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
My first brush with The Chariot was in the form of the song Daggers from their album Wars And Rumors of Wars while doing a bit of YouTubing. It was promptly saved to a playlist and after repeated listens I was hooked. Heck, the entire record was good, a lethal injection of terrifying hard, heavy and loud hardcore (or mathcore, as some call it). It was strangely captivating and I loved it.
And at times, well in actuality a lot of time, Long Live sounds like a mess of noise. But it’s an enjoyable mess, as songs bash and bang along, sometimes at hectic speeds, other times plodding. The Chariot is absolutely clinical at igniting different moods within the listener, from violent outbursts to soft refrains. Every other song title on Long Live bears the name of a fan as part of a contest. The album begins with Evan Perks, an absolute barn burner in which singer Josh Scrogin screams bloody murder. It’s hardcore heaven. The next two tracks are equally good, but four songs in The City somehow manages to outdo the others. It’s superbly constructed and reaches a crescendo before coming to a screeching halt. Andy Sundwall typifies The Chariot experience, as it shreds along, than slows to a crawl and smashes its way to the end as guitars wail and Scrogin screams. On David De La Hoz, a portion of the lyrics are recited by Dan Smith of the band Listener. It’s well executed, and ends with lightly played piano. Brilliant. Of course, The Heavens kicks things right back up to a frenzy, a song with loads of swagger, which is also the feeling you get on Robert Rios. Oh so good. The King, with its robust marching band-like rhythm section, is a fitting closer.
As far as hardcore records go, it doesn’t get much better than Long Live, a simply stellar collection of 10 tracks and not a dog in the bunch.
There was definitely no sophomore slump for Vengeance Rising on Once Dead, the band’s follow-up record to the shocking debut Human Sacrifice. In many ways, Once Dead was a fitting sequel. It featured a wealth of tracks (13), a Deep Purple cover (Space Truckin‘), and a pair of songs that stretched beyond the 8-minute mark. And that was on top of Vengeance Rising’s usual fare of Roger Martinez’s growl, the twin pronged guitar attack of Doug Theime and Larry Farkas amidst a superbly executed, hardcore thrash sound.
In retrospect, in some ways Once Dead was better than Human Sacrifice. It wasn’t as revolutionary, but boy, the songs were solid. And how do you pick a favourite? That said, this album would not be great without Warfare, The Whipping Post and Into the Abyss. All three feature superb arrangements and display the band’s ability to expand on the thrash metal formula. And as far as covers go, Space Truckin’ totally rocks. I can’t listen to the original and not think about how much more I like Vengeance Rising’s version.
And that’s what makes this record so entertaining. There’s so much variety. Once Dead may be typical thrash metal, but the band continually mixes it up. They can play it fast (Cut Into Pieces) or slow (Arise, FrontalLobotomy), all built upon a base of superb songwriting and musicianship. Vengeance Rising was indeed one of the greatest Christian hard rock bands ever assembled, and Once Dead is just a great, great record.
2.Can’t Get Out
3.Cut Into Pieces
5.Herod’s Violent Death
6.The Whipping Post
9.Out Of The Will
10.The Wrath To Come
11.Into The Abyss
12.Among The Dead