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Sarcofagus - Envoy of Death Award winner

Envoy of Death
by Chris Hicklin at 25 October 2021, 6:40 PM

Although the rise of Heavy Metal is traditionally associated with the UK, it wasn’t only in the UK the sound was developing.  SARCOFAGUS have the distinction of being considered the very first true Heavy Metal band to come out of Finland, and this 1980 offering represents their second full length release that year, and indeed their second overall. A high-concept album that recounts the story of six individuals facing existential trial and judgment by the eponymous "Envoy of Death," the album sees the band finding their feet in a burgeoning genre, and experimenting with the boundaries and conventions of that scene.

First and title track “Envoy of Death” serves to lay the foundations for the album to come, introducing us to the concept of the trial, describing six souls who have left the earthly plane, and now await their final fate at the hands of the Envoy. Beginning with a very dramatic organ and drum piece overlaid by unsettling Latin mutterings, the song eventually finds its way to what could be described as a bit of prototypical Heavy Metal with a sound that lands somewhere between mid 70s SABBATH and the Di’anno era of MAIDEN, but with a side helping of the sort of Psychedelia you would expect from HAWKWIND.

Each of the next six tracks devotes itself to one of the six souls as they recount their individual stories before the Envoy, each told from a first person perspective. The first of these “Deadly Game” kicks off with a very cool lead guitar part, played over tripped out organs, as a hard-nosed businessman relays the tale of his life and untimely death. The song has many different flavors to it and is packed with fantastic riffs, lots of early guitar shredding and great drum breaks.

Next up is “Wheels of Destruction” a far more reserved and somber affair as we hear the sad story of a family man who had everything and loved his life, until he was called up to fight for his country. Plied with promises that the killing and brutality would eventually lead to a better life for all, he laments that he was never to find out the truth or lie of this, as he never came home. It’s a slow reflective and mournful piece, with grinding dissonant guitars and spacey sound effects. “Insane Rebels” has more of a Rock and Roll influence as we have pieces in place that sound almost like a STATUS QUO boogie but lapsing into minor chord structures just when you think it’s about to get a bit too upbeat for its own good.  It is appropriate as the subject of the song is a transient Heavy Rock singer who lives life fast and free, until he is mercilessly and indiscriminately attacked by a gang of men, who beat him so savagely he eventually embraces death willingly to end the pain of the assault.

Die to Win” dives headfirst into Psychedelic Rock, containing lengthy atmospheric passages accentuated by wild guitar solos that provide the perfect accompaniment to the dark chronicle of a man who lives a life of violence and crime, eventually succumbing to his own nihilism by taking his own life in a final act of defiance. Eschewing the swirling mushroom-headed mania of previous tracks, “Stolen Salvation” is a more firmly traditional rocker, heavier and more straightforward. This has a wonderful descending riff, and great Marshall sound guitars, this is the most clearly Heavy Metal track on the album, and deals with the very Heavy Metal subject of an ancient pharaoh.

Incredibly everything to this point amounts to a mere 26 minutes of music, although the depth of composition and the thoroughly fascinating narrative leaves you feeling that you have spent much longer with these characters and sounds. It would be a very short album if not for the nine and a half minute closer “Black Contract” which begins with the apparent intention of being a proper song, as it commences with a doom-laden riff, before veering off into some almost funky riffing and soloing. It changes style and feel so often though that it is hard to really label it a song, more like a huge concoction of different ideas all thrown into a big pot, stirred around and then poured on the floor for the band to roll around in. Detailing the later life of a man who sells his soul to the devil to be free of cancer, and the legal battle fought between God and the Devil over his eternal soul, this track is completely crazy and a suitably eccentric way to end what is one of the strangest albums I have ever heard. Fittingly the fate of the six defendants is never revealed to us, as the narrative draws to a close with the Envoy withdrawing to consider his verdicts, but closure would not have suited this work.

I very much enjoyed this album. It really is something special, a bizarre fossil of a different time in music, which stretches itself and the genre of early Heavy Metal to the limits. The performances are all superb, and the head spinning array of effects and experimental sounds imbue the whole affair with an intoxicating and ghostly atmosphere. An explosion of creativity, it is ahead of its time in some ways, and building on what has come before in others. This album will excite and disturb you, but it will certainly never bore you.

Songwriting: 9
Musicianship: 9
Memorability: 9
Production: 8

4 Star Rating

1. Envoy of Death
2. Deadly Game
3. Wheels of Destruction
4. Insane Rebels
5. Die to Win
6. Stolen Salvation
7. Black Contract
Jukka Homi - Vocals
Juha Kiminki - Bass
Kimmo Kuusniemi - Guitars
Esa Kotilainen - Keyboards
Ari-Pekka Roitto – Drums
Record Label: Nuclear War Now! Productions


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Edited 18 August 2022

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