Welcome to The Lazarus Pit, a biweekly look at should-be classic metal records that don’t get nearly enough love; stuff that’s essential listening that you’ve probably never heard of; stuff that we’re too lazy to track down the band members to do a Hall Of Fame for. This week, we have, by special request of The Editor in Chief, the Jesus thrashing madness of Believer’s Sanity Obscure (REX Records). I hope you guys like your thrash metal with some ultra technicality, because Believer make Dark Angel look like Hirax. Emerging from the middle of nowhere, Pennsylvania, as a melodic metal outfit in the mid-80s, the brainchild of drummer Joey Daub and guitarist-vocalist Kurt Bachman (the only two constant members of the band), they quickly took their place at the forefront of the Christian metal scene by virtue of being not terrible. They also had crossover potential which led to them hooking up with Road Runner – despised their confirmed beliefs and Bible-based lyrics, they weren’t as preachy as groups like Sacred Warrior or Messiah. Plus, they could seriously shred.
Let’s be honest here – killer music will get metalheads to overlook just about anything, whether it’s religious views they disagree with or, you know, burning down churches and killing someone in cold blood. Believer approached their music with a level of inventiveness, ambition, and experimentation matched only by peers like Anacrusis and the aforementioned Dark Angel. Although their debut, Extraction from Mortality, had some pretty rad thrash going on, it wasn’t until their sophomore effort, 1990’s Sanity Obscure, that they started twisting time signatures like steel-plated balloon animals. Their highly complex approach wasn’t nearly as catchy as bands like Metallica or Megadeth (hence their comparative lack of success), but they pull it off with gusto.
It’s apparent immediately that the listener is in for something different, considering that this starts with the sounds of a music box dissolving into discord. Then the thrash starts, but it’s pretty idiosyncratic – both guitars playing riffs that almost contradict each other with a ferocity that rivals death metal’s. Apparently this song inspired the music for a level from the videogame Doom, which is pretty novel. “Wisdom’s Call” brings in some arpeggio runs before kicking ass, while “Nonpoint” mixes melody with stop-start rhythms. Subsequent tracks follow along the same lines, with one notable exception, which is, ironically, probably their most lasting legacy: "Dies Irae (Day of Wrath)." This particular tune is one of the earliest recorded examples of symphonic metal, using orchestral parts and operatic female vocals that presaged both Nightwish and S&M. It’s unlike anything else on the record, or really anything else at the time, and it alone would cement this album’s importance even if nothing else did.
Believer would go on to release one more record, which went even more experimental, before going on hiatus for a decade or so. They returned with a couple, somewhat strange (see this magazine’s reviews) records, and they’re still a going concern. Whether it’s their Christian connections or arriving a little too late in the thrash cycle to gain attention, though, they just never really gained the status as innovators that they deserve. It’s insane that they’ve been obscure for this long – don’t miss out on this classic.