As the 20th century slouched towards its end, cities everywhere strained under the effect of rapid social and technological change; setting the stage for the rise of thrash metal as the faster, more aggressive and politically-aware offspring of Britain’s New Wave of Heavy Metal. While San Francisco’s Bay Area is well known as the the ground zero of thrash in North America, Canada had its own crucible of extreme music in the city of Scarborough, the ugly industrial shadow of Toronto’s growing prosperity and birthplace of Canadian thrash legend, Sacrifice.
“Scarborough is a dirty suburb of Toronto,” writes vocalist/guitarist Rob Urbinati in an email, “These filthy streets have produced some good metal like Slaughter, Overthrow, Soulstorm, Dark Legion…It was the Bay Area of Canada.”
Leading the pack, Sacrifice distinguished itself as Slayer’s opening act in Toronto during the Reign in Blood tour of 1986, and their song “Re-Animation” became the theme to MuchMusic’s PowerHour, the Canadian answer to MTV’s Headbangers Ball. Says Urbinati, “That song became the Canadian thrash metal national anthem from all the air play it received and definitely helped us in the early days.”
During the early 1990s the growing popularity of death metal gradually eclipsed thrash, leading to a lengthy hiatus for the band; however a reunion show in 2006 demonstrated the persistence of fans’ interest and prompted the recording of a new album, The Ones I Condemn, in 2009. Several shows later (including a performance at last year’s Maryland DeathFest), Sacrifice will headline the first night of local promoter Nothing Is Heavy‘s 3-Year Anniversary show this Friday, April 17 at The Rickshaw Theatre in Vancouver.
Urbinati reflects, “It’s crazy to think that we haven’t played there in over 20 years, especially considering Scott (Watts, bassist) has been living there for years.” Prior to the 2006 reunion, a future for the band “seemed impossible.” He admits, “I don’t think any of us (the band is rounded out by guitarist Joe Rico and Gus Pynn on drums) thought about our music holding up this long. We are all pretty amazed by the support we still get.”
Saturday also marks the annual Record Store Day, and Urbinati notes that The Record Peddler, Toronto’s now-defunct independent music store, played a critical support role for the band during its heyday. “Sacrifice might not have happened without the Record Peddler. We spent a lot of time there buying records, and listening to new stuff. Our producer worked there, our first label Diabolic Force/Fringe Product was based out of there. That was our internet. Things have changed, metal bands will never experience that in the same way, but it was the support of Brian Taylor and the Record Peddler that got us off the ground.”
While doubts that today’s bands can survive independently without label support, Urbinati concedes that simply finding the time to be creative is a major challenge. “Regular life can suck the creativity right out of you sometimes. Other times it can provide creative inspiration but you need the energy to follow through. It can be frustrating.”
Current societal concerns, like the English Bay fuel spill last week or the Burnaby Mountain Kinder Morgan protests in November, echo the socioeconomic climate that initially spawned thrash metal and may help to explain the resurgence of interest in thrash among a new generation of metal musicians and fans. Since the ecologically-themed “As the World Burns” appeared on their 1990 album Soldiers of Misfortune, Urbinati says, “In 25 years it has become much worse. When I wrote those lyrics I didn’t think Manhattan-sized icebergs would be breaking off of Antarctica. It is pretty sad that we saw this coming in 1990 and nothing substantial has been done about it. We’re now at the point where it seems irreversible. Think oil wars are bad? Wait for the water wars.”