|Musical Style: Power Metal||Produced By: Steve Watkins|
|Record Label: Independent||Country Of Origin: USA|
|Year Released: 2013||Artist Website: Sacred Warrior|
|Tracks: 13||Rating: 90%|
|Running Time: 48:16|
Let’s start with the downside to Waiting In Darkness, the summer of 2013 fifth full length album from Chicago, Illinois based Sacred Warrior. Lead vocals are placed a bit low in the mix, a better decision could have been made in regards to the older songs the group re-recorded and album artwork does not stand out as it should. Everything else about this classic US power metal album is nothing short of amazing.
Sacred Warrior had an excellent four year run during its late eighties to early nineties heyday. I consider the groups 1988 full length debut Rebellion (95% Angelic Warlord review) its finest from a consistency standpoint and 1991 swan song effort Obsessions (90% review) a close second as a result of a more accessible sound. In between, Sacred Warrior put out the diverse Masters Command (1989) and overall heavier Wicked Generation (1990).
So how does Waiting In Darkness rate as a comeback album following a near 25 year hiatus? In order to gain insight one must first take a look at the sports world, where sometimes comebacks work (Michael Jordan circa 1996-1998) but often they do not (can you say Brett Favre?). Fortunately, in this case it is the former which applies in that similar to Jordan, Sacred Warrior has returned with a vengeance by showcasing the drive, focus and determination needed to create a quality work of art.
Specifically, Waiting In Darkness proves by far Sacred Warrior’s heaviest release- or at the very least since Wicked Generation. The impression left is that Sacred Warrior has captured the guitar driven sound it always strove for but could not obtain for one reason or another. This reviewers hunch being that since Waiting In Darkness is an independent release the group did not have to worry about some label bigwig looking over their shoulder and asking “Guys, can I get you to tone it down a bit please?”
Despite the heaviness accessibility has not been sacrificed in the process, with the upshot the musical maturity of Obsessions remaining integral to the Sacred Warrior songwriting abilities. But also keep in mind how the groups compositions remain technical as ever (even touching upon some periodic progressive aspects) in that it took several listens for Waiting In Darkness to fully grow on me. Serving to tie everything together is the musical consistency to Rebellion.
“Waiting In Darkness” (with its immediately recognizable melody) rates with the albums best as does “Desperately Wicked” (a punishing piece with a catchy hook) and “Sinking Sand” (short but relentless in approaching speed metal). Of equal note are slower pieces “Fallen Hero” (from its calmer to heavier time signatures) and “In Dust And Ashes” (swarthy but poignant mindset). Contrastingly, energy in abundance characterize “Long Live The King” (powerful a chorus as you will find) and “Living Sacrifice” (emphatic joining of heaviness and melody). Sacred Warrior even stretches for the gently done “Jealous Love” (a ballad upheld by piano and acoustic guitar).
You will also encounter two re-recorded songs in “Day Of The Lord” (off Rebellion) and “Temples On Fire” (Obsessions). Yes, both are well constructed in aligning with the heavier nature of the Waiting In Darkness material. That said, I cannot help but think better tracks exist in the groups repertoire that would have filled the same role. “The Heavens Are Calling” (Rebellion) immediately comes to find as does “Evil Lurks” (Masters Command) and “Kamakazi” and “Mad Man” (both Obsessions). Regardless, the quality is such I would love to hear Sacred Warrior do a re-record project (in a similar vein as Stryper’s Second Coming).
The crisp and clean production places guitars at the centerpiece of the mix while emphasizing a pronounced low-end. Fittingly, aptly named guitarist Bruce Swift puts on a clinic of bludgeoning riffs (did I say that Waiting In Darkness is Sacred Warrior’s heaviest release?) while proving every bit as adept from a soloing standpoint (his blistering leads shine on “Desperately Wicked” and “In Dust And Ashes”). Underrated drummer Tony Velazquez continues to stand out with his trademark heavy set timekeeping skills.
Lone complaint in the area is that vocals, courtesy of the classically trained Eli Prinsen (The Sacrificed), are a touch low in the mix (most notably on “Desperately Wicked”). No, not a distraction, but a vocalist with the power and range of Prinsen, who replaced departed long term front man Rey Parra, deserves to stand out further. Prinsen, if anything, does an effective job stepping into Parra’s shoes with a similar high end and soaring style well suited for the power metal genre. If you like early Queensryche, Recon, Jacobs Dream, Faith Factor, InnerSiege and Fates Warning then I can see Prinsen era Sacred Warrior suiting your tastes.
Album artwork is well conceived but on the plain side in fitting with the Waiting In Darkness album title theme. Am I out of line, as a result, to suggest that the work of a professional artist along the lines of Jan Yrlund or Robert “Death Is Gain” Wilson might have stood out better?
Waiting In Darkness adds up to a fantastic comeback release from Sacred Warrior. It is refreshing to hear a group so fresh and vibrant after a 25 year hiatus- it is almost as if Sacred Warrior picked up where it left off in 1991 and not missed a beat in the process. Yes, a few imperfections exist but all in all long term Sacred Warrior fans - not to mention devotees to the power metal genre - are in for a real treat. In the end I hope the album gives Sacred Warrior the confidence to record a follow-up.
