favorite song on the band’s debut since the album delivers track after track. Rise is about as good as it gets, and Your Image is equally awesome. But the record is completed by such tracks as One Demon to Another, A Guy in a Suitand the Pope, and Back to The Cross. And you have to love how The Insult Circus and Thread flow seamlessly together, before the sensational Crucial Moment closes the record.
Like I said, it’s hard to pick a favorite track. It’s such a great record. The drumming (thanks Jim Chaffin!) is fantastic, the guitar solos are blistering (Greg Minier is one talented dude!), the vocals are great (Mark Saloman’s the man!), and the bass playing is outstanding (Jeff Bellow’s the best!). The lyrics are great, too. It was the total package, and The Crucified’s debut remains an absolute classic.
Things were just starting to heat up on the Christian thrash metal scene when Believer came blasting in with an absolutely smoking debut. The band’s Extraction from Mortality came one year after Vengeance’s Human Sacrifice, the same year as Deliverance’s self-titled debut and one year before Tourniquet’s Stop The Bleeding. At the turn of the decade, Christian thrash metal boasted a healthy stable of bands that included Living Sacrifice, Mortification and Sacrament, to mention a few.
But in someways, Extraction from Mortality was ahead of its time. The music was certainly more technical than what Vengeance (soon to be known as Vengeance Rising) and Deliverance were doing. Heck, this record even had violin, which was featured on the title track. The symphonic sounds contrasted perfectly when the song kicked down with Believer’s unmistakable crunching guitar and sped-up thrash beats. The record began with a bizarre intro on Unite that featured a chaotic piano sequence and church organ, which gave way to thick, heavy guitar. I’ve always liked how the following song, Vile Hypocrisy, kicks off with a double-kick drum beat and meaty bass line. There really isn’t a bad song on Extraction From Mortality. Blemished Sacrifices just might be my favorite, but then again Not Even One is just as good. It’s a toss up.
The record closes with Stress, in which the band had one last trick up its sleeve. It’s an Anthrax-sounding almost rap-like track with drum scratches that is equally parts thrash reggae and One Bad Pig inspired punk. It’s real fun. Believer’s sophomore release Sanity Obscure was equally as interesting and included a cover of U2’s Like A Song and more superb orchestration. Both records are classics as far as early Christian thrash goes and Believer remain one of my favorite bands in the genre.
2. Vile Hypocrisy
3. D. O. S. (Desolation Of Sodom)
5. Shadow Of Death
6. Blemished Sacrifices
7. Not Even One
8. Extraction From Mortality
A grinding and bashing metalcore/mathcore/post-metal (whatever you want to call it) onslaught, Bless the Martyr and Kiss the Child is the noisy debut from Norma Jean. At the time, the band was fronted by Josh Scogin, who later left to form another hardcore outfit, the one and only The Chariot. Both bands that trace their roots to the Luti-Kriss have dished out great records over the years, but Bless the Martyr and Kiss the Child is tie that binds. And boy, what a great record it is.
For starters, it has the unforgettable “Memphis Will Be Laid to Waste”, which is probably the greatest Norma Jean song ever. It has the infamous Norma Jean fury, and a sludgy, messy, wall of noise. Other highlights include “Face:Face” and “I Used Hate Cell Phones, but Now I Hate Car Accidents”. And the song “Pretty Soon, I Don’t Know What, But Something Is Going to Happen” which clocks in at 15 minutes, is a mini-epic.
Bless the Martyr and Kiss the Child remains my favorite Norma Jean record to this day. Not that O God, The Aftermath, Redeemer, The Anti Mother and Meridional didn’t have their moments. And the band has a new record due out this summer, so the Norma Jean saga continues…
1. The Entire World Is Counting on Me, and They Don’t Even Know It
3. Memphis Will Be Laid to Waste
4. Creating Something Out of Nothing, Only to Destroy It
5. Pretty Soon, I Don’t Know What, But Something Is Going to Happen
6. The Shotgun Message
7. Sometimes It’s Our Greatest Mistakes That Make for the Greatest Ideas
8. I Used to Hate Cell Phones, but Now I Hate Car Accidents
9. It Was As If the Dead Man Stood Upon the Air
10. The Human Face, Divine
11. Organized Beyond Recognition
A sonic blast of goodness, Tourniquet’s Psycho Surgery remains one of the greatest Christian thrash records ever released. It’s as enjoyable today as it was when I bought the CD in 1991. Of course, after Stop the Bleeding, the band’s first album, I just had to have the follow-up. And I was blown away.
Psycho Surgery is a potent mix of brilliant lyrics and thrash metal. There isn’t a bad track on the record, which sounds the best played at full volume – especially Viento Borrascoso, which features some devastating drum work by the Ted Kirkpatrick. A Dog’s Breakfast and Broken Chromosomes are also must-hear songs.
It’s not surprising that Tourniquet would gone on to release a healthy discography of eight studio records. Some of the latter records I’ve listened to from time to time, but none have the brillance of the first two. Tourniquet was truly at the top of its game early, and are one of the greatest Christian hard music bands of all time.
After an absolutely sensational self-titled debut, The Crucified followed it up with another great record. Unfortunately, it would also be the band’s last due to personal differences or something like that. The Pillars of Humanity was another furious offering of punk-inspired thrash, bustling with all the energy and aggression fans had come to know and love. And there was more superb drumming from Jim Chaffin, who continued to beat his kit into submission.
One thing you notice about the record is its depth and maturity. Sure, it sounds like The Crucified. But the formula is mixed up just enough to keep it interesting. Take Path to Sorrow for instance, which begins with spoken vocals before breaking away into hardcore thrash, with a mix of yelled lead and shouted background vocals. Oh, and the guitar solo is awesome. When the band does sound like it did on the debut it’s amazing, no more so than on Focus. But when you start naming favorite tracks it gets to be like splitting hairs. Mindbender is great, so is Blackstone/So Called Living, 1991, The Strength and The Wrong One… well the list could go on.
If there is a flaw with the record it’s that Mark Salomon’s vocals get buried in the mix at times, but it’s only a minor flub at that. Pillars of Humanity is a great album and must have for any punk/hardcore/thrash fan.