Forgotten Hard Rock Albums: Sacred Warrior, "Obsessions"
Original Release: Intense Records, 1991
Reissued by: Retroactive Records, 2019
It's been a long time coming, but Obsessions, the fourth—and some say best—studio album by the classic Christian metal band Sacred Warrior, has been reissued by Retroactive Records as part of their ongoing "Metal Icon Series." Originally released by Intense Records in 1991, Obsessions came at the end of a remarkably solid four-album run by the Chicago-based band. Sacred Warrior never reached the commercial heights of their God-fearing brethren in Stryper, or had the "cool" factor of underground Christian thrashers like Deliverance or Vengeance Rising, but they cultivated a sizable, appreciative audience among lovers of melodic, traditional heavy metal in the vein of Iron Maiden and Queensryche. Their 1988 debut album Rebellion and 1989's Master's Command are widely regarded as American power-metal classics to this day.
The Obsessions reissue means that all of Sacred Warrior's early catalog is now back in circulation, ready to be discovered by a new generation of metal heads (or re-acquired by old goats like me, who still need to upgrade our old cassette tapes!).
"Temples On Fire"
Sacred Warrior was always very bold and up-front about their faith in their lyrics, which may seem "preachy" to non-converted listeners, but even the most jaded, heathen metal heads can't deny the high quality of the musicianship on Obsessions. Kicking off with "Wings of a Dream," a showcase for the driving guitar work of Bruce Swift and John Johnson and the soaring vocals of Rey Parra, the band shifts smoothly into the moody "Sweet Memories," which features some nice acoustic picking. Once again, Parra's soulful voice (particularly his Geoff Tate-esque high end) is used effectively. The hard charging title track warns against addictions of all types, and occasionally borders on speed metal. The band keeps the gas pedal floored on the hyperactive "Kamikaze," and then their progressive tendencies come through again on the slow, somber "Remember Me." Things heavy up once more with the pounding "Fire From Heaven," a stern warning that God's patience are not infinite and he will eventually cleanse the earth with flame. "Temples On Fire" is another straight forward metal cut with a "get right with God" message, and I hear echoes of the Judas Priest classic "The Ripper" on the album's six-minute-plus closing epic "Mad Man," a tale of an unnamed, night stalking evil who can only be beaten by faith in the Lord. Hmmm, could it beeeee.... Satan? (haha)
To sum it up, Obsessions is a classy slab of heavy, melodic "you better turn or you're gonna burn" metal that still sounds pretty damn (sorry) good all these years later. Retroactive's reissue is a great package all around and I'm very pleased to finally have the album in my collection!
Beatin' the bootleg!
I was especially glad to learn that Obsessions was being reissued, because it has always been the hardest Sacred Warrior title to find on the second-hand market. Over the years I had managed to track down CD copies of S.W.'s other three studio albums, but Obsessions always managed to elude my grasp. About ten years ago I got suckered into buying a crappy, bootleg CD-R version that was advertised as a "NEW IMPORT REISSUE," which obviously taught me a valuable lesson about buying from unknown online vendors. Don't get me wrong, I was glad to finally have the album on CD, but knowing that I'd fallen for a rip-off artist bugged me for years afterward.
The differences between the bootleg I owned (on the non-existent "ERMI Music" label) and the legit Retroactive version are quite obvious in the photos below. First and most importantly, of course, the Retroactive version is an actual factory pressed CD, not a CD-R. The graphics and packaging are also much better on the Retroactive version, as is the sound quality. Retroactive's reissue was completely remastered by J. Powell, and the CD booklet contains full credits and lyrics to all the songs, plus a brief essay from Heaven's Metal magazine columnist Jonathan Swank and comments from guitarist John Johnson about his experiences while making the album. Obviously this is a vast improvement over the bootleg, which sounded like mud, had no lyrics or credits included, and looked like it had been printed on a cheap color copier!
Whatever Happened To Sacred Warrior?
The music scene was changing by the time Obsessions was released in 1991, and Sacred Warrior's traditional metal style was falling from popular favor. Obsessions would be their last release for almost a decade. An early '00s reunion of the classic lineup resulted in a live album taped at the 2001 Cornerstone Festival, but then Sacred Warrior fell silent again until 2013, when they released the studio album Waiting in Darkness, with new vocalist Eli Prinsen.
As of this writing, original vocalist Rey Parra is back in the Sacred Warrior fold. New material has slowly trickled out over the past few years in the form of two digital singles, "Slave" and "Blood River." Hopefully the reissues of their classic catalog will give the band enough of a push to complete an all new studio album!
© 2019 Keith Abt