SADIST – Firescorched (2022)REVIEW

We take a deeper step into the third decade of progressive death metal prominence with a ninth full-length from northwest Italian quartet Sadist, an well-respected and initially obscure institution representing the gamut run between classic tech-thrash to prog-death inspiration, a few stabs at accessible-yet-avant alt-metal ideas nearby the millennium, and ultimately an modern formation with the personalized ideals of classicist progressive metal in mind. ‘Firescorched‘ is whimsical yet brutal in voice, engaging as mouth to ear avant-garde cinema can be while still feeling ‘old school’ enough in its refined rhythmic spectacle, it is their portal to new unheard-of heights and a new crest upon their storied tradition of perfectly alien death metal.

Sadist formed in Genoa circa 1991 between the best-known lineup of guitarist/keyboardist Tommy Talamanca, bassist Andy Marchini (Will o’ Wisp), and drummer Marco Pesenti who’d famously shuttered his cult thrash metal crew Necrodeath to focus on this arguably more modern and promising venture at the time. We still see the long history of the band both in aspects of style, Talamanca‘s songcraft and even in the classic logo of the band which retains its sort of Necrodeath/Sadus late 80’s death/thrash feeling yet they’d definitely went through a few years of growth before they were album ready. Their first 7″ EP (‘Black Screams‘, 1991) remains legendary as a curio of eerie ambition wherein the use of keyboards was quite unique, their riffs quite raw, and the bass presence far more directive than any ‘death metal’ coming out of Italy at the time, save maybe Electrocution whom were not quite there yet in their demo stages.

The most memorable bit to come from this early four-tet (with vocalist Fabio B.) was inarguably their Nocturnus-esque razor ride “Musicians Against Yuppies” which’d featured on the deep underground Italian extreme thrash compilation ‘Order Noise‘ in 1992. Most folks today discovered Sadist through their well-loved avant-garde/progressive death metal debut ‘Above the Light‘ (1993), back then Wild Rags was probably the only place making a big deal about the tape here in North America but it has held up well to the scrutiny of ages since as their best-remembered record amongst progressive death metal underground lifers. As far as I am concerned it is a great work of avant-garde choices made during a time where commercial death metal had reached its most boring peak of trend following nonsense, every choice felt like a major dissent and a truly ambitious threat.

From that point it’d become clear that Talamanca was the one perhaps fueling the creative side of the band and he’d basically been the vast majority of the heat behind Sadist‘s masterpiece (for my own taste) in ‘Tribe‘ (1995) wherein Sadus, Atheist and Nocturnus left the world hanging around 1993 and the logical progression of their collective mastery could be found within this obscure Italian band’s second album. This would be the last album from the band to my taste for some time, although ‘Crust‘ (1997) followed up on many ideas found on the previous and ‘Lego‘ (2000) was… I don’t know, a progressive 90’s nu-metal infused album? Not for me, anyhow. The band split soon after that release and reformed in 2005, bringing back the vocalist Trevor from ‘Crust‘ and Marchini alongside Talamanca suggesting the Mark III configuration of Sadist for the next four albums, the self-titled (‘Sadist‘, 2007) being very well received at the time and ‘Hyaena‘ (2015) being my favorite excepting its drum production. The sound they’d focused on during this time period was quite similar to that of Sadus‘ underrated ‘Elements of Anger‘ wherein the pulse of progressive metal and classic prog-death allowed strong showcase of Talamanca‘s taste for world music, jazz-fusion grooves, and intriguing showcase of technique without forgetting we were all there for a big riff or two. Looking back on the history of the band we can always find a restless soul, a rhythm and an adventure within anything Sadist put out and this is likewise reflected in the stories they’re out to tell.

