LIVING SACRIFICE: Inhabit (Vintage Review)

I’d like to start out by saying that the term, ‘heavy’ is subjective.  Most of us know this, and have our own criteria.  We judge by the use of speed, down tuning, double bass, blast beats, vocals, etc.  So not every album will ‘hit’ us in the same way.  However, not every album is called Inhabit, by Living Sacrifice.  And ‘hit’ is an extremely applicable term, in this case.  In fact, it’s more like blunt force trauma.  I know there will be some that disagree and challenge some of the assertions I make with this album.  There may be albums that are faster, or that tune lower, etc.  But I’ve never heard a heavier, more complete one overall, that hits as many checkmarks on the ‘heavy’ column as this one.  It remains the heaviest album I’ve ever heard, Christian or secular.  This is not just my opinion, alone.  I once heard it said that the album was so refreshing, in that it had no typical, metal clichés of any kind associated with death metal, but managed to be premium in its field.  I’m going to break this recording down into specific areas, but it should be noted that the beauty of this work is the overall mood that makes you feel like you’re being assaulted.  I know the term ‘brutal’ is used a lot these days, but if I had to eliminate it from my vocabulary save for one album, I would apply it to this one.  There is nothing smooth or flowing in this work.  It is harsh, and it is abrasive, in the best possible way.

Most people familiar with LS usually cite the later works from around 1997 with the album Reborn, followed steadily since with a more groove oriented style of death/ hardcore.  But LS’ first three albums are not only lesser known, but were rarely promoted even by the band themselves, until very recent vinyl pressings in the last couple of years.  Aside from the remastering and re-issuing of Inhabit in 1999 (the original debuted in 1994), with few exceptions, the band has kind of separated themselves from that era, embracing Reborn’s new direction.  While LS’ evolution is nothing short of astounding, some are left remembering, and appreciating more and more, that gem of a by-gone era, and the original, horrifyingly gloomy, putrid green, zombie ascending album cover.  This is pure DEATH METAL.

The dissection of this piece of work is not simple.  As I stated above, the overall mood and atmosphere is greater than the sum of its parts, especially when guitarist Bruce Fitzhugh and drummer Lance Garvin combine.  A different beast arises from the fusion that is created with this pair, especially on this album (no joke, this is HEAVY).  I could say that the double bass is so fast and crisp that it could be mistaken for a computer.  I could say that the riffs are mind shatteringly crunchy, but so are other bands’.  But when a power chord from this record sounds, or a blast beat ensues,  it gets your attention fast.  First impressions of this recording are a combination of the sheer brutality and power that assaults you immediately, and a very odd, low tuned production sound, like that of being heard from a cell or a cave.  This is generally a sign of poor production, but not here.  In this case, it’s a plus, as the sound of every instrument is potent but mixed just right, so that no instrument drowns out another.  It is not muffled or muddied, rather, it is dreadfully apparent and assertive, like that of a clear and lucid sense of destruction.  If all other death, black, doom metal pieces were the signs of impending annihilation, this album would not be impending at all, for it is come.  This overall atmosphere of dread and violence is achieved by two things on this record: blistering speed at times, and a slowing down at certain intervals.  Nothing kills impact like a continuous droning of blast beats and double bass.  A heavy song that never changes or regroups is a pet peeve of mine, for it loses its heaviness if it stays in one mode.  Inhabit, however, slows down enough to let you catch your breath, as if you’re being chased by a bulldozer that is toying with you, and lets you get up to run a few yards, only to speed up and crush you again.  The time changes are brilliantly done, without overkill and feeling like one song is really 8 different songs.  Each song stays in the mode of itself, and stays true to the tune.  Instrumentation will be evident immediately (guitarist, Jason Truby is actually well versed at classical guitar, and has released several albums).  Drummer, Lance Garvin is considered one of the best in the business, as this aspect is one of the key talking points about this album even years later.  His drumming is astoundingly fast and precise, with perfectly placed cymbal crashes that act as lightening in a surrounding nuclear cloud or menacing fog around the butchery within.  Another key talking point is the vocals, performed by original bassist/ vocalist, Darren Johnson.  Not wanting to fall into the same growling rut as a lot of their peers, he chooses to harshly pummel you with incredibly deep, slow shouts (a Max Cavalera’ish yell, only so low that it feels like you’re being kicked while on the ground).  These shouts were modified from the infamous zombie vocals coming off the previous album, ‘Nonexistent’, by lowering the octave and articulating in a crisper tone.  Darren’s gruesome tone pitches perfectly with the surrounding ferocity.  Rhythm guitarist, Bruce Fitzhugh is the General here, controlling the chaos with crushing, forceful riffs that are unpredictable even to the keenest death metal ear.  The album has well timed, clean, haunting melodies, which have become LS’ signature, best evidenced in the songs, Not Beneath, and Mind Distant.

Though not a concept album (that we know of), if I had to pinpoint an overall lyrical theme, it would be possession.  The title track speaks of God being more than just close to us: “Inhabit our praise, oh Lord, encircle us with your presence”.  In the Shadow is a haunting reminder to stay within God’s presence, “Under His wings shall be found refuge and fortress, not to fear the terror that stalks in the darkness, Particular gloom effected, closed hesitation, not enchanted by superstitions impressions, not to fear in the darkness.  In the shadow, refuge and fortress”.  “Oneness with God, social peace, divine knowledge to increase, Christ’s wisdom maturity, messengers assemble unity, acknowledge the Spirit’s indwelling”, chants the song, Indwelling.  These incantations read like a séance, though not to demons or evil spirits, but to the Holy Spirit.  And why not?  We are told in scripture that we are slaves to one or the other, evil or righteousness.  Human beings are made to worship, and we all worship something, whether we know it or not.  Though we must be willing, possession by Christ is nothing to fear, for the more Christ is in us, the more ourselves we are, for he made us.  To resist this is to stray into the abyss, where God is not, as evidenced in the songs, Mind Distant and Departure.  These songs paint a picture of eroding sanity due to straying outside God’s presence: “False imagination, spiritual blindness, weakness.  Self awaken, Christ restores reality.  Thoughts to Christ, not obedient, inner struggle, mind distant”.

Possession, along with the album cover of a grave, a ghost ascending it, and the aggression of the music may seem a little dark and out of place for Christianity.  But we, as Christians, should own it.  It’s God who created the night, the moonlit sky, the idea of spirits taking over, and the resurrection of our spirits from the grave.  Contrary to popular opinion, Satan does not own these things, he is counterfeit.  He rips them off.  In Till We Have Faces, C.S. Lewis says, “ I, King, have dealt with the gods for three generations of men, and I know that they dazzle our eyes and flow in and out of one another like eddies on a river, and nothing that is said clearly can be said truly about them. Holy places are dark places. It is life and strength, not knowledge and words, that we get in them. Holy wisdom is not clear and thin like water, but thick and dark like blood.’’  Many people may prefer a delicate savior who only exists in the light.  But God is a mystery, and LS (and myself) live in a world where graveyards are resting places for God’s children, and gargoyles ordained the ancient Church. 

For anyone looking for something fresh and different, brutal, technical, melodic and grinding (and doesn’t fit into any of the sub genres), and just plain ROUGH, feast your ears on this.  There is nothing new school, nu-metal, shrill, core, or hip about this album.  It is deep, full on, true death metal, and it is violent.

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