Betrayal was one of the more extreme thrash bands from the early ‘90’s scene, not only because of Chris Ackerman’s unorthodox death metal vocal qualities but also because they were willing to deal with topics no one wanted to touch, like Satanism, abortion and child abuse, racial hypocrisy and political corruption – a stance which might have cost them a shot at “success.” Their first two releases are now available on CD as part of Girder’s Legends of Rock series and on vinyl as part of the Limited Run Vinyl series. They never enjoyed the success and impact of Deliverance, Tourniquet or Vengeance – somewhat due to poor promotion and some of the events outlined below – but to their credit, they did develop a distinct musical identity and their lyrics were challenging and compelling and very Biblically-centered. Furthermore, as I explore this record afresh, it is much better than I remember. Like seriously, “how did these guys not get bigger?” better.
Although they experienced some early momentum with the release of Renaissance By Death in 1991, including shows in California and successful gig to Holland, their career was truncated by a few significant and tragic events. First, their major label debut for Interscope Recordings was a flop due to a poor sound system and a somewhat indifferent promoter from Interscope. More significantly though was the tragic accident which occurred while the band was traveling in Arizona on the way to play a few shows in Texas. In a candid interview with David Jenison at Cornerstone Festival ’93 (Heaven’s Metal #43, see below), Marcus Colon discussed in detail the events of that ill-fated trip – events which ultimately heralded the end of Betrayal as a “band.” And Chris Ackerman, in the retrospective piece he contributed to Girder’s 2019 Legends of Rock CD reissue of The Passing, further discusses the events and expands upon the impact that tragedy had on their career and on their personal lives to this day.
“We were 5 young men alone in the darkness of the desert night with a dead body and a paraplegic victim. Tears still sting my eyes writing this so many years later. After the ambulances and police reports, we turned around and just went home.” – Chris Ackerman
All of this, or course, did not stop the release, on Wonderland (Word), of The Passing, which came out in September of ’93 if I remember correctly. The competition at that time was fierce but The Passing reached #10 in late ’93 on the Rock/Metal Sales Chart (as reported in Heaven’s Metal #45) behind stalwart releases like Deliverance – Learn, Believer – Dimensions, Mortification – Post Momentary Affliction, Bride – Snakes In The Playground, Guardian – Miracle Mile, Galactic Cowboys – Space In Your Face and the self-titled Saviour Machine! Not bad when you consider many of those titles eventually made the Top 100 Christian metal list of all time!
The CD Player Giveaway
Anyone remember Wonderland’s CD player giveaway contest promoted in the original release? For those who recall, the words to the verse were highlighted in bold text and scattered throughout the CD booklet and lyrics. Fans were tasked with deciphering the verse/words and those with the correct submissions to the label were entered into a drawing to win the CD player. It was a unique way to engage the fans/listeners, because the deciphered scripture words formed the central theme of the album. (pictured).
“A man who strays from the path of understanding comes to rest in the company of the dead.” – Proverbs 21:16
It is no secret guitarist/song-writer Marcus Colon had been entwined by Satan’s snares early in his life. The lyrical outpourings in both Renaissance By Death and The Passing reflect his battles, struggles and victories. “Renouncement” is both an outcry against Satan’s wicked schemes and the victory in denying him power through the work of Christ.
“Satan denied/death is denied/deny the lie/all sin must die!”
Similarly, “The Usurper,” using the narrative of real-life human actions and interactions with drugs, graphically details how opening the door for Satanic influence leads a man to steal and murder. And even more disturbing are the depictions of an open surrender to Satan in “As I Turn Away” along with the ritual abuse and Satanic sacrifice in “Forest of Horrors.” These are not happy endings.
But other difficult topics are confronted as well. Cleverly using metaphorical references to Ray Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes, the words to “Carnival of Madness” deal with the need to resist the allure, illusions and seductions the world has to offer. “Ichabod” chronicles the abuse of power and liberalism and corruption within the government. (Does this song not seem even more relevant today than in 1993 or what?!) “Whispers of Chaos” deals with suicide and “Strength of the Innocent” with child abuse, child pornography and abortion. And if that’s not enough, we have the social commentary going on in “Race of Hypocrisy” – a song that is totally relevant to what we are seeing in 2019. Check out these prophetic cries echoing forth to us from 1993 –
“Love is close to extinction/bitterness runs through our veins/the race of hypocrisy/all those who offer pain …”
But then this in return –
“Christ the one redeemer/no color in His sight/to offer all the peoples/His harmony instead of spite” – Race Of Hypocrisy
You see the patterns? These guys were dealing with heavy spiritual warfare presented not from the perspective of an ethereal battle going on between demons and angels in the heavens, but from the down and dirty, visceral human perspective. It wasn’t and isn’t easy stuff to stomach, but there was always hope…
“Retaliatory Strike” is the anthem of victory, along with “Frantic” which outlines the path and struggle to “finish the race” in victory.
“Retaliatory Strike/an assault with authority determined by the work done on the cross/we invade on warring knees in Christ’s name on high”
Renouncement of Digital
I love the EQ on this vinyl record. The muddy, thrashy live vibe of the original has been preserved which gives the music that live, punch-you-in-the-chest bass. This does sound superior to the original, but its not just in the bass. All of the higher treble articulations are more noticeable and Ackerman’s voice kills it on this release.