Of course death metal needs to be about “something” and in the case of ‘Firescorched‘ there isn’t an all too obvious or spelled-out thread running through its lyrical themes. The second single released in support of the album “Accabadora” gives us a window into the sort of folklore which has long been a source of unique references for Sadist, in this case a bit of Sardinian folklore concerning a woman of merciful death who’d institute hospice or simply spike the ailing elderly with an olive wood steak through the heart. The horror of folklore and cinema have been a constant theme throughout the Genoese band’s three decade history if we consider references to African, middle eastern, and far eastern stories throughout Sadist‘s discography, not to mention the odes to films and books which have inspired songs in the past, the ultimate example of course being ‘Spellbound‘ (2018) an entire album inspired by the films of Alfred Hitchcock. In truth it’d take a full lyric sheet and some time to decipher where they’ve gone in terms of theme here but I’d tangentially suppose that a fatale or, ‘lady death’ notion sets the tone well for the adventure well enough to start as we immerse into the heaviest, most rhythmically vibrant record from the band to date.

The newly sourced rhythm section on these recordings has pushed Sadist back into extreme progressive death metal fandom’s earshot for at least a few of the album’s nine songs. Pieces like “Three Mothers and the Old Devil Father” are perhaps not achieved with both feet planted in the new school along the lines of, say, The Artisan Era‘s more post-millennial keyboard heavy tech-death spheres, but should now at least be better received as an extreme oddity beyond 90’s prog-metal voicing. ‘Firescorched‘ partially stands out as the result of a light rhythmic shove given to the band’s long developed idiosyncratic sense of self, though it is still a more playfully stated venture than most. In fact that is the major point I hope to strike away at most here, that Sadist are among a list of very few bands left today whom are still seeking to explore the realm of death metal fusion on their own outlandish terms instead of resting within the comfort of the now trope-filled “progressive” death categorization. Talamanca must still be feeling the original breakthrough which Cynic and Sadus brought to the extreme metal underground in the late 80’s/early 90’s to some degree, maybe not in the nostalgic or reconstructive sense but still exploring the bevvy of ideas that’d overflowed as the possibilities of extreme metal became newly virtuosic. This is perhaps where we can view Jeroen Paul Thesseling (Obscura, ex-Pestilence) as a vital connection between the past and present alongside drummer Romain Goulon (Spectral, Isgherurd Morth) as a font of technique and vitality, both of whom act as a vitality boost to ‘Firescorched‘ and expand its potential stretch towards greater possibilities.

For the sake of my own nostalgic brain centre being activated with some intensity, the bizarre keyboard-blazing thrill of hearing ‘Tribe‘ for the first time was well enough lit alight as I’d cracked into ‘Firescorched‘. The over the top alien prog-death swells of the first few pieces, especially lead single “Finger Food” likewise triggering years of video game soundtracks in mind, the only medium you’re most often likely to hear these tones used in any sort of lively way lands somewhere between the 3DO and 2001 or so. Sadist have a sort of technicolor horror in mind here mixed into wild spurts of progressive metal refrain and well, despite this being a more ‘extreme’ vision for the band, it’d be easy to miss the violent rhythms to start due to the level of detail put into each song, the prominence of electronic music elements having been incorporated just as much as moderne prog-death rhythmic force. You’ll understand exactly what I mean as the middle of the record fully rears its strange head with “Burial of a Clown” serving as the most bizarre peak in the action and “Loa” making sure we’ve not missed the point that is is in fact a progressive metal album first and foremost.

Beyond a few key points of interest we’ve largely gotten an experience on par with what Sadist have been steadily working at since 2005 within ‘Firescorched‘; Keyboards are a bit more inventively woven into view on the first half leading to a handful of boldly set songs, though as we stretch into the second half the pieces aren’t as involved, or, do not elevate in their wilder toying-around. The full listen bops along at a steadily enchanting rate for its span but, as a fan of all things prog-death (to a point), I’d certainly felt the give-and-take, the conflict of attempting to modernize an well-established artistic groove which didn’t necessarily want to budge into new realms, ‘Firescorched‘ feels at once outrageously full of personality and a bit conservative as a result. It is nonetheless one of Sadist‘s finer recordings and a highlight within a total trip of a discography which seems to still have quite a bit of steam left in terms of their creative font going forward. A high recommendation.

High recommendation. (77/100)

Rating: 7.5 out of 10.
LABEL(S):Agonia Records
RELEASE DATE:May 20th, 2022

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