Track By Track
The distant keyboards opening “Desperately Wicked” give way to bludgeoning guitar onslaughts. The aggressive mindset is maintained as the song plows ahead, impetus only lightening when a smoothly flowing chorus contrasting with the hulking scene is procured. This one would sound right at home on Wicked Generation. Lyric snippet:
Twisting words the serpent roused our evil pride
You can be like god your eyes will open wide
You will never die
Expelled from the garden falling for the lie
Now death, pain and sorrow scar all human life
Flesh and spirit raging on the war within
Life or death cursed or blessed the choice is given
In the perfect sacrifice a hope remains
The albums title track is its most accessible. No, not commercial but standing out with one of the more engaging melodies that you will find here. Notable guitar harmonies adorn the song its length, enhancing what amounts a lushly done scene in which a riveting impetus and lively low-end play prevailing roles. I can see “Waiting In Darkness” easily being the tenth track to Obsessions.
“Sinking Sand” proves a short but fast paced speed metal romp. Furious is the tempo and storming the mentality, as Velazquez’s hyperactive drumming and Swift’s mercurial leads attest in no uncertain terms. “Stay Away From Evil” (off Rebellion) comes to mind as a result. Lyric snippet:
The devil and his so-called friends
Deceived to think they understand
This is not a new philosophy
All roads lead to god is ancient heresy
Religion feeds the moral code
But it cannot save the eternal soul
Was Christ a fool to be crucified?
If works could be the perfect sacrifice
“In Dust And Ashes” proves an emotionally laden piece, trending towards the mid-tempo and aphotic with its plodding and downtrodden proclivities. A technical mindset prevails as a result, with verses staunch and chorus intricately done with clinching guitars moving to the front of the mix. Again, Swift steals the show with his raucous lead guitar work.
“Fallen Hero” is an exercise in time signatures. The song opens hauntingly to acoustic guitar and piano, not picking up impetus until after two minutes when rhythm guitars kick in with full force. An authoritative environs prevails as things move ahead (symphonic keyboards lend a highlighting touch), the stilly done moments at the start returning to carry things to their majestic close. Lyric snippet:
The artist and the warrior
Fighting battles for the Lord
To calm the aching soul
Crying out for mercy
Regret plagues your every day
Thank god for forgiveness
And a brand new day
“Fear Me” represents a lesson in straightforward and no-nonsense power metal. No, nothing fancy or overdone presented here, but rather towering riff action, soaring vocals and curtly done chorus defining the steadfast scene. “Bound In Chains” (from Masters Command) invites comparison.
“Long Live The King” fades in to a militant drum solo (sort of like Bloodgood’s “Soldier Of Peace”). The song comes across thick and weighty its remaining distance, with initiative keyed up as full throttle guitars are backed by scintillating hints of organ. Powerful is the first word that comes to mind to describe the chorus backed by resounding backing vocals shouting the songs title. A worshipful element comes to the forefront as a result. Play this one loud! Lyric snippet:
He is the lightning he is on high
Always and eternal and his love will never die
He is forever the answer to the rhyme
Of what will be for you and me before the start of time
I hear the thunder I hear the call
The armies of his angels from the royal temple hall
One day is a thousand years, still he's drawing nigh
Lift up your voice unto the sky (and) shout the battle cry
Long live the King!
It is quite the contrast as the album transitions to one of Sacred Warrior’s mellowest pieces ever in “Jealous Love”. Now, mellow means no less able as the song is deeply constructed with rich layers of acoustic guitars, grand piano and orchestration. Fittingly, Prinsen presents with a lower-key side to his vocal delivery.
“Living Sacrifice” highlights Sacred Warrior style power/progressive metal at its finest. Again, we have rhythm guitars torching the front of the mix of what amounts one of the heavier tracks here. Balancing out that heaviness is a bountiful melody of a near commercial variety (hearkening back to the albums title track in the process). Interestingly, a keyboard and lead guitar duel carries the instrumental moments. Lyric snippet:
I can tell by the look in your eyes
You've been to the top of the mountain
I can see in your face his abundant grace
Will you offer up a little direction?
Here am I a willing man
And I'm thirsting for a deeper conviction
With the word in hand took my feet from the sand
And I'm running in your direction
Lead me on, crush this fear inside of me
Make my life a living sacrifice
Review by Andrew Rockwell
Track Listing: “Desperately Wicked” (5:25), “Waiting In Darkness” (5:54), “Sinking Sand” (3:15), “In Dust And Ashes” (4:02), “Fallen Hero” (4:47), “Fear Me” (4:30), “Long Live The King” (4:26), “Jealous Love” (4:24), “Living Sacrifice” (4:00), “Day Of The Lord” (3:45), “Temples On Fire” (3:44)
Eli Prinsen - Lead Vocals
Bruce Swift - Guitars
Joe Petit - Keyboards
Steve Watkins - Bass
Tony Velazquez - Drums