Interview with guitarist and vocalist Rob Urbinati
Interview conducted by Luxi Lahtinen
Date online: February 11, 2021
Canadian thrashers Sacrifice, formed in Toronto in 1983, were one of the most respected and largely known bands coming from the country that had its own strong and fertile Speed/Thrash Metal scene back in the eighties–such names as Razor, Voivod, Exciter, Infernäl Mäjesty, Annihilator, Slaughter, Lethal Presence, Cremains, etc. being only a few names mentioned out of this wild and relentless bunch who made their home country proud of among metalheads worldwide.
Torment in Fire, the band's debut album, originally released on Diabolic Force in January 1986, was a huge thing for the band to get the ball rolling, especially when some golden gig opportunities presented themselves. In November 1985, they opened for Corrosion of Conformity and D.R.I., which surely helped grow the band's fanbase rapidly.
The band's follow-up album, Forward to Termination, released in October 1987, was another immediate success, enabling the band to play many great gigs in Canada and the U.S.A. alongside such bands as Death Angel, Savage Steel, Sudden Impact, Nuclear Assault, Whiplash, Devastation, Motörhead and so forth. They played a good number of gigs between 1987 and 1989 while preparing their third album, Soldiers of Misfortune, which was originally released on Fringe Product in 1990. That album continued the band's success story, bringing them on the road again through Canada and the U.S.A., allowing them to share stages with Dyoxen, Malhavoc, Bolt Thrower, Believer, etc. Meanwhile, preparations for the band's fourth full-length studio album, Apocalypse Inside, had already started.
In 1993, it was time to unleash Apocalypse Inside and this time the label behind the release was Metal Blade Records, which had already become a major player in the Heavy Metal music business. That album got some very good reviews again and eventually put them on the U.S. tour to support Death and Gorefest. The tour was a huge success for these Canadian thrashers but despite that, the winds behind their sails had already started getting weaker. Thrash Metal was being displaced by a newer and heavier subgenre of Metal - Death Metal, which affected many Thrash Metal bands in a very negative way, resulting in many bands either changing their style to something else or just vanishing from the scene for good. These Toronto-based thrashers chose the latter option, which was a true pity because they already were a high-profile band that had achieved a lot and could very well have achieved even more.
To many people's surprise, in 2006 it was announced that Sacrifice was back and that naturally made many fans very happy and excited. The band had signed to a Brazilian label, Marquee Records, who released the band's highly-anticipated comeback album, The Ones I Condemn, in July 2009. The band delivered their goods greatly and with pride on that record, managing to sound like they never quit in the very first place and churning out their well-recognizable and distinctive sounding Thrash. Again, the band got some cool gig opportunities. They played twice at True Thrash Fest in Japan (in 2012 and 2018), at Maryland Death Fest in Baltimore, U.S.A. (2014), at Manitoba Metalfest in Winnipeg, Canada (2015), and so on. The band was at the top of their game once again, and the fans were more than happy with the band's new coming.
What happened next, years just passed by without any news from the band's side as far as new material is concerned. Many became suspicious that The Ones I Condemn was the band's swan song. Well, fear not because there's still some visible bubbling to be seen under the surface as far new Sacrifice material is concerned.
It's February 8, 2021, as I am writing this and the band's original vocalist and guitarist, Rob Urbinati, was more than willing to share some news from the Sacrifice camp regarding the band's new material, future plans, etc. Read on...
So, how's life in Toronto, Canada, these days? Obviously pretty tough and weird as everywhere else in the world due to this virus shit, eh?
Rob: Yes, I guess not too different from a lot of the world. Currently we are under a lockdown in Toronto, as our hospital ICUs are filling up and putting a strain on our healthcare system. Much like Finland, we also have a long winter and combined with this pandemic it is mentally tough to deal with. Canada doesn't seem to be getting vaccines we were promised by manufacturers, and it's starting to seem like it will be a long time before it is available to the general population.
How has it been for you personally to cope with all of these restrictions that you undoubtedly have there in Toronto as well?
Rob: I stay home a lot, so not much has changed for me. As time goes on, it is becoming more difficult to cope with, though. I think it's a pretty common thing worldwide right now. Things would be so much easier if everyone followed the guidelines and took this seriously. The whole "anti-mask" thing is so ridiculous, and to think that so many people fall for disinformation on social media is eye opening. In North America, it's become very clear that a larger percentage of the population than I thought is very gullible to blatant stupidity.
