Sunday, May 03, 2009

Sacred Blade—Of the Sun + Moon

In 2007 Darkthrone released a tribute to “Canadian Metal” that referenced Piledriver, Razor, Sacrifice, Obliveon and Slaughter—all of them Eastern Canadian bands. While the East nurtured a number of pioneering, internationally renowned bands, pickings were slim here on the West Coast. Vancouver had a scene of sorts, but, ill-served by a disdainful local media and scarce venues, it could only grow so much off the sweat of a few diehard fans. I don’t think any metal bands from the region broke onto the worldwide stage until Blasphemy and Strapping Young Lad in the ‘90s. Vancouver did have a couple notable metal bands in the ‘80s who gained some international press even if they failed to tour beyond the local clubs. One of the first and best was Sacred Blade.

Guitarist/vocalist Jeff Ulmer started Sacred Blade in 1978, and fuelled by a mixture of NWOBHM, ‘70s rock and science fiction, the band slowly attracted notice, recording two demos, scoring the lead-off track on Metal Massacre 4 (“The Alien,” sharing vinyl space with Trouble, Lizzy Borden, and Abattoir), and starting work on their debut album, Of the Sun + Moon. When the album came out in October 1986, however, the tastes of the metal underground had moved on to thrash/crossover and the early stirrings of death metal. Being signed to tiny French label Black Dragon probably didn’t help either; I only ever saw the album in import shops here. Black Dragon’s obscure roster did feature a few cult bands-in-the-making—Manilla Road, Liege Lord and others—but Sacred Blade and their sole album have remained obscure in the decades that followed. They’re so obscure, I discovered while rifling through my library, that even Martin Popoff has so far overlooked them in his many Collector’s Guides.

It’s a real shame that the album languished, because it’s a fascinating listen. My copy is the Othyr World Recordingz CD reissue. After a cosmic, exotic-sounding intro, the title track surges forth with power and elegance, embellished with a smooth vocal line that owes more to Cream and Pink Floyd than, say, Judas Priest. “Fieldz the Sunshrine” has a Megadethly gallop (perhaps it shows a common Angelwitch influence, as I’d bet it was written around the same time as ‘Deth’s “Devil’s Island”). “Salem” manifests a more menacing attitude, slashing and pounding like Raven or Priest. This is also the track where Ulmer, up to this point a laid-back space rocker, shifts to a more “metal” register and really lets loose with some screams of vengeance. The tempos reach thrash velocity only during the latter half of “Master of the Sun.” Interspersed are a few short instrumentals, as well as a relaxing feast of guitar playing entitled “Moon,” which almost qualifies as an instrumental because of its spoken lyrics buried in the mix. Like Voivod, Sacred Blade had an overarching vision, complete with idiosyncratic spellings, band-crafted artwork, pseudonyms, and album concept. The material was most likely ahead of its time when it was written, and now in this era where it seems even the revivals are being revived, it sounds utterly classic, far more original and advanced than most lunkheaded American metal of the time. Of their contemporaries, Fates Warning went further with a more technical approach, and Manilla Road plodded tenaciously onward, releasing albums for a loyal cult following. Even no-hopers like Omen and Attacker regroup and are bestowed star billing at old-school group-gropes like the Keep It True fest. Alas, no such spoils have awaited Sacred Blade, although Ulmer is still kicking around, having changed the band's name to Othyrworld and released a "reimagined" version of Of the Sun... in 2005. The Astral Alloy still shinez.

Below is a review from issue #3 of SpeedCorps, a local 'zine published by Tom Zarzecki (RIP) and "Metal Ron" Singer.

1 comment:

deegee said...

I use to know Jeff Ulmer back in the 80's...wonder what he is doing now?