Yer Metal Is Olde: Sabre – On the Prowl

Many moons ago, I was part of the London, Ontario metal scene. A small part, playing in a small band, but it was a good time. There wasn’t much of a scene, admittedly — a few dudes in a few death metal bands, a couple stoner groups, and then some metalcore. Nowadays, metalcore seems to have largely prevailed. As such, my hometown heroes are Bobnoxious, a stupendously fun hard rock band fronted by Bob Reid, whom you may recognize from Razor’s terrific records Shotgun Justice and Open Hostility, and the lesser Decibels. There was, however, another special band from London, Ontario. That band was the power trio known as Sabre, and they released only one record in On the Prowl.

How it didn’t get bigger I’ll never know. The general thrust of Sabre’s sole release errs towards the early NWoBHM scene, which had a lot more in common with classic rock than many remember. Influences like Angel Witch, Witchfynde, and explicitly rock-heavy stuff like Vardis and Praying Mantis help characterize what Sabre is doing here, but this is far from an exhaustive list. With that said, records like On the Prowl are great because they’re somewhat hard to pin down; it sounds like a clone of none of its (presumable) influences and has enough of its own identity to not get confused for any of them or come across as a mere tribute band. Of special note is the lead (well, only) guitar of Steve Fife — there’s a spark of greatness here, and it’s a shame he and Sabre didn’t continue to play and develop their clearly considerable talents. Fife handles vocals too and has an earnest voice in a lower register, similar in spirit to Angel Witch’s Kevin Heybourne. Not to overlook the other two members of Sabre, of course; Leighton Dame’s bass is active, creative, and always audible, while the Steve Sims’ drums are superbly executed with panache, playfulness, and groove in equal measure but resolutely avoid arrogant overplaying. Sabre was truly a unit, and these three guys had great chemistry which shines through the music, one which can only come from jamming for hours in the garage and playing songs from their favorite bands and records. While this is mere conjecture, I think the variety in sounds on this record is due at least in part to these guys cutting their teeth playing a varied bunch of classic rock and NWoBHM tunes together.

Each piece of On the Prowl has its own sort of identity, with opener “Cruisin’” keeping one foot in proto-metallic hard rock and the other in NWoBHM with a massively catchy chorus, standout bass work, and a brief but effective lead. “Let’s Ride” has the best riffs Angel Witch never wrote for their debut, while “If it Feels Good” could’ve (and should’ve, really) been a Canadian classic rock radio staple with its playful riffing and keyboard parts. “(Feel) My Rage” is mostly midtempo but has that dark hard rock sound that’s again popular nowadays and which Denner’s Inferno did so well last year on In Amber. The synth1 driven “Somethin’ (Under my Bed)” has an endearing, fun, and catchy chorus with wonderfully 80s synths that remind me of The J Geils Band on Freeze Frame, and once again Fife’s lead guitar impresses in an extended section. The energetic “Savage Tales” is one of those tunes tailor-made for a drive with the windows down and the stereo cranked to eleven with a quick tempo, big chorus, and energetic riffs. The list goes on, but since we’re not in the business of track-by-track reviews, I’ll stop here. Suffice it to say, I didn’t hear a bad Sabre song or even one less than good.

Despite being thirty-five years old in 2020, On the Prowl still sounds fresh and alive from a production standpoint. This type of powerful analog sound is timeless, and bands today playing a similar style should hope to sound this good. Some songs will appeal to certain listeners more than others here and, in the age of digital streaming and curated playlists, may mean some Sabre songs making rotation and others tossed to the digital dustbin. This is a mistake, as On the Prowl is one of those records that wants you to spend time with it, get to know and love each of its tracks. Like reading older philosophy, it is expected that one is familiar with various touchstones in the field and pick up on what’s happening without needing to be guided by the hand throughout. My father, who is by no stretch a metalhead, nonetheless has a copy of Screaming for Vengeance in his LP collection and could likely pick out far more individual influences here than I can because he grew up with classic rock. Sabre exhibits a similar character, not bothering with rigid genre demarcations but instead just loving music they thought was great. Far from trying to be all things to all people, On the Prowl tries to be one thing for three people: it’s the record Sabre felt they needed to make to put out the music done the way they want to hear it. I hope the reader takes the time to check out this overlooked gem of Canadian music.

Show 1 footnote

  1. Leighton Dame is credited with synths, and Derek Black with “Emulator II Programming and Organ.”
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