35 YEARS OF TORMENT IN FIRE
OK, as for some uplifting news, it's actually pretty amazing that it's been 35 long years since Sacrifice released your debut album, Torment in Fire, in January 1986. Can you still recall how it was to enter the Futuresound studio in Toronto and get the album recorded? Were you guys nervous or anything, knowing you had just made a record deal with Diabolic Force?
Rob: We were very young at the time, around 18 years old. Nervous and excited at the same time. The studio was actually in the basement of someone's house. The engineer didn't really have much of an idea of what we were doing, that was common back then. Our equipment was mostly borrowed or rented, none of our families were well off, but we definitely made up for it with the passion we had for making this music.
How proud are you still of your debut, some 35 years later? Do you think that album was a good representation of those times when Thrash Metal was the thing that many labels - even the bigger ones - couldn't ignore and wanted to sign many bands from this particular genre?
Rob: I think it represents that time well. As you know, most bands' debut albums then were very unpolished, raw, lacking in production values. We were all still learning our instruments while writing and recording these albums. There are mistakes, bad timing, etc., but in some way that added to the rawness of the early thrash releases. Looking back, it was crazy that we were recording our first album right when we finished high school. Thirty-five years later, some people still love that album, some think it's our worst, but yes, I am proud of how we managed to get it released at such a young age.
Many of the songs that you recorded for your debut became permanent numbers of Sacrifice's live set list, even during the band's later years. Songs like "Turn in Your Grave", "Burned at the Stake", "Necronomicon" and so on, became some of the immortal Sacrifice classics that the fans wanted to hear every time you played live, so I guess that alone proves that you guys created something very special on your debut, right?
Rob: I know some bands don't enjoy playing their older material. As a fan, that does disappoint me. We don't want to do that. Sacrifice will always keep classics in the set. One of my favourite songs to play live is "Burned at the Stake". That album is pretty special to a lot of people, we won't disappoint them.
GETTING A CHANCE TO SHARE STAGES WITH YOUR IDOLS
How was the touring life back in those days, in 1986? You guys were, of course, 35 years younger back then and got a boatful of incredible gig opportunities to share stages with such names as C.o.C., King Diamond, Megadeth, Slayer, Dr. Know, D.R.I., and many more. Would you say that you were kind of living your best times in 1986 when you were touring for your debut album?
Rob: Playing with those bands was special to us. It happened so fast, all of a sudden we were playing shows with our idols. It was exciting and difficult at the same time. Driving around with six people and all your equipment in a van isn't easy, but we were kids and didn't care. We wanted to play everywhere and anywhere that would let us. It wasn't all that easy to get shows either. No touring infrastructure had been established yet for this kind of music, it was so new. Mostly we did mini tours of a few shows at a time.
Can you perhaps remember whether there was one special show from 1986 that has stuck your mind better than some other?
Rob: I can't remember what year it was exactly, but playing the "No Speed Limit" festival in Montreal was crazy. That was our first big show. Seeing the curtains open and people from the front of the stage right to the back with their fists in the air was pretty amazing. You don't forget that feeling.
NEW MATERIAL IN THE WORKS
Alright, let's jump back to the current times. Some confusing news is that some sources have said that you guys have been working on a new 5-track EP and other sources say that it's your next full-length album that you have been working on? I mean, there have been two kinds of rumors/speculations on the Internet about this, so could you clarify this part once and for all?
Rob: I'd love to clarify for you Luxi, but the truth is we aren't sure yet. The pandemic has really held us back. Right now, my best guess is that it will be a 6-song mini-album/EP. We haven't been able to get in to rehearse very much, and although we are keeping sharp at home, it's not the same as being in the same room. We aren't the kind of band that would rely on computer editing to tighten up our performance. If it doesn't sound like humans are playing it, there is no point. Once the virus is more under control, I think things will move along pretty quickly.
At the beginning of January 2021 you shared a demo song on YouTube, titled "World War V", which sounds very promising and is a clear continuation of the band's comeback album, The Ones I Condemn. Does this song represent the new material that you have in the works?
Rob: That song is pretty much the style we're going for. It's a rough demo, so the sound isn't the best and we all recorded remotely but the response has been positive. We didn't want to release our best stuff in a demo version, but this is fairly representative of our new stuff.
