The mid 80's were incontestably full of brilliant Metal acts which for different reasons never reached the level of acts such as METALLICA, ANTHRAX, SLAYER, QUEENSRYCHE and the likes, let alone making the leap into the consciousness of the Metal buying mainstream. A name particularly comes to mind simply because those guys had all the elements to reach those heights, SACRIFICE!
This Canadian act started back in late 1983 when two kids made the clear choice to play Speed Metal, those young boys were guitarists Rob Urbinati and Joe Rico. Their influences at that point included the likes of Metal giants such as KISS, RUSH, BLACK SABBATH, M�T�RHEAD etc but also newer acts such as ANVIL, EXCITER, METALLICA or ACCEPT among others. Shortly after they recruited drummer Andrew Banks and started covering material from PRIEST, SABBATH etc as they were still learning how to play. Eventually they got in touch with Joe's old school friend, Scott Watts to play bass and he introduced them to drummer, Craig Boyle who replaced Banks but while being a good drummer, Boyle didn't really have the skills to play fast as he wasn't really into going any further than the speed of ACCEPT or EXCITER. Right from the start, it became clear that finding the right drummer would be a difficult task for SACRIFICE. The outfit was also joined by local singer, John Baldy and the act were adding classics such as "Violence And Force", "The Four Horsemen" or "Show No Mercy" in their rehearsal set. On January 12th 1984, SACRIFICE finally played their first gig at Larry's Hideaway in Toronto, Ontario opening for HERRENVOLK, a small Glam act which had in their ranks singer, Sebastian Bach! While the set played that night only featured cover tunes (with the exception of "Turn In Your Grave", the band's very first original -this one being sung by Rob), it was already obvious that SACRIFICE weren't just "another Thrash/ Speed band" basing on the treatment given to the covers at that point! It also didn't take long for the band to understand the importance of the ever growing underground and a demo/ rehearsal featuring "The Four Horsemen", "Turn In Your Grave" and "Warriors Of Death" (live) got spread around, introducing this newer thrashing act to local hungry Speed/ Thrash Metal fans. By early 1985, another rehearsal/ demo featuring the likes of "The Four Horsemen", "Violence And Force", "Creeping Death" and "Turn In Your Grave" found its way in the tape trading circle, helping to create a bit of buzz in the underground. After this they told Craig and John that SACRIFICE would be going in a heavier direction with Rob taking over on vocals as they weren't satisfied with John, but in the process Craig left as well - the guy being later seen with LETHAL PRESENCE which ironically turned out to be almost a faster band than SACRIFICE in their early days! Drummer, Ernie Fletch was recruited for the job but not so surprisingly after having performed one show on March 23rd 1985 supporting SLAUGHTER at Larry's Hideaway, he got fired being a real weak musician. Then they started putting some ads on a musicians wanted thing on a local radio station describing what direction they wanted to go and their influences. Almost no one who responded had any idea what they were all about. Just when they almost felt like giving up, the band got a phone call from a guy named Gus Pynn. From the first minute he practiced with the band, he became evident that he was finally the right man for the job, sharing the same influences as the other members and wanting to go in the same musical direction. With that revamped line up SACRIFICE played some more local shows, sharing many times the stage with other new local thrashing heroes, SLAUGHTER, both bands becoming real close friends. Incidentally, Brian Taylor from the Hardcore local act, YOUTH YOUTH YOUTH, and employee at the Record Peddler store in Toronto who had just recorded SLAUGHTER's "Surrender Or Die" demo offered the same deal to SACRIFICE whom they immediately agree with. As a result, the legendary eight song demo, "The Exorcism", was cut at the Accusonic studio on June 16th 1985. With this demo, the buzz developed even more and the band name got often cited alongside the likes of DEATH, HIRAX, NYC MAYHEM, C.O.C. etc. Inspired by the success of RAZOR, SLAUGHTER and SACRIFICE, a bunch of new Metal/ Hardcore acts such as MASSACRE (not to be confused with the Florida based one!), HOLOCAUST, BEYOND, DARK LEGION, LETHAL PRESENCE, GUERILLA WARFARE, TERMINAL RAGE or D.O.G. were formed, putting Toronto on the extreme music map for some years to come. Opening for the Bay Area Thrashers, EXODUS during August 1985 gave them the opportunity to establish themselves as Canada's next Metal hopefuls and label interest started to rise. Having been warned by RAZOR about the money machine better known as Attic Records, the band chose to sign with Fringe/Diabolic Force Records joining SLAUGHTER on their roster. By the Autumn of 1985, the band were entering the Future Sound studio with Diabolic Force's head, Brian Taylor, as producer to record their first album, "Torment In Fire". While the band agrees to say nowadays that its an effort hard to listen to for them, still many bands got influenced by this particular record and "Torment In Fire" gets often mentioned as their favorite SACRIFICE album by underground fanatics, reasons could be that the musicianship and production were so unpolished. Unfortunately that 12 songs affair was only released during mid 1986 (being licensed to Metal Blade for the States and to Roadrunner for Europe) and was often described as a SLAYER rip off by critics, something the band would respond on each occasion given by stating that their main influences had been VENOM and METALLICA but definitively not SLAYER. Still the sheer power, intensity, savage rawness were all here and that's what Thrash Metal is all about.
