Review Summary: One of the most overlooked thrash albums of the eighties which is still as powerful today as when it was recorded. It is an awesome display of power, melody and lyrical quality.
Sabbat’s second long player, released in June 1989, is a concept album based on a book by Brian Bates called The Way of Wyrd, a fantasy story set in pre-Christian England. In summary this album is a belter!
Let me begin by saying that this is no ordinary thrash album; the dense riffage interwoven with Martin Walkyier’s all consuming lyrics, and the very fact that this is a conceptual piece lends the album a distinct progressive air, and this is no bad thing. The lyrics alone are staggering: With little repetition, Walkyier has basically put Bates’ book into prog/thrash form. Not only that, but the combination of Walkyier’s lyrical delivery and the apparently limitless riffs (there are simply too many to count) coming from the guitars of Andy Sneap and Simon Jones, form melodic undertones which have you enthralled throughout.
Walkyier’s vocal style, while not clean, is accessible and the majority of the lyrics are intelligible enough to allow the listener to get a grasp of the story being told. When looking at the individual tracks, it is useful to have a grasp of the wider story – so here is a useful summary: The story deals with a young monk called Wat Brand who is tasked with travelling into the pagan lands of southern England to get an insight into their ways and beliefs with a view to converting them to Christianity. However, the pagan guide who accompanies Brand on his trip shows him a very different world to the one he is expecting…
1. The Beginning of the End (Intro) (0:30)
Brief intro setting the scene, with atmospheric sounds and a voiceover (presumably a quote from the book). This leads straight into…
2. The Clerical Conspiracy (5:38)
With the sounds from the intro fading out, Simon Negus’ drums kick in; shortly followed by the simultaneous launching of the vocal, bass and the brutal guitars. The song sets the scene for the story and tells how Brand has been chosen to travel into pagan lands and gather information. This is a classic track and gives the listener a foretaste of what the rest of the album is to bring.
3. Advent of Insanity (2:11)
The shortest track on the album (barring the intro / outro), sees a clean vocal from Walkyier over the top of acoustic guitars and background atmospheric sounds. The song depicts the voyage of Brand down to southern England.
4. Do Dark Horses Dream of Nightmares (6:26)
This song opens with Walkyier’s spat vocal over the rest of the band – it really gives the listener a picture of Brand standing there alone in an unknown land. The song deals with Brands first night on “foreign” shores, his anxieties and the night terrors he has while waiting for his guide to turn up. Again, Sneap and Jones dish out the riffs underpinning the vocal delivery generating an undulating melody. A brutal chorus section and some excellent riffs in the bridge section are particular features, as is the use of the word somnambulistic – which is the only time I have seen this used in a song!
5. The Best of Enemies (8:22)
Another quote from the book opens the song followed by the twin guitars and galloping drums. After 90 seconds the song changes and proceeds with various galloping sections utilising alternate timings which always keeps the listener interested. The song is from the viewpoint of Brand’s guide (who has now turned up) and is basically the guide berating Brand and saying that his Christian buddies haven’t got a bloody clue!
6. How Have the Mighty Fallen? (8:17)
This song describes Brand’s experience of a drug induced journey into the pagan netherworld and how this begins to break down his stoic Christian outlook. The song opens with the sound of thousands of flies (which I find quite chilling) over which is played an awesome undulating riff. When the vocal kicks in, the riff notches up a key and the second guitar joins adding further power. This continues over Walkyier’s increasingly urgent vocal for the first minute or so and is as good a song intro as I’ve heard in my time listening to metal. This then breaks into powerful back-to-back vocal/riff sections interspersed with wonderfully melodic bridge sections. Further sections of intense chugging guitars and some surprisingly melodic solos make this the highlight of the album for me.
7. Wildfire (4:37)
This song deals with Brand’s encounter with a pagan spiritual force (wildfire) and for me this is the weakest song on the album. While not a bad song in itself, it is the closest thing to a “normal” song, structure wise, i.e. it is the only song with a chorus in the traditional sense of the word, and is more like the output from their first album. While it has some decent riffs, it doesn’t seem to sit right in the context of the rest of the album. I’m sure some would argue this is not necessarily a bad thing, but for me, this song is the reason why I’ve given the album 4.5 rather than 5.
8. Mythistory (6:47)
Normal service is resumed. Opening with a slow riff backed by Fraser’s Craske’s booming bass and the machine gun drums of Simon Negus, the twin guitars then kick in mirroring the bass line, until after 30 seconds a change in pace and another twin guitar riff lead into the vocal. There are some more immense galloping riffs here and once again, the melodic rhythmic quality of the vocal is captivating. A very brief female vocal also features, representing Brand’s soul in the story. The song is about Brand’s Damascus moment (so to speak) where he realises he has been deceived by his Christian masters and his pagan hosts are not what he had believed.
9. Happy Never After (Outro) (1:06)
A short acoustic instrumental rounds off an outstanding album.
Hope you enjoyed the review and please check out this amazing album.