Review Summary: Sadist shift gears and transition from biting death metal into progressive metal, with great results.
Sadist's origins as a offshoot of Necrodeath
heavily influenced the sound of their first album, Above the Light, such that it felt considerably thrashier and more a product of the late 80s death metal scene than an album released the same year as Focus and a while after Unquestionable Presence. The music had heavy use of keyboards and some interesting classical references, but for the most part was quite heavily based in the orthodox foundations of death metal. Exceptions were, of course, there, like their eponymous track and Hell in Myself, which hinted at their later tendency to utilize slowly building song structures, but little could have indicated how drasticly their next album, Tribe, would change things.
Tribe's very heavy shift away from riffy death metal to jazzy, dominantly keyboard led prog metal came with some major bonuses. The instrumental skill of the members is amazing on this album, especially Tommy Talamanca's guitar solos, which are both tasteful and full of classic shred mojo. The moderate pace of the music for the most part also helps clean up a lot of the sound and there are fewer of the slight technical errors in recording that one could hear during the intense parts of Above the Light. Best of all is the production, which is deeper, cleaner, and well oriented to focusing on the drums, bass, and keyboards, giving the slightly more stripped down guitar work less of an overbearing dominance over the mix.
The best aspects of Tribe come in its newfound ability to introduce complicated musical shifts far more naturally than Above the Light. In fact, in comparison to rival progressive death metal albums of its day, such as Focus, Tribe generally has superior transitions more or less everywhere, thanks to better use of recurring melodies and motifs by the almost ever-present keyboard. Some of the rather goofy tones that the keyboard uses lends a slight cheesiness to some of the sound, but the sinister overall tone of most of the music definitely allows for it. In addition, the core components of the band's sound are still great on a moment-to-moment basis. The riffs, whilst less the focus than before, are perhaps better realized here as a result, with some great variety between meaty chuggers on India
to more traditional prog metal ones on opener and major highlight Escogido
Sadist's skill at progressions based on an initial keyboard motif are taken to new heights on tracks like the stunning instrumental From Bellatrix to Betelgeuse
, which is possibly the best metal track to ever come out of Italy. On the shuddering, stop-start Spiral of Winter Ghosts
, they manage to best combine their prior death metal sound with their newer mid-pace, keyboard-led sound. Other highlights include the closer The Reign of Asmat
, which features one of the best vocal performances on the album, and some of the heaviest riffs present; and the title track, which manages to pair the catchiest keyboard work of the album with the most overtly "progressive" metal riffs. If any element could be complained about, it's the frequency of the transitions the band uses, good as they are, and the rather similar openings most of the tracks use, often opening on a slower and sparser note before jumping into the metallic goodness.
Tribe's effective juxtaposition of heavy metal riffs with moody keyboards without ever really venturing into the realms of power metal or symphonic metal result in it probably being one of the most "one-of-a-kind" metal albums out there. Combining the frenetic power and jazzy foundations of Atheist
with the measured pace and keyboard led songwriting of something like Bill Bruford's Earthworks
, Tribe sounds totally out there but tight, entertaining and sufficiently powerful to be one of the better prog metal albums of the 90s.