1987 March 4 – KERRANG! 140

On a budget of just £10 (!) SABBAT have produced a “simply brilliant” three-track demo titled “Fragments of a Faith Forgotten”. PAUL MILLER sings the praises of this unsigned Nottingham Black Metal quartet and proclaims ’em to be “the most exciting UK act to hit these pages in a long, long time”.

In his relatively short time in Kerrangsville, Don Kaye has proven himself to be the Derek Oliver of Thrash, such is his depth of knowledge and Bushellesque suss in all things Metal.

But, most importantly, he has revealed the uncanny ability to reach into a pile of hopeful demos and pluck a truly excellent band from the depths of obscurity. And never has his talent been more eloquently displayed than back in issue 135 of this very mag when, from across the pond, he selected Nottingham quartet Sabbat for a prominent window display in his eminently readable Deathvine column.

Y’see, I firmly believe, in terms of the heavier end of the spectrum at least, that Sabbat are the most exciting UK Metal act to hit these pages in a long, long time. And I’m not the only one with that view either. Geoff Barton, head honcho of this parish, considers the pretty hot property, and Germany’s Noise Records – home for the likes of Celtic Frost and Voivod – are already showing an interest in the band, even to the extent of hauling ass to our shores in order to check ’em out in a live situation.

So, just who the hell are Sabbat anyhow?

Sabbat (NOTHING whatsoever to do with Black Sabbath) are a very young (average age 19) Black Metal wholesome foursome from the Nottingham area who’ve been together for a little over one-and-a-half years. The band – Martin Walkyier (vocals), Andy Sneap (guitar), Frazer Craske (bass) and Simon Negus (drums) – have thus far produced just one demo, the simply brilliant “Fragments of a Faith Forgotten”, which totally belies the fact that it was laid down on a four track recorder on a budget of just £10!

The demo features three prime doses of complex (almost Mercyful Fatesque in their composition) Speed Metal. “A Cautionary Tale” and “Hosanna in Excelsis” constitute Side One, but it’s “For Those Who Died” on t’other side that really sets the hairs tingling on my spine. Long, drawn out Metallic passages are the name of Sabbat’s game, as the rhyme almost turn themselves inside out and Martin adds what are positively the most convincingly evil sounding vocals I’ve yet to hear. It’s that truly unique touch that makes the band so special in my book.

When I arranged to meet Sabbat at Victoria Coach Station (the trappings of success have yet to come to this band!) the image that I had of them in my mind (and, indeed, their promo pics where they look like Venom circa “Welcome to Hell”) was far from how the actual band looked. Indeed, I even walked pass them once, such was their total dissimilarity to my preconceptions.

Far from being a bunch of worldly, loud-mouthed, self-opinionated egoists, Sabbat couldn’t have been quieter and less assuming. Most of the band had never travelled as far south as London before and even getting on a tube train was a real adventure for them. At times, showing them the sights of London (y’know, the Marquee, Shades, the Virgin Megastore and Forbidden Planet), I felt like a school teacher herding and ushering his pupils, such was their open-mouthed wonder.

When we finally settled in a small café in backstreet Soho and switched on the tape over plates sausage’n’chips (no Music For Nations expense accounts for these boyz) I discovered that the band were a very sound, intelligent and exceptionally likeable bunch. We chatted at great length over a wide variety of subjects; how Nottingham is a haven for Glam bands, the sad decline of Midlands Satanic mob Hell (who were close of, and the main inspiration for, Sabbat), how so few people recognised Metallica’s James Hetfield when he walked into a Nottingham nightclub one evening, and lots more besides.

But I think what impressed me most about the band was their enthusiasm, naivete, grandiose ideas, fresh-faced honesty and, above all, the fact that they constantly contradicted each other and disagreed over band policy – a true indication that something a little special is going on in the Glam-infested wasteland of Nottingham.

“We’re not over-the-top Satanic,” bassist Frazer is keen to tell me when we finally get to the nitty-gritty and I start the ritual probing for influences. “We’re not Satanists. It’s more theatrical. We’re interested in religion and philosophy and it follows that we write tracks about things like that.”

“Songs about the Devil are only 10% of our material,” agrees Martin who, along with Frazer, writes the lyrics and devises the band’s image. “For instance we’ve got a track called ‘Stranger Than Fiction’ which is about the mess that everybody’s made of the world.”

That said, the band’s image is still very much on to the occult/Satanic side of things and, as that’s not where my interest lies, my ability to test out just how knowledgeable the band truly are in this area is severely limited. However, it has crossed my mind to inquire just how vulnerable they’d be if it were Dave Dickson (that well-known consumer of all manner of literature who has cruelly cut chunks out of both Venom and King Diamond in his time) eating sausage’n’chips instead of me.

“We like to know a bit before we go on about it,” Frazer assures me. “There’s too many people out there going ‘Aleister Crowley’ and not knowing who the f**k he was.

“We’re not experts or anything but we’ve read enough to defend ourselves,” Martin reckons.

