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‘A Vision of Misery’ By Sadus Turns 25

sadus a vision of misery

If The Black Album broke thrash metal in 1991, than 1992 felt no shame in parading its remains. Once mighty genre titans produced radio friendly material in the form of Countdown to Extinction and The Ritual, two particularly limp statements against the horror of Tomb of the Mutilated or Legion. Vulgar Display of Power, the most popular metal album of the year, appealed more to gym rats than those ensconced in metal history, and across the pond, Burzum and A Blaze in the Northern Sky summoned the tenebrous air of a frightening children’s story looking to devour its audience. Thrash became synonymous with the past for a metal audience craving extremes but along with bands like Anacrusis and Coroner, Sadus didn’t conveniently fit into the larger trends of metal. Instead, A Vision of Misery, which turns 25 today, made no compromises for its environment, and stands as a timeless — but often overlooked — metal accomplishment.

Steve Di Giorgio: That’s pretty much been the stigma of Sadus’ entire career. We are said to have been some pioneers in extreme playing, even to have been credited with part of the beginnings of black metal, technical death metal and second wave of thrash. But when we were working at it in those days some people thought we were ahead of our time, and then at some point we became this throw-back thrash band that got always lost in the pile of death metal. No one knew how to label us or where to put us. We just never got that break that helped us develop any continuity. Not for lack of opportunities though, being put on tour with Obituary, Sepultura, Morbid Angel and shows with Dark Angel and Death we definitely had chances to make a bigger splash. It just wasn’t meant to happen.

I first heard Sadus on Roadrunner’s 1990 compilation, At Death’s Door. Surrounded by classic tracks from Sepultura, Deicide, and Death, “Last Abide” distinctly stands out from its death metal neighbors. The track, taken from their Roadrunner debut Swallowed in Black, channeled the spirit of classic thrash bands like Nuclear Assault and Kreator, but performed it with the speed and complexity of a 33 RPM record set to 45. Vocalist Darren Travis opted for a high-pitch scream over a cookie monster growl that rivaled John Connelly or a significantly more menacing Bon Scott. Bassist Steve Di Giorgio danced within the riffs like a demented Jaco Pastorius, and drummer Jon Allen performed with the frenzied fluidity of Keith Moon on speed. “Last Abide” felt both superhuman and organic, and seemed glued together by mania and order, but unfortunately the entirety of Swallowed in Black does not hold up to the same level of scrutiny. Despite some memorable tracks and impressive riffs, the album suffers from one-dimensional songwriting.

From the initial seconds of “Through the Eyes of Greed,” it is evident that Sadus underwent significant compositional maturation for A Vision of Misery.

Di Giorgio: I would say it was our most quickly composed album. We didn’t have the time of developing older demo songs, they were all new ideas and came at a time when there was a lot going on otherwise. We finished the touring cycle for Swallowed In Black (1990) in June/July of 91, and prior to that I was in Florida recording with Death. We got to the song writing soon after the tour. But I had a minor surgery in this time that took me out of rehearsing with the band for a little while, although I used the time to form some of my own compositions. Shortly after recovering from surgery I went to record with Autopsy around the end of the year (1991). Right after the turn of the year, early 1992, we were in the studio in California with Bill Metoyer recording these songs that would be A Vision Of Misery…The writing was a little more evenly spread too as Darren wrote four, me three and Rob two songs each. So without one person having a huge work load, I think it was able to come together quicker than other Sadus records.

The opening riff catapults the listener into a descending roller coaster of instant shred and unquestionable headbang, obliterating any thoughts previous to its arrival. Darren Travis enters and his vocals have taken on a lower register than Swallowed In Black. Rather than a conscious effort, his throat sounds seasoned from an extensive live regimen, generating a more gruff and rounded delivery. While his vocal delivery impeccably matches the music, his register tends to incite love or hate, but is ultimately as unique as their product.

Di Giorgio: We had come out of our “world decay” phase with Swallowed and were writing more about fictional and history based epic story type lyrics, along with a little more personal experience type lyrics…Lyrically for me “Under The Knife” had obvious experiences integrated from my hospital visit during this time. And I also concluded the trilogy of an idea that ran across the first 3 albums. Beginning with the song “Illusions”, then “Images” and finally an idea for a song simply called “Visions” (which stayed as part of the title idea) that was scrapped and some of the lyrics ended up as the foundation for “Echoes of Forever”.

Di Giorgio quickly makes his presence known with one of the greatest recorded metal bass tones, which lies somewhere between an electric rubber band and an obscure 80s synthesizer. Its punch and clarity cuts through the guitars and lifts great bass runs on “Machines”, ”Slave to Misery”, ”Facelift”, and “Deceptive Perceptions” from obscurity. Along with Roger Patterson and Tony Choy, Di Giorgio propelled the instrument above its general role as a placeholder in death and thrash metal, and few dispute his status as one of the greatest extreme metal bassists. The final track, “Echoes of Forever,” features a wicked bass solo that eschews genre altogether, a possible foreshadow for his legendary leads that carry out “The Philosopher” on Death’s Individual Thought Patterns the following year.

