ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN THE GEORGIA STRAIGHT, FEB. 14, 1991
Of all the last-minute surprises to befall a young metal band, being called on to replace a monstrously popular act like Metallica must be one of the most daunting. But that’s the type of challenge Vancouver’s Sacred Blade took on, no questions asked, one night in Seattle.
“We thought we were gonna be the opening band when we went down there,” recalls singer/guitarist Jeff Ulmer. “But we showed up and they said, ‘Metallica’s cancelled, you guys are headlining.’ And the sign outside’s got ‘Canada’s Hottest Band’ on the marquee. So I’m like, ‘Gee, that’s nice to know.’
“And it was a really funny show, because the band that had originally been slotted to play after us came up with their music-store-sponsored touring bus, and they had 16 Marshall stacks and wireless systems and smoke and bombs and all the rest of it. And we got up there with our half-stacks and just played away.”
Like American metal kings Metallica, Sacred Blade is not your typical thrash act. Ulmer and his cohorts—guitarist Randy Robertson, vocalist/bassist James Channing, and drummer Ted Zawadzki—deliver intricate and involved arrangements that demand considerable technical expertise. The title track of the band’s upcoming release, The Seven Moonz of Xercez, is comprised of 17 subsections, integrating material written as early as the fall of 1982.
“It’s an epic epic,” says Ulmer. “Each subsection contains at least two or three different musical sections. Actually, most of them started out as individual songs to begin with, and they got edited down to bare bones and put together as the title track.”
Ulmer has been at the centre of Sacred Blade’s innovative metal mission since its first demo was released in 1982, and has seen the band win much acclaim, particularly in Europe. In ’85, Britain’s metal bible Kerrang! named the band’s tape of that year among the top 10 metal demos of all time.
Sacred Blade’s debut album, Of the Sun & Moon, was released in ’86 on France’s Black Dragon label and garnered rave reviews in European metal mags such as Germany’s Rock Hard, England’s Metal Forces, and France’s Enfer. The band has opened for such acts as Saxon, Exciter, Exodus, Raven, and Sanctuary, and is currently negotiating for the release of the heavily sci-fi influenced Xercez, which Ulmer produced himself at New Westminster’s Fiasco Brothers studio.
“We had thought about using an outside producer,” he says, “but we didn’t want to end up sounding like somebody else, and the only way to truly make sure that you’re not going to is to do it yourself.
“And basically we’re a do-it-yourself kinda band. I do the Moonwatch Commandscript [the band’s computer-generated fanzine] myself, and I do our album cover artwork, and we write all our own songs. We try to keep it as in-house as possible.”
While Sacred Blade is definitely its own band, a perusal of the members’ musical preferences in the latest issue of Moonwatch Commandscript shows that they’ve got plenty of influences, and that a good portion of them are ’70s rockers. (The last CD Ulmer purchased was Thin Lizzy’s classic Jailbreak, originally released in 1976.)
“Well, this band has been together now since ’79,” says Ulmer, “so a lot of the stuff that was going on prior to that would have been influencing us in our earlier years. I mean, I still like bands like the Scorpions, and Rush is a big influence.”
While countless bands have not had what it takes to keep afloat in today’s competitive and financially trying music world, 25-year-old Ulmer deserves a lot of credit for keeping his lofty aims in sight through the rough times.
“We’ve worked with this for a long time, and we’ve always gone under the basis that we want to be an arena rock band. So we do our production that way. We’re working our way up there, and the progress has been quite good so far.”
Vancouver metal fans with a taste for diverse arrangements can experience Sacred Blade’s 1991 sound when the band plays 86 Street this Wednesday (February 20). Ulmer himself is somewhat curious as to how the band will go over with local head-bangers.
“We’ve been out of touch for a little while, so it’ll be interesting to see just exactly what does happen. But the fans we’ve got are pretty dedicated. Most of our following is in Europe, of course, and the States. And it’s good having local support, but we never really counted on Canada as a major marketplace for our stuff to begin with, just because, you know…it isn’t.”