“Renouncement” – with its noisy introduction and blast-beat, machine-gun snares over top of sound-bytes – is a nasty amalgam of industrial/death/thrash. I believe this song was somewhat popular and worked its way up the CCM metal “singles” charts to #5 by March of ‘94 . That doomy, heavy vibe on “The Usurper” is killer and sounds even better on vinyl where the plodding bass guitar line is accentuated. This song flows well as it builds up to the fast middle-section where the guitars shred. Those haunting guitar leads slow it down again for the final run – the perfect musical accompaniment to the narrative.
This entire album flows beautifully from one song to the other – the transition from track 2 into track 3 quite striking. “Carnival” has always been one of my favorite tracks here because of those ominous guitar tones mixed with Ackerman’s almost “sing-song” mocking vocals. The riff intensity at the end of the song is so brutal, and then it fades out with the “sick” carnival music… The dynamics used in this song alone are so impressive, yet it is quality repeated throughout The Passing – this band had a gift for creating an atmosphere and tone musically which totally reflected what was going on lyrically.
Let the all-out thrash engage on “Ichabod.” With the assistance of Jimmy Brown on vocals, this song would have nicely fit on Stay of Execution alongside songs like “Entombed” and “Lord of Dreams.” On the vinyl the low-end is crushing and gives the song a live feel, but I have never liked those muffled spoken parts – I have always felt the song would have had more industrial impact with the voice “unmasked” for clarity – but then again, given the nature of the lyrical theme, that may well have been the intent (as clear as mud). But those bass guitar tones really jump out on the vinyl version. “Forest of Horror” is another song with plenty of intensity – love how Ackerman changes his voice to be even more sinister – and the phenomenal use of dynamics once again play an important role. Again, horrible circumstances aside, I don’t know how these guys weren’t bigger.
Maybe the next two songs had something to do with it? “Race of Hypocrisy” certainly showed a band that was willing to experiment. The song is crushing on the front and back side, but that jazzy middle section seems so out of place. However, when its nicely transitioned back into the speed thrash by the classy guitar solo it all seem good. Similarly, “As I Turn Away” was odd because the melodic vocals of Chris Scott (Precious Death) were so contrasting with that of Ackerman. Instrumentally, if you shut out the voice, this is an incredibly tight rhythm. Lain’s bass guitar leads the way into “Whispers Of Chaos” – a song which echoes back to early Metallica, with a nod to “Fade to Black” in both guitar tones and lyrical content. And the intensity doesn’t relent on the Anthrax-infested “Strength Of The Innocent.” At this point, I marvel at Jeff Mason’s drumming on this entire album – nothing short of a clinic in blasting, bass-pummeling thrash. Where I used to find his snare a bit too harsh, it now fits perfectly in the mix on the vinyl remaster.
The final 2 tracks just drive home the nail – prayer, perseverance and faster thrash are the only ways to “pierce” the enemy! A frantic retaliatory strike of anti-Satanism. Bet you can’t sell that on the evening news.
All this sounds so much better than I remember when this was released in ’93, probably because back then I was transitioning from 3 years of exhausting medical residency into a real job teaching and supervising (residents and interns) … NOT!! Seriously, The Passing has been successfully resuscitated, “metal heartbeat” stronger than ever on this massive piece of plastic.
The Red, Black & White
I like the enhancements to the cover art – darkening the black and brightening the light makes the red Betrayal logo pop out boldly. And, the red on black on white color scheme in the CD booklet looks great (cover below). The lyrics are more legible with white letters on red background. The concise and revealing write-up by Chris Ackerman (alluded to above) in the liner notes is essential. The back page of the booklet includes pictures of the original layout of the Betrayal feature article from Heaven’s Metal #43 (pictured in full above) as well as a copy of the band’s outreach ministry newsletter from July 1993 – nice touch. The vinyl is supposed to see an insert as well, but in the meantime, the strong solid color schemes on the labels look fearsome next to the slightly purplish swirl mix of the wax. The record is flat and nicely weighted with no imperfections – this one clean with no significant pops.
I always felt that Betrayal deserved more credit than they received. Things didn’t go well for them, but when you are in the spiritual battle, the enemy’s arrows are going to take a toll … and success in the world’s eyes (selling music and selling-out large venues) may not have been God’s plan. (Afterall, look what happened to Vengeance and Roger Martinez). In lieu of these considerations, though, I am grateful to Girder Music in getting these two albums back in circulation. And the vinyl version of The Passing does NOT disappoint! It’s every bit as vibrant, dynamic and impacting as the LRV version of Stay Of Execution.
1. Renouncement (3:38)
2. The Usurper (4:17)
3. Carnival of Madness (5:35)
4. Ichabod (3:56)
5. Forest of Horrors (4:31)
6. Race of Hypocrisy (3:36)
7. As I Turned Away (4:20)
8. Whispers of Chaos (4:19)
9. Strength of the Innocent (4:55)
10. Retaliatory Strike (2:56)
11. Frantic (3:45)
*Note: The CD contains the same 11 tracks with no bonus material, but there is the new 8-page booklet which has been totally redesigned with liner notes by Chris Ackerman as noted in the context of the review.