|Musical Style: Gothic Rock||Produced By: Eric Clayton & Saviour Machine|
|Record Label: Retroactive||Country Of Origin: USA|
|Year Released: 1990/2011||Artist Website:|
|Tracks: 11||Rating: 85%|
|Running Time: 72:09|
Saviour Machine is highly important, a true milestone in Christian metal history. The group got its start in the late eighties when brothers Eric (vocals) and Jeff (guitars) Clayton joined forces with Dean Forsyth (bass) and Chris Fee (drums) and began playing the Southern California club scene. The theatrical stage show of Saviour Machine quickly generated its share of controversy - including getting the group banned at The Whiskey and Gazzari’s - while every bit as much critical acclaim was lauded on its 8 song demo from 1990. A deal with Intense Records followed, that resulted in the bands 1993 self-titled debut and follow up effort Saviour Machine II from 1994. Saviour Machine later signed with MCM Music/Massacre Records and began work on the end times themed Legends trilogy (also known as “the unofficial soundtrack to the end of the world”). The first two in the series, Legend I and Legend II, were released in 1997 and 1998 respectively while Legend III:I came out in 2001. Legend III:II, the final chapter in the series, remains a work in progress.
But Saviour Machine a milestone? Why? How so? One must first consider the musical era in which the group arose, a period in which the 3 minute power ballad and hair, hair and more hair were all the rage. Saviour Machine, in contrast, went against the grain by composing 7 to 8 minute anthems and 20 minute epics while taking a musical stance that can best be described as unique (at least when, again, factoring in the time at hand). Most people, for example, relate to Saviour Machine as a Gothic rock group, and while that description might not be far from the mark, it does not tell the full story either.
That uniqueness in question manifests itself in an act that draws upon the influences of U2, early Genesis with Peter Gabriel, Pink Floyd, the early and mid David Bowie period and Black Sabbath to create a sound characterized by very melodic chord progression, passionate and powerful vocals, intricate guitar work and an understated progressiveness. Mix in the dark and moody vibe that often goes hand in hand with most Gothic music in addition to some classical and ethereal leanings and the end result is a band in which a LOT is going on musically. In other words, Saviour Machine was way ahead of its time.
Now, most of you reading this are more than likely familiar with the two Saviour Machine Intense releases and the Legend series, but what about the 1990 demo? Said demo, having been out of print for some time now, was re-mixed from the original analog master recordings and re-issued on Retroactive Records in the summer of 2011. In addition to the 8 original demo tracks, bonus material was included in the form of rare 1991 demo recordings of “Ludicrous Smiles” and “A World Alone” and the previously unreleased studio version of “Church Of The Vatican Slaves”.
So how does the demo compare to Saviour Machine’s label based work? My impression is of a group heading in the rawer, more energetic and all around heavier direction. Guitar plays the more prevalent role, almost to the point that this reviewer is tempted to add the labels “metal” and “hard rock” to the bands already established Gothic rock classification. Saviour Machine, if anything, comes across as a band that got its start playing heavy metal but in time transformed or expanded upon its heavier roots by adding those previously referenced influences (U2, Gabriel, Floyd, Bowie & Sabbath). Does this make sense?
One must first take a close look at the songs unique to the demo to understand my point. “The Wall Of Life”, “Transcendence” and “Silent Vision” are as good as it gets (right up there with Saviour Machine’s best) in aligning some Gothic and progressive underpinnings with the groups trademark early heaviness. Also notable are “Streams” and “Retribution”, two short outbursts of energy that race at a near speed metal clip, a direction we have rarely if every seen from Saviour Machine.
“The Revelation”, a 5 part “suite” clocking in at over twenty minutes, is another stunner with its lush creativity and all out progressive based emotion. That emotion comes in the form of vocalist Eric Clayton, who helps give the band its identifiable sound. With a style that has been described as operatic and deeply baritone, he is capable of ranges from high tenor to occasional deep basso while mixing in some dark elements and melancholy.
