SACRED WARRIOR: Master’s Command (Gold Disc Edition)

sacred warrior master's command gold disc cover

While 2020 has been a year of disruption, disarray, dismay and disease, the folks at Roxx, Retroactive and Girder Records have been more than busy. Between the 3 labels I count, in my possession 60 releases (vinyl and CD), which are all reissues … and that only includes those I’ve been able to purchase and listen to in detail. There are really closer to 100 in all. That’s an insane number if you ask this doctor. Suffice it to say, that far out-numbers the new music releases in our scene this year, especially when you consider only those new releases which actually made it to physical media. Furthermore, those of us who enjoy this stuff AND have the wherewithal and time to put our thoughts about it to words and pictures are, to say the least, overwhelmed and hopelessly way behind schedule!

Some things, however, are too good to overlook even in the worst of scenarios. Those who know me or have been reading my reviews for the past decade or so are quite familiar with my love of Sacred Warrior’s music. There are few bands that I can say never wrote a bad song, but these guys never wrote a song I couldn’t listen to repeatedly – 4 albums of pure power, progressive metal bliss from ’88 to ’94, and then the very solid comeback effort in 2013, Waiting in Darkness.

In 2019, as part of the Metal Icon Series, Matt Hunt reissued 3 of those 4 early albums in grand fashion. Not only were they brilliantly remastered, but each release featured a 16-page booklet with heavy grade paper, new pictures, new design and legible lyrics. In addition, I was blessed to be a part of that project and contributed with all-new historical write-ups and observations. Below is an excerpt from my write-up for the Wicked Generation reissue which nicely sums up the progression the band experienced with each release:

“One of the most endearing qualities of Sacred Warrior was that each of their albums had a distinct identity, both lyrically and musically. Never content to stagnate, they tweaked their style and presentation with each release, which was for the listener both exciting (the “anticipation” factor) and sometimes frustrating (the “comfort in familiarity” factor). Rebellion (1988) had that raw, cutting edginess – those raspy/splattering snare sounds to boot – and the boldly evangelical lyrical approach. Master’s Command (1989) had a slightly more “over-produced” sound – the greater keyboard presence notable – and there was a subtle shift in the lyrics, many songs dealing with spiritual warfare for the believer. The band continued in this “deeper” lyrical direction with 1990’s Wicked Generation, a conceptual album with a much darker vibe – one which would stir mixed reactions from the fan base. And, of course, Obsessions (1991) would tie all these elements together in brilliant fashion … ah, but more on that album later.”

As many are aware, Master’s Command was released on vinyl, cassette and CD in 1989. However, some may not be aware that this Gold Disc Edition is not the first reissue. Bill Bafford/Roxx Records put out a CD and vinyl reissue in 2017 – one which featured remastering by the band’s own Steve Watkins – and you can find my review of it in our review archives … or just click HERE to read. The 2017 remaster featured all new cover artwork and a digi-pak format without lyrics or insert on the CD. The vinyl came in black and blue versions, sporting a heavier weight to both the jacket and the record itself when compared to the original 1989 European vinyl on Frontline. In my opinion, both were a significant upgrade from the originals, especially the vinyl version with its rich texture and heavy bass vibe. My only reservations about the 2017 remasters were the lack of a true lyric booklet with the CD and the altered from original track order on the vinyl (read that review for details).

Left: 1989 Intense Records CD/cassette; Center: 2020 Retroactive Records; Right: 2017 Roxx Records

Fast forward to 2020 – the year of the gold discs and vinyl remasters! How does this new version compare, and what does it offer in favor over the 2017 remasters? First off, this is a jewel case reissue and it features a 12-page book with full, readable lyrics, new photos and design. The write-up this time is confined to the back tray and I think is written by Matt Hunt himself. (I didn’t contribute to this one so no bias!) It’s a succinct and accurate description and one which nicely places this classic metal record within its proper context historically. Second, it does share the 2017 cover artwork/make-over, with gold boarder on front of booklet and the same without the boarder on the rear page of the booklet. Third, it has the proper song order in line with the original, and fourth and most obviously, it’s a gold disc. While the debate rages over sound quality of gold vs. silver (I think the remaster quality is the most important factor) there is little debate that gold has more resistance to deterioration over a long period of time. Finally, this new version comes with the gold-foil trading card #3 (pictured above) which is like icing on the cake!

But what about the sound? It should be noted that this 2020 version has been remastered by Rob Colwell, whereas the 2017 was remastered by Steve Watkins. Well, I would be remiss if I did one of these reviews and didn’t, in preparation, listen to all of the versions of this release on the same system with the same EQ. Not surprisingly, both the Watkins and Colwell remaster smoke the original. While there are some things about the ’89 analog versions of the original (cassette and vinyl) that are endearing, the cleaner audio quality to these newer editions is preferable under most listening situations.

Both Watkins and Colwell, with these newer versions, have increased the balance in the mix, Watkins just slightly heavier in the bass sound which should not be a surprise. This is most notable when you listen to the 2017 vinyl remaster which just has tons of bass push, both in the guitar and kick drum. Honestly, other than that, they both sound great and you can’t go wrong with either the 2017 or 2020 versions on CD. I would have to say the 2017 vinyl, in terms of sound, is still my favorite because it’s the only version that really tempers the cymbal sibilance so prominent in the mix. While I absolutely love Velaquez’ ride cymbal ping on this recording, those crashes have a very strong sibilance which has always given me the listener fatigue at high volumes.

Musically, this album speaks for itself and I doubt there is anyone reading this far that doesn’t already know these songs. As I’ve stated in the 2017 review, “Unfailing Love” – while solid lyrically – is probably the only song this band wrote that doesn’t sit well with me on a musical level. The rest of this album is gold – and now you can literally take that to the bank as well! If you are a fan of this band and love their music as much as I do, and even if you have a collection of this release already that looks something like mine, you should still check out this version.

Left: 1989 Frontline/Intense; Right: 2017 Roxx Records

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