“Me ‘n’ ‘im went to see Billy Graham (an extremely dangerous American who makes his living spreading the word of God) of our own free will,” Frazer tells me. “We could’ve become Christians, y’know.”

“I went with an open mind,” Martin continues on this subject, “but what put me off was all those millions of people watching him and he’s standing there with a massive stage-show and loads of money. If that is what his religion’s about, then I don’t want anything to do about it. It was really centred on money.”

“Religion in itself is alright”, Frazer opines, “it’s just the way it gets corrupted.”

‘This tape is dedicated to all who have died at the hands of the Christian church, by war and inquisition…they shall be avenged’, runs the spiel on the inlay card of Sabbat’s demo. That, according to Martin, “stems from before we started off, long before the music ever came about, reading books on the witch-hunts. The things I read I just thought, ‘Oh, that’s disgusting’!” (And anyone who’s read Arthur Miller’s ‘The Crucible’ will have an inkling of what he’s on about.)

“Being in a band that thinks like this, you get all the hassle off of people,” he continues.

“You realise those people are so narrow-minded. I’ve got nothing against them; I let them do what they want to do and have their opinions. But if we try say, ‘You might be a little bit wrong there’ or, ‘Why don’t you look at it from our point of view?’…
BLASPHEMERS! They write letters into papers saying this band should be stopped.”
Like Venom, Hell and Mercyful Fate before them, Sabbat have taken their occult/Satanic interest and woven it into an intricate stageshow which their biography colourfully describes as ‘a gathering of witches and evil doers for the express purpose of harming righteous Christian souls’. Although the lack of suitably large venues in Sabbat’s neck of the woods that can accommodate their ideas (not to mention the fact that venues keeps banning them!) has curtailed much of their gigging opportunities, Sabbat have managed a few shows in the Nottingham and Midlands area. Their pinnacle of achievement, at least stage-wise,
was before some 600 rabid Metal fans at Zhivagos night club in Nottingham alongside Deuce, Thunderchild, boogie merchants Engine and headliners Hell.

Their stageshow, dubbed a ‘Satanic Opera’ by the band, features a variety of effects and props. Apart from the usual run-of-the-mill dry ice and flashbombs, they utilise swords, battleaxes and even a shield that explodes!

“Some of the tracks are written like plays with different characters in them,” explains Martin, “and a lot of things we do involve acting out the parts of characters.”

The band are also full of ideas of ways to expand their stageshow, currently truncated by space and severe lack of funds. They profess to be lovers of the old Alice Cooper and Kiss shows and would dearly like that sort of backing (and who wouldn’t!) in order to fulfil a few of their more grandiose plans.

“My idea of an ideal stageshow would be one you went to and didn’t realise a band was playing at all,” says Martin, his voice burning with a passion that’s truly spellbinding. “They did a production of ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ on TV and they had people dressed up as trees and you couldn’t tell they were people. They were a human backdrop and I thought if you put a band in a set like that, with no amps at all, an electronic drum kit built into it and a real over the top stage play…” he trails off, eyes ablaze with excitement. Rather like a five-year-old who’s just been given a quid to buy some sweets.

“The way I saw it,” says Simon, “was to do an album on a theme – our songs are like themes and stories – create a story and take that story on the road: the scenery and everything, just like a play.”

“I don’t agree with it going so far as not being able to see the band,” Andy puts in.

“We’ll be providing the music,” Martin clarifies, “but there could be acting going on around us.”

Obviously the idea of such a lavish stageshow is hardly a new one, but having the band play the second fiddle to an imaginative stage-play is taking the theatrical rock heritage of Pink Floyd, Hawkwind, Kiss et al to its logical conclusion. Sabbat, too, are determined that they will not be governed by a stage show or allow an elaborate set to erode into their musical progression. Nor are they afraid of dramatically scaling down their plans – or indeed dropping them altogether – in order to accommodate lowly support tours, and be judged purely on their musical merits.

As Martin says, “We’ve got our ideas and we know what we want – but we’re adaptable.”

And, ladies and gentlemen, that adaptability may just turn out to be Sabbat’s greatest ally. Whilst the band certainly are full of excellent – and in some cases original – ideas, and know which direction they’re heading in, they are constantly re-assessing and changing many facets of their ideas. Even during the course of the afternoon I spent with the band it was clear that they were in a state of continual shift, each band member putting forward ideas that the others would modify, disagree with or approve of. The level of positive thinking and the air of almost naive confidence emanating from Sabbat was simply incredible.

And to think that, as these words are being typed, Sabbat have yet to secure a record deal is bordering on the incredulous. Music For Nations, easily the UK’s finest Metal label, have foolishly turned them down (“They just said our music dragged on a bit,” says Andy) and Roadrunner were similarly unimpressed. Only Noise Records have shown any degree of foresight and seem greatly interested in Sabbat.

Which, when you read so much about the reputed lack of British talent whilst listening to a moment or two of ‘Fragments of a Faith Forgotten’, is a truly sad indication of which way way record companies’ cheque books are pointed.