Review Summary: Underrated Classic of true Gothic Metal
The word "gothic" has become about as descriptive as the word "epic." Derived from the Germanic Goth peoples, the word has been used to describe a medieval style of architecture, dark literature from the 18th and 19th centuries, and most recently, teenage outcasts who like Twilight and wear black exclusively. Likewise, “gothic metal” has also lost its original intent, as your average music fan would probably refer to Evanescence, Within Temptation, or (God help us) Black Veil Brides as prime examples of the subgenre.
Those who move passed the first façade find good bands like Nightwish and The Gathering, all who have a strong focus on female vocals, symphonic instrumentation, and lyrics of unrequited love and failed relationships. However, the lesser known originators of the style were bands like Type O Negative and Tiamat who used dark imagery akin to 19th century gothic literature and were the first to fuse it with moody symphonic compositions and heavy metal instrumentation. Among these early bands is Saviour Machine, one of the most underrated and controversial of all.
Formed in 1989 and with their first demo released in 1990, Saviour Machine is often cited as the very first gothic metal band in the metal underground (like Exodus was to Metallica). Though their self-titled debut wasn’t released until 1993, it was still in the wake of the newly formed music style. As for the band, there’s no question whether Saviour Machine was gothic. Dressed in a black tunic, white face paint and eyeliner like that of the ancient Egyptians, vocalist and main songwriter Eric Clayton was the real deal. Onstage performances included chains, a chalice of fake blood, and the expected theatrics that would make Alice Cooper proud.
There was only one problem. Saviour Machine was a Christian band. Yes, they were named after the David Bowie song, and yes, they dressed like pagan cult members, but Savior Machine’s message was different than their peers on both sides of the religious spectrum. Saviour Machine’s lyrics dealt with Biblical end-time prophecies, faults of the church, and other social issues like murder and prejudice.
Problems soon arose for Saviour Machine when they played with local Christian thrashers Deliverance. Though the bands were good friends, and Deliverance even helped Saviour Machine get signed with a record label, fans of Deliverance were not too keen on Saviour Machine’s stage performances and lyrics. In fact, the venue owners shut off Saviour Machine’s power mid-set due to their “creepy vibe,” and Christian book stores soon banned their debut album for its explicit lyrics. Lines like “Naked she lies on the crucifix crying/The tears of the innocent die/The dragon slides between her thighs/The dragon breathes the fire as blood drips from her eyes” from the song “Legion” just didn’t sit well with the same Christians that were cool with distributing Mortification albums. Even today they are not widely accepted by Christian metalheads, which is a shame since they are one of the few original bands that Christians can be proud of.
Saviour Machine’s debut is without a doubt their greatest achievement. Running at a rather long 70+ minutes, the album has few weak points and every one of their most memorable songs. The songs vary from heavy to moody to ballad-like and progressive song structures abound in a non-flashy, Queensryche sort of way.
Opener “Carnival of Souls” from their 1990 demo makes a bold statement up front with a bombastic orchestral choir that is now a staple in gothic metal. The moody verses feature delicate guitar and bass lines that are reminiscent of ‘80s U2, which fit perfectly with Eric Clayton’s operatic baritone/tenor voice. Clayton’s voice is really flawless throughout the album and truly fits the feel of the songs and the lyrics. The next highlight is “Legion”, which is ironically the song they were most criticized for. It tells the haunting biblical story of the Woman (Israel), the Dragon (Satan), and the Harlot (Babylon). Beautiful piano, tempo changes and a hopeful ending make for a great gothic metal song. “Killer” is the longest at 10:07 and is a plodding, middle-eastern epic in the vein of “Kashmir.” It tells of a murderer in an unexpected light, saying:
Pray for the killer
Pray for his son
Pray for the killer
Pray for his day to be done
The following two tracks "The Widow and the Bride" and “Christians and Lunatics” are in the heavier direction with almost thrashy riffs and melodic soloing. Finally, we come to the last two songs, which in my opinion are the highlights of the album. “A World Alone” is a touching ballad that laments the faults of the human race. A truly soaring chorus bemoans,
In a world that's drowning in its lies
Which persecutes his brother
For the color of his eyes
In a world that radiates the skies
Intoxicates the oceans
So watch it as it dies
In the final chorus, the word “alone” flows seamlessly both musically and thematically into Saviour Machine’s timeless masterpiece, “Jesus Christ.”
When one sees a track titled “Jesus Christ,” one assumes to hear a paraphrased story of the man everyone has heard of and how great he is. Not this time. This is a dark, twisted prayer to Jesus that is anything but flattering. Like the previous song, Eric Clayton lists evils that humans have done, only now the evils he names are ones that were done in the name of Jesus and religion. Clayton prays:
You are the reason for the wars that plague the land
You are the symbol for the cause in which they stand
You are the one who sits there watching as they die
You are the Son of Man that listens as they cry.
The verses are given a chilling acoustic guitar riff that only breaks for the driving chorus complete with electric guitars and choirs.
Jesus Christ, vengeance is mine
Jesus Christ, leave them behind
Jesus Christ. vengeance is mine
Jesus Christ, please, leave them to die
A stellar, minute-long melodic solo is played over the acoustic riff and carried by tasteful bass lines and ambient keyboards. After a second and third set of verses and choruses, the song transitions from the chorus to the single most epic moment of Saviour Machine’s career when hope shines through the darkness.
Bring them to life
Without hate, without pain
Without suffering insane
Without death, without fire
Without lies that feed the liar
Eric Clayton continues to cry out everything he hopes Jesus Christ will save him from. The music builds as Clayton sings at the top of his lungs and range as the drums crash and the choral keyboards keep climbing. He finishes his prayer:
Without torture over belief
Bring us love
Let us see
Set us Free
As the album’s final words leave an imprint on your mind, only one word comes to mind—masterpiece. Though Saviour Machine I does have a few weaker songs like the not-nearly-as-good-as-A World Alone-ballad “Son of the Rain” that keep it from being flawless, its originality and unapologetic lyrics make for an unforgettable experience. Saviour Machine I has caused a metalhead and a non-“Goth” to feel emotions that cannot be expressed by a headbang.
Carnival of Souls
Christians and Lunatics
A World Alone