Wednesday, June 14, 2017

The Long Hundred 002/100: Sacrilege - Lost in the Beauty You Slay which a group of also-rans with a borrowed name released one of the best albums of my youth.

[This is part of a series of posts dedicated to 100 albums I feel lucky to have heard. The full list and a more detailed explanation of the series can be found here.]

In a scene explosion that rivaled the first wave of Bay Area thrash bands, the Swedish city of Gothenburg spawned an obscene number of great bands - some which had their own unique vision of death metal, and some which attempted to ride the coat-tails of At the Gates and In Flames. It would be easy to dismiss Sacrilege as the latter, but there's no questioning their skill as song writers. Their two albums stand head and shoulders over most of the others that came from their city - including some of their more lauded contemporaries.

Released by Black Sun Records in 1996, a death metal sub label of Swedish indie Dolores Records (the original home of At the Gates, and one of the key players in the creation of the Gothenberg scene), Lost in the Beauty You Slay bore all the hallmarks of the Gothenberg style: Folky rhythms, bittersweet melodies, snarled vocals. Whereas the debuts of the earlier Gothenberg bands showed a lack of focus and/or experience, Sacrilege came out of the gate fully realized, drawing from the early albums of their countrymen while avoiding the pitfalls of youthful exuberance. It exists in a sweet spot somewhere between the first Dissection and In Flames albums - lacking the pure malevolence of the former, while never succumbing to Jesper Strombland's saccharine melodies. Abetted by a Studio Fredman production (which cemented its position as "THE" studio for melodic death metal with Slaughter of the Soul), the album is as perfect a summation of the Gothenberg sound as you'd get.

A year later, Sacrilege released their follow up The Fifth Season, which saw them appropriating the speed and guitar histrionics that had theretofore been the provenance of Dark Tranquillity. It's as good as its predecessor, even if it trades in some of that earlier darkness for some flashier performances.

Based on a few superlative articles in Terrorizer, I ordered both albums sight unseen through a distro. They kept me company during the winter of 1998, which I spent alone in my college dorm for almost a month while everyone else had gone home for the holidays. My sleep schedule was disrupted by insomnia, and I woke every afternoon only to watch the brittle sunlight disappear soon after. Sacrilege provided a fitting soundtrack to those strange endless nights, and listening to them now still offers me a window to those weeks when time seemed as frozen as the ground outside.

Shortly after the release of The 5th Season, drummer Daniel Svensson joined In Flames, effectively scuttling Sacrilege. The band reconvened briefly during the Myspace era as Sacrilege GBG (revived interest in the older British thrash band necessitated the distinction, apparently) and recorded a few songs that are still available on the internet. The new material never saw a proper release, and with Svensson allegedly retired from the music industry, it seems unlikely it ever will. In a way, that's to the band's benefit; after the "Gothenburg sound" was co-opted by bandwagon-hopping hardcore kids, it lost most of its luster. Sacrilege were a throwback to a time when being a Swedish band was tantamount to obscurity, and being a Swedish death metal fan meant time and effort spent tracking down obscure bands in fanzines and distros. Somewhere in an attic far away, I've got signed copies of both Sacrilege albums as a reminder of those days. And ever present on my phone is a window to a time when youth, night, and great death metal seemed eternal.