Friday, May 22, 2009


Living Sacrifice started off in1989 in Little Rock, Arkansas. I'm sure that the concept of christian death metal would have failed in most other parts of the world at the time. Despite existing amongst the southern bible belt, I'm sure the band had to deal with more than their fair share of mindless "satanic" metal fans. The fact that Living Sacrifice was doing what they were doing at the time they were doing so is truly a testament to the band's sincerity.

To be completely honest, I am not too familiar with the early stages of the band's career. They recorded a demo 1989 entitled Not Yielding To Ungodly which got them signed to REX Music (the label ran by one of the only other christian metal bands, Believer). I know that their debut, self-titled release gives anything that Slayer has ever released a run for its money. I'm not joking. The fact that older Living Sacrifice material is not spoken of in the same regard as their "legendary" thrash counterparts really makes a statement as to how overlooked the band probably was due to their christian beliefs.

With their sophomore release, Nonexistent, the band went with a more death metal approach. A much darker sound is found on this album. Judging from reading several old interviews, the band didn't seem happy with the outcome of this album. This doesn't serve as a surprise considering the obvious return to the "original" sound with their third full length, Inhabit. While the vocals remained a bit lower and "death metal", the neck-breaking thrash beats were back in full effect. The band even began to show the development of what was to result from their entire reformation, which would come after the release of Inhabit in 1994.

After roughly a year of touring in support of Inhabit, lead vocalist and bassist Darren Johnson stepped down; leaving rhythm guitarist Bruce Fitzhugh to take over on lead vocal duties. Along with this line-up change came an entirely different approach to the band's musical direction. Along with the dissolution of the REX Music label who had released their first three albums, the band shed much of their thrash and death metal influences in favor of a slower, more "hardcore" sound which they have since become synonymous with.

Somewhere in this time frame, Sepultura also phased their way out of the thrash and death metal scenes in favor of a slower, down-tuned sound; essentially forging an entirely new sound within heavy music in the process. It seems as though everyone, since the release of Roots, who has incorporated any sort of auxillary percussion has been immediately labeled as a Sepultura knock-off. I always felt as though Living Sacrifice did a very similar style in a drastically different manner. Incorporating much more off-time parts similar to Meshuggah, I'm doubting Max Cavalera would even be able to play anything off of Living Sacrifice's "Reborn" album.

While the band's new found uniqueness and creativity are primarily responsible in my eyes for the sudden popularization of the band, it would be laughable to deny the impact that signing to the newly forged Solid State Records had for the band. Serving as Tooth & Nail Records' metal sub-label, Solid State in 1997 was the place to be. The label served as home to so many legendary releases from this era that I can't even begin to get started on the subject. The only reason I bring this up is because I feel as though Reborn by Living Sacrifice was, alongside several others, largely responsible for the initial success of the label.

Several years passed before Living Sacrifice released another album. The wait did not disappoint in the slightest. As with every album, The Hammering Process was a huge step in the growth of the band. It was with this album that Living Sacrifice cemented themselves as a true force to be reckoned with. Incorporating a full-time auxiliary percussionist into the fold alongside new guitarist Rocky Gray took Living Sacrifice to a whole new level of creativity. Looking back, it was this step in the band's career that stood out to me as a prime example as to how it could be possible to entirely expand one's musical horizons. The addition of non-conventional instrumentation can only serve as a means to foster growth. How the fuck could anyone have written tracks as intense as Bloodwork or Hand Of The Dead without the addition of an auxiliary percussionist? Not happening.

Conceived In Fire was released in 2002. For some reason or another, a lot of people wrote this album off as being inconsistent with the perfection of their previous efforts. I'm going to assume that any and all criticism was based off of the release of the album's "single", Symbiotic, which featured a repeating verse/chorus structure. The intensity of that song, specifically, makes any and all calls of "selling out" a complete joke in the eyes of anyone who truly understands legitimately heavy music. Ironically, it was on this album, released in 2002, that the band came closest to a Sepultura-esque sound in my opinion. Once again utilizing the percussion work of Matt Putnam, Conceived In Fire ranks in as possibly my favorite of all Living Sacrifice albums.

The band dissolved not long after the release of this album. They managed to record a 3 song demo before doing so, however. It was paired up alongside a "best of" collection entitled In Memoriam in conjunction with their final tour. These supposed final three songs from the project showed that the band had not lost a single step throughout their career. Encompassing all aspects of the band's progression throughout the years, "In Christ", "Power Of God", and "Killers" were an impressive summation of what the band was capable. As representative as I felt the songs were, the band's musical arsenal proved to be far too versatile to be left as is and the band announced their reformation in early 2008.

Needless to say, I was more than enthusiastic at the announcement of this reunion. It was somewhere around 2005 that I started hating myself for skipping out on the one and only chance I had to see this powerhouse. The band preceded their tour with Demon Hunter in the summer of 2008 with the release of an online-only release of 2 newly recorded songs. As with the small, three-song dose of the band's capability released in 2003, Living Sacrifice did not disappoint with Death Machine and The Battle.

Sadly, this time around the band was not accompanied by their former percussionist ... or any percussionist at all for that matter. When I saw the band set up on stage without any form of auxillary percussion, I was assuming that certain songs would have to be cut from the set. Further proving their superiority in musicianship, however, I was proven wrong as the band delivered Bloodwork, Hand Of The Dead, and Send Your Regrets amongst many others with the same amount of intensity as they once encompassed with the tribal drumming patterns within the songs. Simply put, Lance Garvin is one of the most insane drummers within heavy music

One of the main reasons I've always been drawn to Living Sacrifice has been the sincerity and legitimacy they have shown to their faith in christ. I know it probably makes no sense, but a large portion of my favorite bands have always been "christian". Sometimes because I think its funny or cute, but in cases such as Living Sacrifice (or original Zao line-up, for example), the sincerity that radiates from their live shows, lyrics, and/or interviews is undeniable despite my obvious lack of similar beliefs. Point being ... these 90s christian metalcore bands have a higher legitimacy rating than any of the vegan SxE gatherings of the same era.

Its safe to say I'm quite excited for this new material in which the band is scheduled to record by the end of the year. I'm anxiously awaiting to hear the one thrash song that the band throws on towards the end of every album just to prove that they can still thrash 20 years after the initial start of the band. More than I can say for most bands who used to bring it.

DOWNLOAD - self-titled
DOWNLOAD - Nonexistent
DOWNLOAD - Inhabit
DOWNLOAD - The Hammering Process
DOWNLOAD - Conceived In Fire
DOWNLOAD - Living Sacrifice Demos (2003 & 2008)


Jayson said...

seriously good review. i got to see them on the tour with Demon Hunter last summer in Orlando and it was completely amazing (even without the percussionist).

Jeff J Jawk said...

"these 90s christian metalcore bands have a higher legitimacy rating than any of the vegan SxE gatherings of the same era. It's just true."

whoa you just said that--

now if you mean they stayed true to the mainstream judeo/christian convictions that all of america has... then yes. But then again my parents are too holding it down...
fuck that...
the followers of a ideal don't have any bearing on the reality of their beliefs...

Joel said...

awesome review. love christian metal. just curious what do you think of their new songs they've posted? (Overkill Exposure and Rules of Engagement) and btw this is a return to the thrash! :D


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Anonymous said...

I think guitarist Rocky Gray was unable to perform the tour dates and was filled in by a friend of the band. However, Rocky Gray currently remains a permanent band member of Living Sacrifice writing term paper