VENGEANCE RISING: Human Sacrifice and Once Dead (Gold Disc Editions)

Wait ANOTHER Vengeance re-issue? Hasn’t this been done? Seriously, hasn’t this been done? Several different times in fact? Perhaps instead of complaining one must ask them: what is it about these releases that the labels find so appealing? Or instead the question is will the CD/Vinyl/Download buying public plunk down their money yet again?

These various inquiries are all legitimate; when the good people at Roxx Records announced yet another re-issue I wondered these questions and almost wondered if my associates there had lost their minds! There have been CD’s with bonus stuff, picture discs, anniversary editions, box sets (which to my deep disappointment I couldn’t swing at the time), various remasters and the like. We even got a release of the first “pre-mix.”

So without a doubt my heart was wondering is this the latest releases Gold Disc issues of Human Sacrifice and Once Dead really going to improve on the prior stuff. Having opened the gem cases with all care and resourcefulness (they can be tricky without a knife!) I poured over the gorgeous layouts.  New lyric layouts which are actually readable! While the Human Sacrifice release features some new comments by Roger Dale Martin, album artist Christopher Keene provides some deeper insight into the construction of the iconic album cover. The Once Dead release features behind the scene’s photos taken during the album cover photo sessions. These things (behind the scene stuff) while common nowadays, rarely appeared back in the day. Keene again gives us some insight into the creation of that artwork.

As I prepared to drop the first disc into my CD player (yes, I still have one of those) and placed my Beyer Dynamic DT770 headphones on my head, my thoughts flashed back to when I first saw Vengeance in 1987 at Set Free Christian Fellowship. They only had 6-7 songs and two of those weren’t even a minute long! That performance sealed a love and a memory which I treasure still to this day. The passion and skill in which they played was evident to my companions and me. It left me wondering how large a following they would obtain (I’m a fan what can I say?!?!) and where was their demo? (They didn’t have one at that show).

The following year the debut was released; it completely pushed boundaries in Christian music and was an amazing witnessing tool. Yet for this fan vindication for his appreciation of the artistic element when the mighty KERRANG!! Gave it 4 K’s!! How I wish I still had that issue!! These albums do fill one with nostalgia and such fuzzy feelings. Yet the fact that after 30 years we are STILL talking about them and listening to them, sharing them with friends indicates that there is something beyond the mere passing fad, as is most music.

The Gold Disc releases of these musical behemoths are not just an idle curiosity but make no mistake. They are the DEFINITIVE re-issues of these titanic stalwarts. The remastering done by Rob Colwell is masterful and brings some substantial depth and life to these platters. The Human Sacrifice remaster at times separates out the guitars while bringing out many subtle parts that were previously obscured. 

Hearing the remaster of “Mulligan’s Stew” is glorious. The vocal feels more isolated while the dueling leads so more alive then they have in years. The bass and drums drive it along with greater clarity and punch. Partly from the remaster but also the Gold Disc, the perfect one-two punch to my ears. The guitars sound brighter, crunchier. These observations are consistent throughout this Gold Disc issue. Human Sacrifice never sounded this good.

Once Dead enjoys a powerful upgrade as well. The layers of the guitars enjoy a beefier section of the sonic wall and drive the riffs into pure submission. The overwhelming shrill of the original release has been removed, instead a wall of pure thrash metal hits you like a Mack truck.  “Into the Abyss” delivers its heavy punch with an improved sonic pallet.  “Frontal Lobotomy” grooves with delightful heaviness and the riff drops like an atom bomb. The sonic improvement is very clear to me.  Perhaps my closeness to these releases over 30 years?

What else can be said about these albums musically? Nothing that hasn’t already been written, spoken, shared. 

Roger Martinez, Larry Farkas, Doug Thieme, Roger Dale Martin and Glenn Mancaruso (and yes, song writer Glenn Rogers) created an artistic statement in addition to a theological one. Whether certain members still believe those theological ideas is irrelevant. One can still enjoy the art presented here, the passion, belief, desire and drive to create that pushed these men to deliver something that has stood the test of time. 

Perhaps not delivered to as large an audience as they would’ve liked but to the faithful it is a pillar, a marker in time that points the way ahead. A reminder when we have lost our way that the way back to our maker is not as far as we would think.

Grab these two re-issues, they are the DEFINITIVE re-issues of these two classic albums. 

-Keven Crothers

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