Sacred Blade – Of the Sun + Moon
1986, Black Dragon Records
Time has been galloping along at a remarkable pace. It seems like just yesterday that I was lamenting the last birthday of my 20s, and all of a sudden, bam – it’s big coat weather, and in a blur of bike rides, work and naps, it occurred to me that it had been weeks since I had managed to sit down and scribble. And so, armed with a mug of hot coffee, and a warm doggie on my feet, I felt it was about time I came through on my initial threat and wrote this, my first nod to the Great White North.
My infatuation with this album started with an obituary. An obscure obituary, on one of a number of obscure metal forums I keep an eye on, announcing the death of the frontman of an obscure Canadian band: Jeff ‘The Pilot’ Ulmer of Sacred Blade had suffered a stroke and sadly passed away. The post went almost unnoticed, but my interest was piqued, inspiring some detective work.
A quick search led me to a large amount of letter z’s where they ought not to be. I have come to love the grand USPM tradition of the misplaced k’s and x’s, and have even embraced the occasionally seen ‘xx’, but this was dreadfully off-putting, particularly when I realised that the trend continued through the entirety of the lyrics, reminding me of a nauseating time when evry1 thot it wz kewl 2 type lyk thiz.
And then I read a review – unlike the usual sycophantic fare that often accompanies ‘cult classics’ (yes, I appreciate that I am guilty of this), there was just this one – a very honest, factual discussion of the band and album, and almost solely on the basis of this, I sat, starry-eyed and listened to this pretty well perfect record. 10.5/10.
This is definitely a musician’s album – delightfully progressive, with long, indulgent instrumental sections, spectacular guitar solos, and a bassline with a mind of its own. Where contemporary vocals in this style are typified by soaring harmonies, screams and multi-layered melodies, Ulmer mostly sticks to a more comfortable register (and not because he can’t sing – this is amply evident in his Jon Oliva-esque delivery of Salem), with a nakedness to his voice that lends a beautiful and unusual edge to this album. Even when the occasional backing vocals are employed, they sound almost monastic, and I’ve often thought that the title track sounds a little like a song of worship.
The entire thing is gorgeous, but I particularly love side B –the simple yet stunning interplay between the bass and the clean guitar in The Enlightenment that runs into the chunky Master of the Sun never fails to set the pulse racing. And if there’s one song that sums up the transcendental experience that is this album, it is undoubtedly the humbly entitled closer, Moon. With is floaty refrain, luxuriant solos, and of course, the trance-like narrative, this is progressive music at its finest.
So how does this happen? How does a band so clearly poised on the edge of greatness fail to make that final leap? How does a record of this calibre remain largely unheard of? And how on earth does a genius like Jeff Ulmer go unacknowledged?
I suspect we are all part of the problem. I think of the times that I’ve chosen to stay in and nap over watching a local band, baulked at the price of a t-shirt, thought I’d wait for the LP to come out and then forgotten all about it, and I realise that I am as guilty as anyone for letting this happen. I hate to come over all ‘support the scene, man’, but it’s true, we really should. And for my part, I’m going to keep writing my little heart out, because if even one person reads this and buys a record, I’ve won.