They say don’t judge a book by its cover. But when its cover fuses the great sphinx and pyramids from Powerslave with the red sky and robots from Somewhere in Time, you can’t help but jump to conclusions. Featuring the guitar gallop virtually patented by Maiden but with speedier influences, Illusions in Infinite Void by Sacral Rage has its feet firmly planted in classic heavy metal, pilfering sizable chunks from classic bands such as Judas Priest, Jag Panzer and Riot. There is nary a scrap of originality to be found here but it’s a fun, if flawed, trip back to a time when metal had yet to develop any pretense and elitism (and I was still in negative years of age).
Stitching together myriad influences from a golden age of thoroughbred heavy metal, Sacral Rage is certainly derivative but I don’t see this as a flaw. The proper opening song “En Cima Del Mal” begins in true Steve Harris style by using an unrelated instrumental section even after a dedicated atmospheric intro – though structurally this is just as flawed as it is in Maiden, it’s a cute homage. Other nuggets from more famous bands litter Illusions in Infinite Void, such as the totally “Painkiller” chorus transition on “Waltz in Madness,” replete with Halford-esque cry. Vocalist Dimitris splits his time between rough shouts and a King Diamond falsetto which works quite well. “A Tyrannous Revolt” strongly evokes Riot too, with an American power metal style and vaguely political lyrics. They even participate in that annoying hidden track game by sticking some pointless jamming on the end of the last song, after several minutes of silence. While I imagine this may have been a cool discovery on vinyl, in the age of the MP3 I could see the remaining nine minutes on the track after the song ended. It had all the shock value of Bruce Willis being dead. But I digress: if I had to nail their overall sound, I would say it’s most similar to Jag Panzer. Sacral Rage is like that cute child who makes everyone smile: all he wants is to impress his daddy through imitation, and you love him for trying.
Despite Dimitris’s solid voice, the highlight here is “Into Mental East,” an instrumental track. The absence of vocals confers greater musical dynamism, as the remaining instrumentation needs to offer more to fill that particular void. The weirder guitar picking at 0:20 makes a nice juxtaposition to the more standard riff which follows, and the riff at 2:35 offers some serious neck-pain potential – the guitarist Marios leads much of the material on the album, especially so here. The tasty drum transition at 4:07 feeds into a big finale, and highlights excellent percussive work throughout.
However, success here only goes to emphasize weakness elsewhere. “Into Mental East” is the exception to the rule that their more creative work is weaker than their more emulative. Perhaps simply by association to well-known and well-loved bands, the aforementioned derivative songs are better than their own material. “Lost Chapter E. Sutratma” feels like it goes nowhere and the solo towards the end is wanky and aimless, and follower “Panic in Urals (Burning Skies)” has a lead riff which sounds too similar to its predecessor. These choruses are negligible and generally speaking, the vocal melodies won’t stick with you. Sacral Rage seems a band still trying to develop their individuality, with consequent bumps in the road.
The production is solid, with a generous dynamic range given the material doesn’t demand great fidelity. The nifty bass-heavy transition at the two minute mark of “Lost Chapter E. Amarna’s Reign” is notable, suggesting to me that the bass could have been placed higher in the mix – the instrumental talents of these guys is undeniable so I would have liked to see more opportunities for the bass to show off. But the master and tonal choices are pleasingly beefy so I’m nitpicking.
Sacral Rage are clearly not here to reinvent the wheel or offer anything truly new. Their enthusiasm for classic metal is infectious and the best songs are those which heavily draw on the stalwarts of the genre. There is clearly some work to be done in writing more compelling original songs, but the foundations and technical ability are all there. And hey, it’s nice to know you can get something other than extreme metal from Greece.