When bombarded by the endless streams of world class heavy metal releases that amount to far more than is possible to listen to in any given year it can be easy to remain distanced from the reality of creating such complex and demanding musicianship and composition. Beyond the structural, artistic, and musical aspects of the artform comes the great challenge of sustaining interpersonal relationships and engaged attitudes. Disinterest and clashing ideologies are remarkably common in terms of actual behind-the-scenes challenges as a band becomes a business beyond the fun of it all. To staff a band off of loosely defined shared ideas and sweat through the years of keeping that engine running is worthy of respect alone and it is a wonder that most bands adhere long enough to put out a decent and professional release. It took Portland, Oregon heavy metal band Sabateur nearly a full ten years to realize that dream and they arrive with only the original drummer from that point of conception in 2009.
Looking back to the project’s first demo, ‘Bullrun’ (2015), it was at least clear that Sabateur was formed with the goal of participating in the ongoing New Wave of Traditional Heavy Metal movement, or at least heavily influenced by the classics-focused spirit of the phenomenon. With ‘Vicious Circle’ they surely belong within mention of some of the greats as they stand out from the crowd with clear influence from the more traditional side of late 80’s North American thrash metal. Almost immediate and direct associations can be made with the best of Testament, Exodus, Megadeth and Overkill in terms of riffcraft, tone, and vocal inflection; ‘Vicious Circle’ generally aims for a purer form of song driven heavy/thrash metal additionally influenced by virtuoso guitar performances from the 80’s and 90’s rather than riff-salad thrash. Vocalist/guitarist Devon Miller lightly nasal delivery finds a balance between Overkill‘s Bobby Blitz and ‘Fabulous Disaster’ era Steve Souza. There is just a hint of Annihilator in the performance as well but the association might come from composition and phrasing more than actual tone.
Were I judging this debut off of the authenticity of its references to classic heavy/thrash metal it’d no doubt get high marks for perfectly capturing the sort of pre-Black Album Bay Area heavy metal scene without consideration for the underground death metal scene that was adjacent. No doubt the smooth Alex Skolnick and Marty Friedman influenced shred ‘dates’ the album’s intentions and influences but not as much as the rhythm guitar interplay with Miller‘s vocals. From the early Heathen/Metal Church clip of “Rats” to the ‘Rust in Peace’ thrash boogie-and-wail of “No Man’s Land”, the ‘Peace Sells… But Who’s Buying?’-meets-“Holy Wars…The Punishment Due” shred of “Can’t Kill Crazy” the first half of ‘Vicious Circle’ makes all to clear its influences. You’ll continue to pick up light references to 80’s and 90’s classics beyond thrash metal as the rest of the album plays but I think the classic thrash focus of the first several songs cannot help but have the biggest impact.
It may just be because I have scoured and torn through the gamut of North American thrash and heavy metal from the era but ‘Vicious Circle’ carries both valuable nostalgic reference and damning familiar sonic resemblance at the same time. In the right hand we have a spirited, professional heavy metal experience that echoes the classics beautifully but in the left hand it is almost too easy to write off the ideas that are just too close for comfort with their influences. Ultimately Sabateur win me over with their debut because it has the promise and similar spirit of former fellow Portland band Spellcaster on their debut ‘Under the Spell’; I don’t mean that they sound similar so much as Sabateur are pulling from the classics that mean the most to them in forming catchy heavy, thrashing metal music. There is taste and character in abundance that shows some great potential as they move forward to climb new mountains. I’ve named this in my best of October this year and given it a fairly high recommendation for the instant appeal of its sound and performances, however familiar some of the elements are. Your own valuation could wildly differ depending on your nostalgia for the era and bands they invoke within ‘Vicious Circle’. For preview I would suggest “Frostbite”, where I think the band most successfully channels classic Metal Church, “The Clocktower” as it is a very effective opener and first impression, and “Tommy Gun” for the cheesy hard-rockin’ weirdness that it brings to the full listen.
Shells rain from above. 3.75/5.0
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