Also a highlight is the instrumental “Church Of The Vatican Slaves” in which Saviour Machine takes opportunity to showcase its stunning musicianship, particularly that of guitarist Jeff Clayton. The guy proves quite the underrated performer who, without exception, decorates the project with his tight riffs and harmonies, whether melodic based, classical influenced or in your face heavy.
Finally, the four songs that also appeared on the group’s self-titled debut - “Carnival Of Souls”, “Ludicrous Smiles”, “A World Alone” and “The Mask” (under the different title “When The Cat Came Home”) - will be immediately recognizable in staying true to the characteristic sweeping and bombastic Saviour Machine sound. It is interesting to hear the four in a slightly rawer and heavier format.
The remix allows for a crisp and clean production in which defined guitars and a distinct low end stand out. Yes, these are demos recorded using several decade old technology, but things have been cleaned up to the extent that the sound is by no means muddy or dated.
Lyrically, the best way to describe Saviour Machine is that each song is a story, with topics covered including human nature, the ongoing struggle between mind and soul, the eternal conflicts of man and the many faces of man.
Track By Track
“Carnival Of Souls” represents one of the groups earlier signature tracks. The song opens with a bang of intensity prior to drifting forward to an acoustic guitar, slowly flowing through its light and airy verses until breaking out for a commanding chorus driven by a full on rhythm guitar. Lyric snippet:
Into the Carnival of Souls
Surrendered to the fight
They dance upon the edge
They dance upon the night
To wake up in the dark
And find they've lost their way
Their way back to the door
Their way back to the light
I've fought the battle from the start
I've opened sores inside my heart
It bleeds without remorse
“Ludicrous Smiles” is also well known from Saviour Machine. The song takes the faster and more upbeat approach, almost stalwart at times with hard edges of guitars and a frenetically done chorus. An instrumental stretch carried by a radiant lead guitar hits every bit as hard.
What we have in “Streams” is a shorter (2:37) - at least by Saviour Machine standards - hard hitting track that, once more, finds the rhythm guitar at a forward place in the mix. Also upbeat, this one proves explosive in capacity with its all out energy and heavy duty rhythm section. “Streams” proves that Saviour Machine can rock hard in no uncertain terms. Lyric snippet:
My eyes have seen the king
Free the fighting within you
The fighting may take you to Hell
And Hell is all around us
The Saviour lies within
Within the soul the answer
The dawn of life begins
Touch the flame
h vision of no more
Tears of pain
Tears of pain
Bring the reign
Maintaining the heavier mentality is “The Wall Of Life” but in the lengthier (4:53) formant. After starting to a quick burst of guitar, the song decelerates to the calmer moments that uphold its verses only to regain the impetus for a staunchly done chorus in which the rhythm guitar returns fixed and firm. With its creative time changes and notable melody, this is one of my favorite demo tracks.
More technical leanings can be found on “Transcendence”. The song advances its lengthy drifting between furious passages racing at near breakneck abandon (the rhythm section is really happening hear) and others that move barely at a crawl (a significant amount of emotion is displayed in the process). A substantial melody proves the glues that holds everything together. In the end, this proves another example of choice early Saviour Machine songwriting skills. Lyric snippet:
Through the night, I see the door
I see the love transcending through the air
Through the pain, I call His name
I see the light can lift me from the shadows
Surrendering all that I have
Vision, reflecting through all that I am
Knowledge, conceived by the touch of His hand
Surrender for the answer
Lies within his eyes
The door opens to vision beyond
Rise, above the night
Into the light
“Silent Vision” reminds me somewhat of Deliverance. In terms of specifics, the song would not sound out of place on River Disturbance or Camelot In Smithereens with its laid back joining of acoustic traces with just enough rhythm guitar to taste- all the while Eric Clayton’s resonant vocals hint of Jimmy Brown. I also appreciate how the group mixes adds an extreme voice to the backdrop of the chorus (they were way ahead of their time in this capacity!).
