Formed way back in 1985, Arizona’s Sacred Reich plays thrash metal according to the original recipe, blending Priest/Sabbath worship with just a dash of early-80s hardcore. Thankfully devoid of cheesy theatrics or progressive aspirations, the band has generally relied on atonal palm-muted riffs and socially conscious lyrics to win the day. While Sacred Reich never really went away, they had also not released a new album since 1996’s Heal, seemingly content with occasionally playing the festival circuit. For whatever reason, they must have changed their minds recently. With some fresh inspiration and a reconfigured lineup, Sacred Reich has delivered their first studio release in 23 years, the aptly titled Awakening.
The opening title cut quickly erases any doubt about the band’s abilities, sounding precisely like what one would want and expect from Sacred Reich circa 2019. It’s short and sweet, with a streamlined punk-thrash riff and the obligatory half-time death march at the fadeout. “Divide And Conquer” is also classic Reich through and through, with a politically charged lyric welded to riffs that could’ve been on The American Way. Frontman/bassist Phil Rind has probably never sounded better than he does here. While his vocal style is still a love-it-or-hate-it proposition, time has made it a bit more pleasing to the ears. Interestingly, his lyrics on Awakening are overwhelmingly positive and even uplifting in spots — his hollering about spreading love all around on “Manifest Destiny” would be unacceptably goofy coming from almost anyone else, but he pulls it off. The “social consciousness” thing works better on “Killing Machine,” a tale of people with various motivations to enlist in the military, and the unfortunate endings that await them.
Original guitarist Wiley Arnett has not lost a step either, delivering plenty of chug-thrash riffage and his unmistakable lead style. Back in the day, my friends and I would joke that Arnett played the same solo in every song, but hearing him play that same solo again two decades later is oddly comforting. New guitarist Joey Radziwill is the perfect foil for Arnett’s single-minded style. He can certainly hold his own in the shred department, but also contributes some occasional moments of texture and subtlety, such as the twangy solos in “Death Valley” or the background melodies of “Killing Machine.” But the biggest surprise of all might be drummer Dave McClain. As longtime fans might recall, he had a brief stint with the Reich just prior to joining some band called Machine Head. 20 years later, he’s returned to reclaim his throne, and bashes out the most musical and natural-sounding drum performance of his entire career. Judging from his interviews, his last few years with Machine Head were difficult, and there’s a sense of joy and relief in his drum tracks on Awakening.
The back-half of Awakening is more varied and less thrash-based. Besides the aforementioned “Killing Machine,” you also get the southern boogie (with cowbell!) of “Death Valley,” and the punky “Revolution.” The album ends on an uplifting note with the Priest-esque “Something To Believe,” one of the more anthemic cuts in the Reich canon. When the dust has settled, Awakening pretty much splits the difference between Sacred Reich‘s brutalist thrash of the late ’80s and the more tuneful approach of their later material.
Look, the world is a rough place these days, and there’s a lot of negativity from all sides. I wake up every day and curse what my life has become, and at night, wish for the death of my many enemies. In times like these, it’s a welcome relief to hear an album like Awakening, which scratches my thrash metal itch properly, and also brings a bit of intelligence and positive thinking to the table.