Welcome to Autopsy on the Forgotten, a new column where I’ll be digging into long-forgotten graves and reviewing their contents (figuratively of course), from the 70s to the 2000s. If nobody heard of it, then it belongs here.
For the first edition of this new feature, I’m going to talk about Sardonyx and review their 1989 demo Sleepless Knights. So put those headphones on (or just turn your speaker up to an obnoxiously-high volume) and blast some old, poor-quality metal goodness.
Sardonyx was a speed metal band that hailed from Sheboygan, Wisconsin (which looks like a beautiful city from what I’ve seen). Formed most likely during the late 80s and disbanded during the early 90s, they were a short-lived band. But in their time they recorded a demo titled Sleepless Knights, which in words of band member Jason Bock, who wrote this in his personal blog a long time ago, it was a play on the sentence “Sleepless Nights.” Still, it fit the band’s Christian lyrics, as they saw themselves as “knights that never sleep against the forces of evil.”
So yes, Sardonyx was a Christian metal band, and this is clearly evidenced by their lyrics. They mostly talk about Christianity (duh), about God loving everyone and about fighting against darkness, or at least that’s what I could hear from their lyrics. While these are not too bad, it certainly feels a bit weird when in “End the Pain Today” they sing “End the pain today / His love is the way”; I don’t know about you, but it feels like they’re trying to sell me something. The lyrics are not that bad, but they’re quite basic and not too, umm, “poetic.” Let’s say they don’t try to conceal their intentions or meanings like other Christian metal acts manage to do, but I can’t blame them too much for it.
As we get into the music of this demo, there are some things we can say; the best way I can describe it is “average 80s speed metal.” Most riffs in these recordings are based around the usage of power chords and palm-muted alternate picking at rather high tempos. Some songs are somewhat slower, but they’re still played at mildly fast tempos, so the intensity of the release transmits from song to song equally. All the songs have some nice parts in them, and maybe one or two interesting riffs, I wouldn’t say any of the tracks is bad, but they’re one thing for sure: generic.
I like originality in music, people coming up with new, interesting, innovative stuff, and this release doesn’t bring anything new at all. Now, it’s easy to look back at this release over 30 years later and say this, but back then, this was pretty decent. There wasn’t an actual definition for “generic” metal since most would try to replicate what they heard from others in one way or another. Any metal was good metal since the only way to find out a new band was with a physical release you bought or heard somewhere, or going to a show. So it was hard to have a notion of what was overused and what was new and original.
Also, talking about originality, I can hear many different groups from back then in these songs – mainly Slayer and probably Helloween since these are the first bands that came to my mind while listening to this. These songs are not as heavy or messy as Slayer’s. They’re more on the fast but melodic, or “classy” heaviness, without recurring to chromatic scales, tuning down the guitar or playing techy riffs. But there’s a clear influence of these heavier bands in this music, to the point where they end up ripping off some riffs and ideas. Even Jason Bock mentions it in his blog when he says:
“Righteous Wrath, it’s kind of a plodding song. And there’s a section in the middle that’s such a ripoff of Slayer’s “Angel of Death” it’s not even funny.”
While it’s maybe not funny, it’s something acceptable for music from these years given all the things I’ve mentioned earlier. Apart from the guitars, there’s also a vocalist (yeah, they didn’t play instrumental music, in case you didn’t notice by now). The guy can sing decently, and he sometimes tries to do his best Rob Halford impersonation, going to the top of his lungs with what I believe is a falsetto voice, and sustaining notes with vibrato. Common stuff, you know. He doesn’t fail at delivering decent vocals, and he’s not a bad singer. Still, most of the songs are him basically spitting out verses about how Jesus is a badass who kicks demons’ asses and loves and protects us all (or at least that’s what I could make out of some of the lyrics, I didn’t even bother to read the booklet).
The bass is sometimes there, as in during the beginning of “End the Pain Today,” where it starts playing over the keyboards, but during the rest of the demo, it can barely be heard. I can’t say much about the drums. To be honest, I don’t care; they’re decent, they could probably be better, but they are there and do their job. At least the drummer doesn’t suck as much as other bands from that era that I’ve heard.
Overall, the demo is not too bad. While it is generic and somewhat uninteresting, it’s still enjoyable at times, and due to the obscurity of this release, it sort of an oddity to spend some minutes listening to, a minuscule footmark in the history of metal, a demo known to almost none and most probably forgotten by everyone. Sardonyx was a band that came and went unnoticed, buried in the memories of the few people who got to know it during its time. But before going out, they left behind something to be remembered for, maybe just for themselves, and maybe for me and for you now too.
Released on: 1989
It can’t be purchased anywhere online, AFAIK.