“Retribution” is another short (3:37) hard rocker. This is heavy as it gets as far as Saviour Machine is concerned, with metal edged guitar riffs and a defiant tempo upholding the song its length. The group’s trademark passion, nevertheless, stands holds true as does an inspired lyrical direction:
Touch my bloodstained hands
Wipe away the tears of retribution
Born into vast plains of fire
Beyond the reach of infinite mercy
They stand in desperation
Nameless forever more
Touch my bloodstained hands
Wipe away the tears of retribution
“When The Cat Came Home” is an altered version of “The Mask” from the self-titled debut. What is the difference between the two? Both are pretty much mirror images of the other, although after listing to the Saviour Machine rendering the past couple decades, I found it a bit challenging to get adjusted to the quirkily entitled demo version. One difference is that on the demo the song starts to a cool open air guitar while also allowing for some piano to highlight the backdrop.
“A World Alone” comes across in the form of a sublime semi-ballad. The song highlights a moving feel, with keyboards, acoustic guitars and orchestration standing in support of Clayton’s stirring vocal performance. Chorus comes across grand and stately while the overall atmosphere borders on the sublime side of things.
“Church Of The Vatican Slaves” is a killer eight minute instrumental. The song brings a significant guitar driven edge, with catchy riffs and melodies abounding as it maneuvers through decisive hard rocking moments and others taking a slower and more jam-fusion based approach. Some fiery soloing at the end rounds things out.
The twenty-one minute “The Revelation” can best be described as the group’s magnum opus. The song breaks down into five different “parts” that flow together to form one logical whole (in the same manner as many of Neal Morse’s epics).
The first part, “The Blood Of The Lamb”, starts slowly to acoustic guitar and keyboards before a defiant rhythm guitar kicks in and drives things forward powerfully. Lyric snippet:
The first born of the dead
The mark upon his head
Turn away, turn away
He who has an ear, let him hear
Drink the blood of the Lamb
“The Plague”, part two, takes a similar heading in drifting between passages sustained by big doses of guitars and others in which a quietly done guitar plays a leading role. Lyric snippet:
And the first went
Poured his veil upon the earth
And there fell a grievous sore
Breathe - dust to dust
Bleeding out of darkness
“The Veil Of Armageddon” gives rise to an ominous feel, bringing some riffs with an almost doom-like quality (this is where that Sabbath influences comes into play) while it comes across haunting as Clayton repeatedly cries “Behold, our souls cannot be sold!” Lyric snippet:
Our stomachs bleed with hunger
Our feet are cold, behold
Our souls cannot be sold
The battlefield is cold and worn
The veil of Armageddon
Cries its tears
“The Wrath” reminds me of “Streams” in that it is a couple of minute outburst of non-stop energy and fiery riff action. The tempo is furious and all out emotion on the vibrant side of things. Lyric snippet:
Lord, what have they done?
Denied the father
Denied the son
Lord, I see the end
Take the children
In love, descends
He's come to set us free
Things close to “The Resurrection”, a dramatic piece in which a ballad-like environs prevails (sort of like “A World Alone”). The song slowly drifts the majority of its way only to pick up in pace at the end as things reach their climatic close. Lyric snippet:
Beyond the fight, beyond the pain
Beyond the sun, beyond the rain
I arise love descends upon the edge
Love descends upon the fortress
Love descends upon the soul
Surrounding as one
One love is the answer
One love is alive
The best way to sum up would be to note that the quality of the demo material is such that the band could have re-recorded it and made a very solid debut album in the process. Give credit to Retroactive Records for making the demo available in a re-mixed format and with bonus material.
Review by Andrew Rockwell
Track Listing: “Carnival Of Souls” (6:03), “Ludicrous Smiles” (5:37), “Streams” (2:37), “The Wall Of Life” (4:53), “Transcendence” (5:00), “Silent Vision” (3:26), “Retribution” (3:37), “When The Cat Came Home” (4:26), “A World Alone” (7:11), “Church Of The Vatican Slaves” (8:07), “The Revelation” (21:08)
Eric Clayton - Lead Vocals & Keyboards
Jeff Clayton - Guitars
Dean Forsyth - Bass
Chris Fee - Drums
Brian Kehew - Keyboards