Satan's Pilgrims

Oakland's Saviours shepherd hell-bent thrash into a new era

Much as the continuing freak-folk explosion draws heavily on the patchouli-soaked sounds of the Summer of Love, a growing movement of retrofitted hard-rock and metal bands has emerged, lording over the modern music landscape as the raging yin to the placid yang of acoustic psych disciples. From Aussie power trio Wolfmother's radio-ready Sabbath/Zeppelin/Deep Purple pastiche to the rise of underground whiplash-inducing heroes like Mastodon and the Bay Area's own High on Fire, today's Hessian masses have a host of worthy acts to support. Oakland outfit Saviours set the headbanging bar still higher, delivering a ferocious onslaught that puts an original stamp on the classic power and thrash metal of decades past.

Given the band's roots, the metallic brutality of its sound comes as a bit of a surprise. Lead singer/guitarist Austin Barber, drummer Scott Batiste, and recently departed third guitarist Mag Delana all spent significant time with acclaimed East Bay screamo group Yaphet Kotto (guitarist Dean Tyler Morris and bassist Cyrus Comiskey of Drunk Horse fame round out Saviours). Discussing Saviours' musical gestation over closing-time pints at a Haight Street pub, Barber and Batiste claim the new project wasn't hatched with metal foremost in mind.

"When Saviours started, we were going for something louder and noisier," explains the lanky, bespectacled Batiste. The tattoo-sleeved Barber agrees: "We just thought loud and heavy. There was no greater vision for it." With Batiste cranking out demo tapes of riffs played "on bass with tons of distortion" and guitarist Morris mapping out the individual parts of the band's dense, interlocking triple-ax attack, Saviours quickly found their infernal path. Only months after first coming together in September 2004, the quintet tracked three songs for its debut EP Warship.

The standout cut "Circle of Servants Bodies" pays mighty homage to the crushing six-string stylings of Tony Iommi — "We all owe a lot to Sabbath, don't we?" cracks Batiste with a smile — but on their first attempt, Saviours captured the kind of relentless wallop and chugging propulsion many stoner-rock bands spend entire careers trying to perfect. Small surprise that discerning imprint Kemado Records used the punishing track as the ass-kicking opening salvo for its excellent, recent comp of rare and unreleased heaviness Invaders.

As much promise as that early effort showed, the band's first full-length Crucifire revealed a quantum leap forward in terms of fury, sophisticated arrangements, and unadulterated blasphemy. Matching Barber's howling lyrical venom with an endless arsenal of corrosive guitar orchestrations and runaway locomotive rhythms, the album echoes the harmonized leads of pre-thrash British metal and the complex riff architecture of early Metallica and South of HeavenÐera Slayer while still forging a unique sound. Whether sticking to the pit-churning frenzy of the title track and "Christhunt" or slowing things down for gothic-tinged, lumbering dirges like "Heathen Eye" and "Firewind" (particularly the latter's stunning glockenspiel and organ outro), Saviours display dynamics and versatility rarely heard among one-trick pony modern metal bands.

And what to make of Saviours' perpetual invocation of Lucifer in their music? Barber readily cops to the influence of Slayer's Satan! Satan! Satan! approach but also has some deeper inspirations: "For me, it's a product of my youth. I was born in the Bible Belt," he says. "I went back and forth between Arkansas and Colorado Springs — home of Focus on the Family and all sorts of nasty shit. I fucking hate Christianity; I despise everything about it." Metalheads and God-fearing Bible-thumpers alike had best brace themselves as Saviours take their unholy crusade across the country this summer.

 
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