Released: 2017, Relapse Records
Reviewer: Aaron Yurkiewicz
It was sometime in early ’94 when I received a Columbia Records cassette sampler in the mail showcasing tunes from the heavier side of their roster. I don’t remember much of who else was featured on that sampler, but the lead track on side one was a song from a band I’d never heard before, “Brother Blue Steel” by The Obsessed. It sounded like Lemmy and VOL. 4 had a baby and named it Wino; I’d never heard anything quite like it before and it blew my mind. It was heavy like Sabbath, soulful like the most haggard of blues journeymen, dosed with some D.C. punk rock sneer, and capped with some of the most incredible guitar work that my adolescent brain had ever been exposed to. No exaggeration, that happenstance introduction to Wino and The Obsessed changed my life. I quickly sought after copies of anything of theirs I could find, and in the process stumbled my way into Saint Vitus, Trouble, Pentagram, and countless others along the way.
If this one fanboy’s story were an isolated incident, it’d be one thing, but stories like this are pretty run of the mill with fans of the band. In the 20-some years since THE CHURCH WITHIN, Wino has kept himself busy stewarding or participating in a slew of other projects, consciously opting to push forward creatively and not take the easier path of retreating to The Obsessed (save for a handful of live shows). A new record as The Obsessed would require the right songs and the right players, and would be burdened with a tremendous set of expectations. All of which found itself to be true when Wino announced the official return of The Obsessed last spring, and a brand new record, SACRED.
Opening with the booming crunch of “Sodden Jackal”, any concern that may have surrounded SACRED is quickly dismissed. Despite being one of the oldest tunes in the band’s catalogue, it never found a home on the original studio albums, so giving it the responsibility of kickstarting the next chapter of The Obsessed is a comforting nod to the faithful. But Wino’s never been content to linger in the past, and it’s the new material across SACRED that should get audiences excited. Choosing “Punk Crusher” as a single was a wise choice; the matter of fact riffs roar like a Harley barreling down an open highway, and it’s a readily singable, catchy tune. “Razor Wire” and “Be the Night” summon the spirit of DC punk and match it with a pocket full of groove, but as expected, it’s the murky, sulking stuff that hits the hardest. The title track swoons in epic fashion, and “My Daughter My Son” laments with painful, trudging declarations. But “Stranger Things” is a highlight on an album full of highlights. Tucked comfortably in the middle of the disc, it’s an unassuming track that builds slowly into a huge, anthemic chorus that tugs at your soul.
New alumni Dave Sherman and Brian Constantino round out the lineup as a monster rhythm section, and Wino sounds like he’s exorcising some of his personal demons across the album. His voice still sounds as leathery and pronounced as it did 20 years ago and his guitar playing is still otherworldly. The bonus track “On So Long” is a 9-minute bluesy, prog jam that lets the trio explore some breathing room, and demonstrates how tight they are as a band outside of the typical metal setting. And that’s kind of always been the appeal of The Obsessed. Doesn’t matter who’s in the band at the moment, doesn’t matter what decade it is, a record from The Obsessed is a going to be a real musical experience and there’s nothing else that’ll sound quite like it. SACRED is no exception; it’s right on the money and sounds like everything you'd hope for from The Obsessed - two decades removed and frozen in time. To quote an aging Han Solo, “we’re home.”