Di Giorgio: I was still using the Rickenbacker bass that was my identity sound, but we integrated the fretless in on some songs and working to make it sound really good in a good studio helped me to bring it out a year later to record Individual Thought Patterns. And even with previously mentioned Autopsy & a few songs on Visions; Individual Thought Patterns was the album that not only put me on the map, but is the iconic spawning of the first time anyone heard fretless bass in metal […]Working against what people consider comfortably normal, and swimming against the musical current from a young age has helped me stay out of the shadows as a bassist and as so many always still strive to keep it there. Fuck them.

Throughout the album, Di Giorgio’s proficiency also allowed Sadus to extensively develop dual bass and guitar runs on particularly technical riffs that sound more like classic prog on amphetamines than metal. Many modern tech-death bands, like Origin, employ this technique but the results often sound muddy and incoherent. On tracks like “Through the Eyes of Greed”, “Valley of Dry Bones”, and “Facelift”, these breaks lend a level of musical prowess that rival The Mahavishnu Orchestra.

Di Giorgio: I think as always we all had our individual influences that provided self-inspiration. As experienced musicians at this point in early 1992 I think working with professional bands like Obituary and Sepultura and Hexx… Ideas that translated into the Sadus world influenced how we organized and conducted some procedures. But sound wise, I think we had our own sound that we were working on developing and evolving deep in our secret lab of brutality.

With its vastly superior production over Swallowed In Black, A Vision of Misery showcases the passion and immediacy of Jon Allen behind the kit. At a time when most drummers began to mimic typewriters, Allen bestows character. Many regard speed as the true test of a metal drummer, and Allen can thrash along with the best, but he locks in unconditionally with his bandmates like childhood friends. Rather than assault the music with a steady diet of clamor, he fits in perfectly with the riff, knowing when and where to perform. Only one potential blast beat graces the album during “Valley of Dry Bones,” but his interpretation morphs its brief use into more of a jazz fill.

Di Giorgio: (Producer) Bill Metoyer was not only an easy going guy that made some of our out-of-the-norm ideas becomes real, but was also a great teacher. I was curious and excited to learn the console controls and run the tape machine, and he was a calm mentor to me. And this also helped the recording process as I was running the studio for some of the guitar recording. Being involved us three guys (me, Darren & Rob) in writing, the language of the riffs was easy to navigate without explaining to someone new to the complexities of hyper-speed fretboard gymnastics. And obviously sitting there next to Bill during the mix helped me appreciate how to listen to the whole spectrum when I was used to just focusing on my instrument like most do.

Production and performance aside, the genius of A Vision of Misery boils down to the riffs. The quartet spits them out at a reckless pace, whittling them as needed to bridge ideas, and the solos have a peak Andreas Kisser balance of meaning and memorability. Complex metal riffing is not revelatory, but Sadus knew how to write a finalized, technical piece of metal. They had an uncanny sense of when riffs should change and when songs should deviate, and those elements to a creative peak in 1992.

Di Giorgio: It was the first time we experimented with synthesizer, and that lead to really building up that instrument to a bigger and bigger role for the albums that followed it. It was more experimental in the guitar tones as well, they were using more than one channel on their amps for rhythm/lead/clean tones – which also lead to a major change in future albums. And even though I had been playing it previously in jazz/fusion and recorded it with Autopsy on their EP, it was one of the recordings that brought a fretless bass in metal for the first time.

Thrash once ruled as the fastest, most extreme form of metal before death and black metal supplanted the style, and A Vision of Misery straddled that transition. Since then, metal and its many branches has increased its level of brutality and technicality, but its overall songwriting has not bested the era that generated a myriad of classic albums. There are many scenarios that could have potentially propelled the album to greater accolade, but perhaps it sits perfectly as an unassuming masterpiece that didn’t look to its environment for approval.

Steve Di Giorgio: That album came out at a time when our record company was saturated with underground metal bands, and our relationship with them deteriorated over disagreements. I think they put some minimal effort into promoting it, but like I said, their attention was being exhausted with other bands. So I agree in the sense that it was massively overlooked by those in position to help us build more of a fan base and sell more ‘units’ as they called ‘em. But for the awesome cult level, under-the-radar following that has always been there for us and supported us all along… to them it’s a type of thrash masterpiece. We’ve always appreciated the closeness with these metalheads and they’ve kept us going despite this and all our albums being overlooked.

Aaron Maltz: What would you change on the album, if anything, and do you have a favorite song in particular?

Di Giorgio: I don’t think I would change anything, maybe add a few “choruses” which is pretty much an inside joke. But favorite song? It’d be easy to say they’re all cool. But I’ll pick “Echoes” because of the intricate lyrics that I had the task to first make sense and then to convey to Darren how they should be sung in an extreme metal context. And that song as well for the bass taking a lot of lead roles in technical thrash metal.

-Aaron Maltz

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