If you were in a successful Thrash Metal band in the 1980s, you were probably American or German. While the UK was a massive influence on the genre via bands such Venom and Motorhead, the UK Thrash Metal scene is generally a footnote in any history of the genre. However, in England’s green and pleasant land there was one band that was more than a match for any of the more successful Thrash exponents from overseas.
They were Nottingham’s Sabbat and their debut album History of a Time to Come had the pace, aggression and technicality of Slayer and Megadeth and the filthy Black Metal tinge of Germany’s Destruction and Kreator. But, in addition to being able to thrash with the best of them, Sabbat had a pagan and medieval quality to their music which sounded uniquely British.
The whole album is expertly paced. For the most part the band thrashes like maniacs but the album is interspersed with enough memorable horn-raising riffs to appeal to fans of Maiden and Priest. There are also occasional clean passages, river sounds and tweeting birds offering pastoral respite from the musical sword-waving elsewhere.
Songs like Hosanna in Excelsis and Behind the Crooked Cross are satisfyingly direct and savage with Andy Sneap’s deft guitar riffs and snaky legato fills. Vocalist Martin Walkyier impresses too: his crazed screeches, growls and exaggerated pronunciation (“The poison-ah! infil-ah! trates-ah!”) coming across like a possessed Dark Ages preacher or prophet. His startling vocal performance here would prove influential in the Black Metal genre both in the UK and abroad.
Walkyier’s wild delivery is especially useful in songs like A Cautionary Tale and I For An Eye where the songs take the form of Dante-inspired short plays. His varied vocal delivery is great for carrying the multitude of dramatic parts and his voice is often harmonised and doubled over to create a mysterious, occult atmosphere. One of the finest examples of this comes in A Cautionary Tale where Walkyier’s voice is weaved together with a backwards vocal for spellbinding effect (“Bell, book and candle. Candle, book, bell. Forwards and backwards to damn me to hell. Jehovah, I beg thee. Have mercy on my soul”).
Narratives are also expressed musically by the skilful changes in pace and mood. The greatest example occurs in the shift to a classic mid-tempo riff during I For An Eye to illustrate Lucifer’s malevolent intent. An uplifting, cleaner version of the same riff is introduced later beneath the melodic solo which closes the song (“I burn”). This is one of the album’s most awe-inspiring moments and a great example of the Andy Sneap’s skill as a composer, arranger and player.
The lyrics on History of a Time to Come deserve praise too. Many of the era’s bands were moving away from horror-themed lyrics and towards the real world horror of politics and nuclear destruction. Sabbat managed to use elements of both, filtered through the lens of a distinctively pagan and spiritual worldview. Horned is the Hunter (the album’s centrepiece) is suitably apocalyptic but the story of man’s downfall (the “history of a time to come” referred to in the album’s title) is told through the eyes of our forgotten Gods of nature. The topic of Nazism is cloaked by a focus on their occult obsessions in Behind the Crooked Cross and the greed of TV evangelists (always a popular target for 80s metallers) is turned into a medieval carnival in The Church Bizarre.
Sabbat would only release one more album, Dreamweaver (Reflections of Our Yesterdays), before the classic line-up split. Walkyier would go on to form Skyclad (one of the greatest bands of the 90s) and Andy Sneap would build a very successful production career. He would later use this success to help reactivate Hell, an obscure UK Metal band that was a massive influence on Sabbat.
This edition of History of a Time to Come has been superbly remastered by Andy Sneap himself and also includes 5 gruff live tracks from East Berlin (taken from the End of the Beginning VHS) with the standout track being a blistering version of For Those Who Died. There isn’t a weak track on this CD. It’s a superb record, superb reissue and a must-have for fans of Thrash and Black Metal. Charge!
[Sabbat – I For An Eye]