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Living Sacrifice - "Ghost Thief" (CD)

Living Sacrifice - "Ghost Thief" CD cover image

"Ghost Thief" track listing:

1. Screwtape
2. Ghost Thief
3. The Reaping
4. Straw Man
5. Sudden
6. Mask
7. American Made
8. Before
9. Your War
10. Despair

Reviewed by on November 12, 2013

"...it rivals Testament's 'Dark Roots Of Earth' as a crucial forward step from a reunion's initial thrill."

Depending on your age, Living Sacrifice may just be a contender for “most important metal band you’ve (almost) never heard of.” This Little Rock, Arkansas foursome commands awe and respect with a cool kind of dignity, through which the music and lyrics speak for themselves. Likewise, since the 1991 self-titled debut, the group’s dramatic-yet-understated evolution has exerted a powerful influence on the genre while leaving these humble godfathers largely unsung.

“Living Sacrifice” piggybacked on thrash’s golden age at its close, channeling Slayer’s “South Of Heaven” and “Seasons In The Abyss” better than any album before or since. Next came a creative take on Obituary-style death metal with “Nonexistent” [1992] and “Inhabit.” [1994]

A major lineup shuffle, placing founding rhythm guitarist Bruce Fitzhugh behind the mic, resulted in “Reborn,” [1997] an early djent blueprint that introduced a meatier sound in the vein of Sepultura and Meshuggah. “The Hammering Process” [2000] turned up the groove and made for perhaps the most “metal” flirtation with nu-metal during that controversial era, while “Conceived In Fire” [2002] mixed its two predecessors with the band’s mid-‘90s death metal stylings.

After a 2003 disbandment, all was silent – excepting three new songs on the 2005 compilation “In Memoriam” and the 2008 mini-release “Death Machine” – until the 2010 comeback “The Infinite Order,” which proceeded logically from “Conceived In Fire,” while incorporating a strong dose of the band’s original thrash sound. And now, in 2013, we have “Ghost Thief,” an absolute monster that may wind up the definitive Living Sacrifice album – to date, that is – and deserves to be blasted from every extreme metalhead’s car for years to come. In fact, it rivals Testament’s “Dark Roots Of Earth” as a “comeback-plus” effort, that crucial forward step from a reunion’s initial thrill.

C.S. Lewis-inspired opener “Screwtape” is a bit of a conundrum. A guest vocal appearance by Ryan Clark of Demon Hunter fits the song with such a sly smoothness listeners may initially wonder if growler Fitzhugh decided to take singing lessons and aim for the radio. This guest spot’s placement in the track list throws the balance off a tad, considering the wall-to-wall vocal brutality that fills the rest of the album – indeed, its Fitzhugh’s throatiest, most intense performance yet.

Minor quirks aside, what immediately become apparent on “Screwtape” – and many other songs – is the increased dose of thrash circa 1991, and the masterful blending of the band’s every musical incarnation. “Ghost Thief” is “The Infinite Order” improved, broadened, and surpassed; the old school feels older, the new school feels newer, and everything between surges with a thundering zeal that knows no boundaries between era, style, or subgenre.

While “The Infinite Order” tended to segregate its diverse elements within the walls of individual tracks, “Ghost Thief” weaves them into a nonstop twisting roller coaster, making each song a far richer experience. Several, including the title track, “Sudden,” and “American Made,” intertwine thrash and djenty groove as though the two styles were made for each other, while “The Reaping” makes them indistinguishable as it gallops along. “Straw Man” and “Your War” revisit the classic Meshuggah sound, and if you’re looking for pure thrashy speed, closer “Despair” (with a guest vocal appearance by Dave Peters of Throwdown) provides just that.

Fitzhugh’s guttural roar reigns over all of this, reaffirming Living Sacrifice’s death metal credentials, even on the band’s most melodic excursions to date. On “Mask,” lead shredder Rocky Gray tosses in some delightful In Flames-quality guitar harmonies, while “Before” recalls the finest moments of At The Gates’ “Slaughter Of The Soul.” No matter how adventurous the band gets, “Ghost Thief” – in the tradition of every preceding album – is anchored by an uncanny knack for groove that seems to permeate every song and keep things rumbling forward.

As one of the pioneering faith-based extreme bands, recording music long before “Christian metal” reached the tip of anyone’s tongue, Living Sacrifice has always seemed fated to lurk on the genre’s fringes. However, that’s what makes the group’s creeping, far-reaching influence so respectable. There’s a metal underground, and then there’s an UNDERGROUND underground, and from that perch, Living Sacrifice has managed to absorb influences, reinvent them, brand them, and send them out into the world before they resurface as a Next Big Thing. If you’re new to the band, “Ghost Thief” is a perfect introduction from which to work your way backward, and if you’re a longtime fan, this is the album you’ve been waiting for – and then some.

Highs: It's a consistent rush.

Lows: The clean-sung guest chorus on "Screwtape," while memorable, distracts a bit from the guttural intensity that follows.

Bottom line: The definitive and finest Living Sacrifice album; one of 2013's best.

Rated 4.5 out of 5 skulls
4.5 out of 5 skulls

Rating Description
Rated 5 out of 5 skulls Perfection. (No discernable flaws; one of the reviewer's all-time favorites)
Rated 4.5 out of 5 skulls Near Perfection. (An instant classic with some minor imperfections)
Rated 4 out of 5 skulls Excellent. (An excellent effort worth picking up)
Rated 3.5 out of 5 skulls Good. (A good effort, worth checking out or picking up)
Rated 3 out of 5 skulls Decent. (A decent effort worth checking out if the style fits your tastes)
Rated 2.5 out of 5 skulls Average. (Nothing special; worth checking out if the style fits your taste)
Rated 2 out of 5 skulls Fair. (There is better metal out there)
< 2 skulls Pretty Bad. (Don't bother)