Alternating between moderately fast material and lightning speed stuff-but always heavy, "Torment In Fire" deserves to be mentioned in the same league as "Raging Violence", "Endless Pain", "Seven Churches" and the likes.
While waiting for "Torment In Fire" to be issued (which finally happened during mid 1986), SACRIFICE continued to work hard and within a couple of weeks a bunch of new songs were completed by late 1985, the band having decided to move away from the supposed SLAYER similarities and tried to develop a sound more of their own, with bands such as MERCYFUL FATE, TROUBLE or EXODUS being mentioned as new influences. By July 1986 they entered a small basement studio, Open Sound studio, and recorded quickly for about $200 a seven song demo just to hear the new songs on tape and to figure out what they needed to tighten up in that new material. They would also put the tapes out to traders to create a buzz for their next album. A cover of "The Possibility Of Life's Destruction" from U.K.'s legendary Punk/Hardcore band DISCHARGE was part of this new tape, confirming the fact that this style was another influence for SACRIFICE, something that had already had transpired while listening to "Decapitation" and "Possession" on "Torment In Fire". A few days later SACRIFICE shared the stage in Kitchener, Ontario with MEGADETH, both bands opening for KING DIAMOND on their first U.S./ Canadian tour, the band experiencing their first meet with rock stars a.k.a. MEGADETH. But it was time for the band to bring their crushing Metal in other Canadian provinces, Quebec would happen to be the next task by early September 1986, Quebec City being hit during four consecutive nights, the band having to come up with 90 minutes sets and as a result many METALLICA and SLAYER covers found their place into the set list, winning over a brand new crowd which would remain a devoted one for many years. Late '86 shows at the No Speed Limit Festival (alongside bands like POSSESSED, VOIVOD, D.R.I., AGNOSTIC FRONT...) in Montreal and with SLAYER in Toronto during their "Reign In Bood tour definitively propelled SACRIFICE as Canada's most intense Thrash act. Still the band had not crossed the U.S. border yet but January 1987 saw the band playing finally their firsts shows in Detroit and Chicago supporting the likes of C.O.C. and STRAW DOGS in front of some rabid crossover crowds. A batch of other Canadian dates followed and from February until April 1987, the ragers were back in studio, this time opting for the Grant Avenue studio in Toronto, Taylor co producing with SACRIFICE their second effort titled "Forward To Termination" and issued again on Diabolic Force/ Fringe Records with the Metal Blade/ Roadrunner licenses for other territories. While "Torment In Fire" was a promising album, "F.T.T." clearly showed that they could deliver material just as great as the best Thrash bands around at the time, joining classics such as "Hell Awaits", "Darkness Descends", "Terror Squad" or "Bonded By Blood" combining perfectly essential elements that any classic Thrash Metal record must possess: heaviness, speed and catchiness. The band even ventured in newer shores, having penned a long memorable epic tune in the shape of "Flames Of Armageddon", mixing influences coming from bands as different as RUSH, MERCYFUL FATE or IRON MAIDEN. And it's not even like SACRIFICE went even slightly toward a more commercial direction, this is just Metallic power from start to finish. Singer Rob Urbinati managing to deliver some of the best singing ever heard in Thrash Metal music, often sounding much more convincing than SLAYER's Tom Araya as influential writer, Borivoj Kgrin, pointed it out at the time. The production was clean and totally heavy featuring a thunderous backbone, ripping leads and a savage rhythm guitar sound. The lyrics were also a step away from the mundane topics from "Torment In Fire", while not being literary poetics, they still looked much more mature. A clip was shot for "Re-animation", making of SACRIFICE almost stars in their hometown, thanks to an intense rotation on Much Music! But while other bands were given tour support when a new album was released, SACRIFICE didn't get that opportunity -a possibility to be on the BLOODFEAST/ DEATH ANGEL U.S. summer tour having aborted as well as another one that was supposed to happen later on with the likes of AT WAR and HIRAX- and all they were given to do was playing a few shows here and there starting with a slot on the very first Milwaukee Metal fest during July 1987 alongside DEATH ANGEL, TROUBLE, KING DIAMOND etc, plus a few shows in different east Canadian provinces. The band still managed to play a handful of dates in the Midwest supporting NUCLEAR ASSAULT during November 1987 followed by a three date tour in Ottawa, Quebec City, and Montreal late December where SACRIFICE introduced a brand new song, "Existence Within Eternity", but still "F.T.T." was still not issued at that point, something which didn't happened until mid 1988.
