Somewhere around 1987, a nicely packaged self-released cassette fell into my hands — Death is Dead by Martyr. It was making a little buzz in the Christian metal scene, with a raw borderline thrash metal sound that few in the Christian scene were playing, but a style that was quickly catching on with a growing roster of bands. It was their 1988 follow up release, Imminent Warfare, where their sound became more solidified as a thrash unit, as they had a few member changes, and had added new guitarist Marcus Colon, who had spent some time in the Deliverance line-up.
This second released was followed by one more, 1989’s Frantic, before the band folded in 1990. When original member David Prado (vocals and bass) moved on, the band brought in a new bassist, but still needed a vocalist. They had one show left that need fulfilled, so they asked their stage manager Christ Ackerman, someone thoroughly familiar with the bands set list and lyrics, to fill in as vocalist for this one last show to get them by for the show. He did, and was convinced into staying on for the long-haul.
With the new line-up came a new name – BETRAYAL.Whereas Martyr struggled to get label, the time was more ripe when Betrayal emerged with their Reviling Darkness demo, and interest was finally knocking. Christian thrash mastered Deliverance was gaining in popularity from their releases a couple years before, and so Betrayal were being sought after to follow in those steps. The band made the deal with Wonderland Records, and the rest is history as they recorded and released this, their first official album, Renaissance By Death.
With a little extra aggressive approach to their sound, and a more technical sounding thrash metal, they were set apart from band’s like Deliverance, and were poised to take the thrash world by storm. Some have referred to this as a dark, gothic thrash metal, and I would agree. This album is filled to the brim with all of the expected elements of thrash, done with extreme precision and skill.
The album starts off with an eerie, dark phantom of the opera sound harpsichord and guitar instrument, let you know you are in for a wild ride to follow. Personally, I love cool intros like this, and this is one I truly love. As you feel the emotion of the music begin to mellow out, you can feel the the tension build as you are quickly catapulted into a galloping assault of thrash metal glory.
Another thing that set this band apart from most Christian bands of the time, is their lyrical content. Also dark to match the music, they deal with topics ranging from the occult and satanism to hypocrisy, child abuse and more. They had all of the essential elements for a great thrash band’s first album, and we, the fans at the time, ate it up.
The band released two top-notch releases before their untimely end, and those releases have been out of print for many, many years. Until NOW! Thanks be to Girder Music for bringing us both of their releases in an, as expected, re-mastered reissue. First they reissued them on CD earlier this year as part of their ever growing, ever impressive Legends of Rock series, and now, for the first time on vinyl as part of the Limited Run Vinyl series as well. First, let’s briefly look at the CD edition.
Not only do we get the entire album remastered by Rob Colwell, but it also includes the two tracks from the “Fear be Gone” single that was released on cassette only. And if that wasn’t enough, they remastered and added the four-song “Reviling the Darkness” original demo. As expected, and as with most everything Rob touches, they come out sounding better than ever for a new generation of listeners.
But for those vinyl enthusiasts like me, the great news was the announcement of these thrash-master’s releases getting a vinyl reissue. Now, while word of the vinyl reissue for Renaissance By Death as well as the pre-order for it was long before the actual Limited Run Vinyl series was announced, the manufacturing of it was close enough to the beginning of the LRV series that, when it was finished, it was labeled with the Limited Run Series logo.
As with the other LRV releases, it comes on colored 180 gram vinyl, so they look quite nice. But looks aside, the real question is not the cosmetic appeal, it is what happens when the needle drops on this pretty round record. As tends to be the case in a well produced vinyl reissue, the remastered for vinyl sound is thicker and beefier sounding as expected. I always appreciated the underlying bass lines on this release, and they become a bit more distinct and punchy with the vinyl sonic mastering.
While I always maintained a high love for this first release, their second album, The Passing, always felt to me like it probably had a little more funding behind it, or something that gave it a slightly better production and sound. This first release felt like it was missing a little bottom end, and the guitar tone was a little tight and compressed, giving it a thin sound at times. But now with the remastering on this one, it is given a boost in the overall feel and depth, a slight increase in fatness, making an already great album even greater.
All I know is, the first time I dropped the needle on this record, turned up the volume and set back, not only did all of the love and memories for this album flood back into the room for me, but it came with a new feel as the total increased vinyl depth of sound poured from my speakers.
Also coming back to memory is how much, vocalist Chris Ackerman at times reminds me very much of the singing style and sound of Tom Araya in the earlier days of Slayer. Back in the day when this was released, I was kind of opposed to always saying such and such a Christian band sounds like such and such secular band. I just wasn’t huge on trying to make comparisons. But when 1991 rolled in and hit us with the one-two punch of this first Betrayal album and the first album by Living Sacrifice, the Slayer-esque sound was undeniably well established in the Christian realm. Clones? By no means. But that aggressive barking, yet still understandable vocals of the kings of extreme metal (for that day) was being very well represented in the Christian metal world, making many fans very happy.
Actually, I had given up listening to Slayer many years earlier. My experience with Slayer ended with Hell Awaits actually. So at the time of this release, my experience with them was so limited that I wasn’t too wrapped up in making the comparison. It was actually my purchasing and listening to Hell Awaits, that made me give up secular music for many, many years. I was raised in the church, but always listened to metal. But I always considered the bands I listened to as the less “evil” types of bands, and I never got into the dark, heavier, satanic type bands.
In 1985, that changed as I got my hands on a copy of Slayer’s Hell Awaits, and began enjoying it. After a short while, I got convicted, feeling I had went over the edge of my self-professed rule, and gave it all up. Sept 1985, I tossed all secular music, and my record collection went from hundreds of records, to just two by Stryper. So, when the Christian metal world started dishing out superb the more aggressive metal bands like Betrayal, Believer, Vengeance and Living Sacrifice, I had found an acceptable way to get my extreme metal fix.
This album meant a lot to me back in the day, and that love is renewed with these new editions that sound and look better than ever. My hope is that a new generation will thoroughly enjoy these as much.
Colored 180 gram Vinyl
Renaissance By Death
Stroll Thru a Wicked Age
Escaping the Altar
Assassins In the Midst
More Faith Than Me
Prophets of Baal
Plead the Blood
CD comes with a 12 page booklet and these additional six songs:
Fear Be Gone (Single) – Not on Original Album.
Fallen Deceived (Industrial Remix)
+ Reviling Darkness 4-Song EP (1991)
Prophets of Baal
Fear Be Gone
When Darkness Reigns