This could be one of my shortest reviews ever…If you like thrashy death metal at all, just go buy this, now! Great riffs, intense drumming, solid vocals from start to finish with no real lapse in intensity and some cool contributions from special guests on three songs – there is a lot to recommend this album and I would place it as probably my favorite of the eight Living Sacrifice albums that have been released as it blends elements from their previous albums together seamlessly.
Living Sacrifice is one of those bands that often fall into the category of a best-kept secret. Formed in 1989 in Little Rock, Arkansas, Living Sacrifice has released eight albums over the course of their career and like most bands, weathered some significant lineup changes and evolutions in their sound. Their self-titled debut album was released in 1991 and features more of a thrash-type sound than any of their later efforts. First sound evolution came with the release of their second and third albums, Nonexistant and Inhabit, which feature a shift toward a heavier, darker death metal sound complete with the growling death vocals. Following the release of Inhabit, original vocalist Darren “DJ” Johnson left the band and guitarist Bruce Fitzhugh took over vocal duties, and as expected there was another evolution in sound for the next album, which wasn’t released until 1997 and also featured some other lineup changes. Reborn was the first Living Sacrifice album released on Solid State Records and showed the band shifting to a sound more akin to early metalcore and to the point where some had even (wrongly) labeled the band as becoming a hardcore band. I was able to see Living Sacrifice around that time and after a particularly thrashy, fast song, I still remember Bruce saying “let’s see them still call us a hardcore band”. Reborn expanded their fan base significantly and following more lineup changes, the band’s sound shifted yet again for their next album, The Hammering Process, which also featured an extra percussionist to add an extra dimension to their sound. Following the release of Conceived in Fire in 2003, Living Sacrifice, in essence disbanded and band members moved on to other projects. Living Sacrifice reformed in 2008 and supported Demon Hunter on their “Stronger than Hell” tour and work began on a new album, The Infinite Order, which was released in early 2010 to great reviews and reestablished Living Sacrifice as a top metal band. Videos for “Overkill Exposure” and “Rules of Engagement” from The Infinite Order were also produced and helped gain additional exposure for the band and the album reached #4 on the Billboard Heatseekers chart and #24 on the Hard Rock Albums chart. For Ghost Thief, Living Sacrifice seem to pick up thematically where The Infinite Order left off in terms of continuing a philosophical approach to the lyrics and concepts from the title track and another “Sudden” both referencing death to Screwtape paying homage to the CS Lewis classic book to “Straw Man” referencing tactics many take in debating Christianity.
As many great metal albums do, Ghost Thief opens up quietly, to some soft piano being played over the hum of the electric instruments at rest. The listener doesn’t have to wait long for the guitars to kick in with one playing along with the piano and the other a jackhammer-type riff in cadence. Then the thrash begins and the song takes off at high speed. I was immediately struck at the subtle shift in sound to the more thrashy type riffing compared to pummeling riffs in The Infinite Order. Think of being repeatedly struck by a hammer as opposed to being run over by a rumbling freight train. Both have a lot of impact but in different ways. Hearing this makes me realize what I felt was missing from The Infinite Order, which is still a great album. By now, many will have heard “Screwtape” and/or at least know that Ryan Clark of Demon Hunter does some of his trademark clean vocals on the track and those who have read any of my reviews know about my particular disdain for clean vocals in death metal. In all honesty, I am kind of torn with this song. The clean vocals do work as Ryan Clark has managed to take them close to the point of raggedness, more so than in Demon Hunter songs, so they do not seem as out of place as you might expect. Those who still aren’t completely sold on the idea should know that the rest of the song is so strong that even if you can’t tolerate clean vocals, you should be able to overlook them here.
“Ghost Thief” opens up with the deep, pummeling wall of sound type riff that sounds similar to those on The Infinite Order, but again the thrashy guitar comes in for the main riff and the song takes off from there. I especially like how the song builds at the end of the verses and then crashes back into the driving riff. Exceptional drumming and extra percussion has always been a great feature of Living Sacrifice songs and Lance Garvin is in top form again on this album. As they have done in the past, most notably on The Hammering Process, the band added some extra percussion to this song with fellow Arkansas native TD Benton of White Collar Sideshow sitting in to add some extra flair.
“The Reaping” is one of those songs that shows instant appeal to the metal masses. Heavy, pummeling opening that transitions to machine gun-like riffing and strong drumming gets your feet and hands tapping quickly. As I write this, the song has been the #1 track on Sirius/XM Liquid Metal’s Devil’s Dozen track list for a few days, showing the metal audience in general is taking a liking to this song. Bruce’s vocals take on some extra authority as he shouts/growls “You are reaping greed, you are reaping lust, reaping covetous , reaping apocalypse.” One of my few quibbles with the sound/mastering/production/mixing on the album is that I think the vocals could stand to be a bit louder, but this doesn’t detract from the overall impact.
The intro for “Straw Man” has a more melodic feel to it but then when the verse starts there is a quick shift into a driving metal riff that carries through the verses and is broken up by the same melodic music in the chorus section that is found in the opening, complete with some clean singing on the chorus, although clean shouting would be a more appropriate term. This song also features a rather blistering guitar solo before the last chorus and end of the song which was also lends some good variety. This is typical of how songs are constructed on this album. Those who have listened to Living Sacrifice for a while can hear everything from the early thrash days to the darker death metal to the intricate percussion to the pummeling freight train of groove metal like sound that has characterized their various albums. A song like “American Made” lulls you into a groove with the verses, and then there’s a shift to some faster riffing, a melodic guitar break, and then then it takes off at a 1,000 miles an hour for a section before returning to the familiar groove where it all started. That’s a lot of transition and changes for the first two minutes and shows the beauty in how the songs are constructed, definitely a hallmark of an experience band with a lot of skill who have been around a while.
“Despair” closes out the album in all its thrashy glory and features some great, intense, growling guest vocals from Dave Peters, who handles some of the chorus and verse sections. Through much of the song Dave’s vocals have more of sneering, challenging tone to them and contrast very well with the deeper, darker growls from Bruce, but in the end they take on a much deeper, nastier tone somewhat reminiscent of those found in the best Zao songs. Add in some guitar solos, some unexpected starts and stops and you have an instant classic track to end the album.
01. Screwtape [featuring Ryan Clark]
02. Ghost Thief
03. The Reaping
04. Straw Man
07. American Made
09. Your War
10. Despair [featuring Dave Peters]
Current Line Up:
Bruce Fitzhugh – Lead Vocals, Guitar
Lance Garvin – Drums
Rocky Gray – Guitar, Vocals
Arthur Green – Bass, Vocals
Living Sacrifice 
The Hammering Process 
Conceived in Fire 
The Infinite Order 
Ghost Thief 
Record Label: Solid State Records, Nov. 2013
Video below ‘Screwtape’ [Featuring Ryan Clark]
Video below ‘The Reaping’