Following a promotion trip in Los Angeles put together by Metal Blade, SACRIFICE went on a one week tour on the east coast/ midwest during February 1988 -hitting certain areas that were brand new for the band- and spent most of that year writing the follow up to "F.T.T.", the four piece playing only a handful of shows such as headlining a Toronto Metal fest during March 1988 or opening for NUCLEAR ASSAULT (again) on their Quebec dates in the summer. By early December 1988, they were back in studio to cut a three song demo showcasing two new songs and a new version of "Sacrifice" for the fun of it -with Scott playing lead guitar on it! From that point it was obvious that the new material would not be inspired by the trends around as they were sticking to their guns, not sacrificing any bit of their intensity, originality and power to the likes of accessibility unlike many of their contemporaries who were opting for a different direction after their second release (TESTAMENT, EXODUS, VIO-LENCE...). A few days later, the band managed to get an opening slot for M�T�RHEAD in the New York area but once again it was just for...two dates. Fortunately somewhat bigger things were in line for SACRIFICE as they undertook during early February 1989 a two weeks tour in Canadian provinces that had been unexplored by them until that point, starting with Manitoba and ended up in British Columbia where the band shared with the stage with hot local acts such as WITCHES HAMMER and ARMOROS. A new five song demo was captured a few months later and shopped a bit around but nothing came out of it, still the band regarded later on that particular demo as being a heavier recording than album to come. By that time, the Canadian Thrash Metal scene was on the downfall not so surprisingly regarding the growing disinterest for that style of Metal and as a result other promising acts (often influenced by SACRIFICE!) such as HOLOCAUST, DEATH MILITIA etc were splitting. Still the band weren't ready to give up at all and entered the Phase One studios in Toronto with Joe Primeau as engineer and co produced the new record with Brian Taylor, Diabolic Force/ Fringe remaining the band's label, Metal Blade licensing the album worldwide. Titled "Soldiers Of Misfortune", this third effort unfortunately didn't see the light until mid 1990 (the usual Diabolic Force delay I guess...) and most of all, suffered more than ever of an obvious lack of promotion, a rather crappy worldwide distribution and general disinterest from the public, 'extreme' Metal crowds attention being caught by the rather new Death Metal phenomenon. Plus if it wasn't enough, the material on "S.O.M." was described by some magazine writers as a disappointment somewhat considering the time being spent on it, and wasn't seen as a progression from "F.T.T.". But while the band couldn't agree with such comments, they were on the other hand kinda disappointed by the production, the final product sounding thin. There was tons of heavy duty riffing and a lot of speed stamped all over the material, the band even returned to the epic/ long song territories with "Truth (After The Rain)", a totally mind crushing tune that would stick in your mind forever. Despite the awful promotion job done by their labels, SACRIFICE were still able to shot a second video clip, "S.O.M." was the chosen one for the job but while it got nominated for the Canadian video awards, it still didn't receive the same amount of airplay that its predecessor had gotten. The rest of 1990 was spent playing some local shows and some mini tours, starting with a Midwest summer mini tour with labelmates RAZOR which included a headlining performance at the Michigan Death Fest (headlining over MORBID ANGEL, NUCLEAR DEATH etc), followed by another mini tour in the province of Quebec receiving as usual a highly great response from the local Metallers, and it didn't take long before SACRIFICE started a small east coast Canadian tour during October 1990. But while the line up had remained stable during the course of three albums, problems arose with Gus mainly due to the fact that he couldn't handle anymore the life on road which led to his departure. It didn't take long for the three remaining members before they tried out replacements, HERRICK drummer, Darrin Foster was considered as a possible one but their choice settled on ex-DARK LEGION skinbeater, Mike Rosenthal (incidentally DARK LEGION had in their ranks Scott's brother, Mark Watts). With new blood on board, the fall of 1990 saw the band going on a small Canadian tour with RAZOR as guest. The touring aspect for this recently released album finally hit higher heights -following a second appearance at the 1991 Milwaukee Metal fest- when the band got offered their first U.S. tour ever, supporting U.K.'s BOLT THROWER along with BELIEVER. Obviously it wasn't the right bill to be included for a band such as SACRIFICE but still the band managed to receive some good responses -sometimes better than the headliners. The band managed to release another excellent record -produced by RAZOR mainman/ guitarist, Dave Carlo- "Apocalypse Inside" on Metal Blade Records during 1993 at a time when pure Thrash/ Speed Metal was considered as a thing from the past by many and remained played by a handful of acts, the majority of the original Thrash acts having either broke up or having sacrificed their sound towards a pseudo aggressive style, better known as nu-metal. The band's career ended up when after having completed a U.S. tour supporting DEATH during the summer of 1993 -with Kevin Winberley having replaced Scott on the bass playing position in the meantime- they got dropped by Metal Blade supposedly because of poor record sales. The four piece from that moment knew that they never again would be accepted on the level they once were, they were really sick of the business of music and didn't have the energy or hunger to look for another deal. Rob along with recent added bass player, Kevin Winberley were the only ones who remained involved in Metal music as they started not so long after a new project called INTERZONE.
While most of the Metal bands only release a great record or a couple of great releases at best, SACRIFICE never failed in releasing great/excellent material, never compromised a single bit, remaining true to their original sound and approach, winning easily the tag of being one of the best Thrash Metal act of all time and now it's time to celebrate those pure Metal warriors again thru those re-releases, the Warriors Of Death!
January 18th 2005
Laurent Ramadier - Snakepit magazine