"World War V"? Hmm... what's the song lyrically about and why on earth did you skip both World Wars III and IV? ;o)
Rob: The V isn't 5, it's V for virus. I wrote it around the first few months of the pandemic. Lyrically it deals with stupid virus deniers. Certain governments that have downplayed the crisis presented it as a hoax and the cult followers who believe the ridiculous propaganda.
The Ones I Condemn, which was the band's much-talked comeback album, lived up to expectations, so it's kind of a pity that it's taking this long to get new Sacrifice material out. So, I guess it's only appropriate to ask what happened in the Sacrifice camp? I am kind of sure that many fans expected to get some new material from you maybe 3-4 years after the release of The Ones I Condemn... Unfortunately, it was not meant to happen. It's been 12 long years, so undoubtedly there are some very profound reasons for this long gap between your previous album and next release, correct?
Rob: Sacrifice is not our full-time gig. We live all over North America, it's difficult for us to get things done. We are all in our 50s and have regular lives. I wish we had more time to devote to this, but the reality is we do not. Sacrifice still exists because we still love playing, but it is not something we can make a living off of.
If some circumstances in life had been a tad more optimal for every member in the band, I suppose this new Sacrifice release wouldn't have taken so long to get it out... well, all this is just pure speculation but still?
Rob: Yes, that is fairly accurate. Things come up in life where we might need to pause for a while.
We are curious but, hopefully, curiosity won't kill the cat this time. Are there other working titles off from this forthcoming release that you could reveal for the readers of The Metal Crypt?
Rob: I can give you a few working titles: "Comatose", "Missile", "Underneath Millennia", "Black Hashish".
I bet you have also had some negotiations underway about a possible label candidate for releasing the next opus... Any news on this?
Rob: Nothing that serious to be honest. Most of our label talk has been about back catalog. We aren't a touring band, and it is highly unlikely that we would sign with a bigger label unless the offer was that good.
The Ones I Condemn, was recorded at Rouge Valley Studio in Toronto. Do you believe you will use that studio again for the next album? Are you going to produce the album by yourself, or do you believe you will hire an outsider for that job?
Rob: I'm not sure if that studio exists anymore, but we would like to record with Darius Szepaniak as engineer again. He also kind of co-produced with me and I value his input. Besides, we are definitely not going to have the kind of budget for an outside producer who would just make us sound synthetic and boring anyway.
NEW SACRIFICE RELEASE IN THE FALL OF 2021?
When do you believe you might have this new Sacrifice release out? Are we looking at the end of the year perhaps?
Rob: That is what we are aiming for.
After this new opus is out and available for everyone, it's only natural to get some gigs booked to support its release. How optimistic or pessimistic are you as far as gigging concerned? Do you believe you might get some booked as soon as it's possible to play live again?
Rob: Right now, I think it's even optimistic to think that we will play in November. Time will tell. It's tough being a musician and not being able to get on stage.
What other expectations do you have for 2021 regarding the band's comings and goings? Staying optimistic is becoming tough for many people, but obviously, there's some light at the end of the tunnel now that people are getting vaccinated around the world, which gives people some amount of hope at least...
Rob: Right now, I don't have any expectations. Too much uncertainty. There is a faint light at the end of the tunnel, hopefully it becomes a bit more visible every day. I think the thing that is tough for everyone is that there isn't anything concrete to look forward to. We all just have to try and stay positive and know that the end of this is at least in sight.
Is there anything else you'd like to add to this conversation that people should know about Sacrifice's future plans?
Rob: I really wish I had some elaborate plans to tell you Luxi, but right now we're just hoping we can get back on a stage somewhere this year and get some songs recorded for everyone to hear.
I for one, would sincerely thank you Rob for taking your time with these questions, and in the very same breath, I would like to wish you all the best in your life, both within and outside of the band. Let those final comments be yours now, so spit them out if you have any in your mind...?
Rob: Thanks for taking the time to interview me, and I wish you all the best as well.
Keep fighting WWV and hold hope that the battle is almost over. It's been hard on everyone. Stay positive everyone.
|Other information about Sacrifice on this site|
|Review: Torment in Fire|
|Review: Forward to Termination|
|Review: Soldiers of Misfortune|
|Review: Apocalypse Inside|
|Review: The Ones I Condemn|
|Review: Live in 85|
|Interview with vocalist and guitarist Rob Urbinati on November 16, 2013 (Interviewed by Luxi Lahtinen)|
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