SORCERY – “Sinister Soldiers” 2LP ’78 (Century, US) – The water. It’s got to be something in the water up there, that’s all I can figure. Oh, pardon me for my musings. I was just sitting here, trying to figure out why 3 of my favourite obscure hard rock bands of all-time happen to be from one single area of the United States called Chicago. I’m talking about Slauter Xstroyes, Winterhawk and SORCERY. Bear in mind, now, these were not all the product of some wondrous “scene” like happened in San Francisco in the ‘80’s wherein Metallica & Exodus set the tone and a bunch of others (some good, some not so much) jumped on the chugga-chugga train. No, these were 3 totally dissimilar bands who issued local vinyl during the period from 1978 thru 1985 without the benefit of mass media coverage. Their stuff was unknown except to a few like the late Phil Baker and Dennis Bergeron (Monster Records) who turned me onto all 3. SORCERY is the most mysterious of the bunch and this is what I know, so listen up.
In 1967, a guy in Illinois named Kirk Bryk (real name Brykowski) began playing guitar. In the next few years he got heavily into the emerging UK gods, Black Sabbath, and Tony Iommi influenced him to develop an extremely heavy style. This might not seem all that unusual, as around that time a lot of people who played guitar were probably bent on aping T.I. The only thing is, a lot of people didn’t actually become super players and go on to form SORCERY in 1974. Kirk Bryk did, however, and that’s the beginning of what would become a great band.
In the first couple years after SORCERY’s inception, the group was forced to do a lot of covers in order to get gigs. Some of the bands who’s material they did included Starz, Angel and of course, Sabbath, culling numbers from”Vol. 4,” “Sabbath, Blood Sabbath” and “Sabotage” for their live sets. Still, while all of this was going on, Mr. Kirk Bryk was a busy man. He was writing originals that were gradually being worked into the band’s repertoire, many of which not only held their own with the covers but stood right alongside them in terms of heaviness and writing panache. The band got a break when the local representative of 20th Century Records saw them, dug what they were about and decided to let them record an album for his own tiny label, aptly called Century. At that point, SORCERY consisted of: Kirk Bryk – lead guitar, vocals, bass, synthesizer and percussion; Tim Barrett – lead vocals; Paul Koster – guitar, vocals; Dave Maycroft – bass; Kieran Hoening – drums. The record they produced would be one of the most oddly original and yet overpoweringly great metal albums ever, not to mention one of the rarest.
“Sinister Soldiers” was issued in 1978, while most metallers at the time were checking out “Stained Class” and “Hemispheres” and praying that the Travolta era might soon end. The first thing you notice about SORCERY’s debut, of course, is the cover. Truthfully, the artwork by Janetta Lewis is fantastic and may represent one of the heaviest-looking album jackets ever. It would be pitiful to try to describe it on paper, so just look at the picture above. You’d have bought that sumbitch if you saw it sitting in the store, wouldn’t you?! ‘Nuff said. Secondly, you see that the thing is a 2 record set! Now, granted, it ends up being a fairly short one but still, before the days of 65 minute, spreading-the-butter-way-too-thin CD’s, double albums had the air of “epic-on-a-grand-scale” all over them. But of course, the proof is in the pudding and there’s to be music to back up the trappings. Let’s explore….
Side One of “Sinister Soldiers” opens with “Aracnid (The Dark King).” Immediately after the initial drum beats, the heaviness sets in, blasting riffs of tuned-down Sabbathy gruffness, sort of like “Supernaut” in a garage. In truth, the whole of this album features a very sparse, rugged, back-room raw production that I just love. It really adds to the heaviness and the kind of blast-furnace power erupts again in the second cut, “Fly The Sky.” I dig this song a whole lot, the power chords oozing like molten lead and Kirk Bryk cutting loose some hot Iommi-ish lead. The first real indication of ultimate godliness comes with Side One’s final cut, “Sugar Sweet Lady (Debbie’s Song).” It’s a melodic instrumental, sort of like a cross between Sabbath’s “Fluff” and Priest’s “Cavier And Meths” outro but the lead guitar tone is pure fuzz death! The combination is awesome and leaves you breathless for what will follow.
Side Two of “Sinister Soldiers” is simply one long, beautiful masterpiece. Clocking in at just under 13 minutes, “The Last Goodbye” is one of those cuts that automatically finds it’s way onto a comp of your all-time classics. It begins very mellow and painstakingly deliberate, yet soon forms a melody that reminds me of Priest’s early epics. Tim Barrett’s vocals are oddly (yet greatly!) reminiscent of Bow Wow’s Kyoji Yamamoto and when Bryk cuts on his fuzz machine midway through, it’s instant musical ecstasy. The guy’s tone here is like a chainsaw but it still retains haunting melody. Incredible, yes, but we’re only halfway through.
With Side Three, SORCERY step it up and really kick out the jams on “Slippin’ Away (for K.E.R.).” It’s a raucous garage-metal stomper, with Bryk taking over temporarily on vocals yet, in another twist of great songwriting, the number slows at the end into a wonderfully melodic coda replete with more nasty fuzz soloing. Seriously, the word “brutal” was invented to describe this guitar sound. Completing Side Three is the 9 ½ minute epic “Snowshit,” one of my favourite song titles and another masterpiece. The track opens with a crushing, haggard and up-tempo rhythm on top of which Bryk lays a smoldering run of lead guitar reminding me of Uli Roth in “Polar Nights.” Just when you think you’ve got SORCERY figured out, however, the last strains of distortion lift like a veil of early morning mist and the curtain rises on the song-proper. Yes, that was only an intro! This one is, again, extremely subtle, the semi-acoustic rhythm reminding me very much of Priest’s “Run Of The Mill.” Barrett is chilling here, his vocals telling that “death is surely winter’s snow,” but my favourite part comes when Bryk launches into the middle guitar solo (the 2nd of 3). Just before he picks the first note of the caustic fuzz lead, you clearly hear him kick on the distortion and feel the raw power wash over the last mellow chord he strummed. It might not seem like any big deal on paper, but the effect is so cool and vintage-early-‘70’s that it makes me ga-ga, as does the grinding solo that follows. An interesting sidelight about this song is the origin of it’s title. Seems that when SORCERY first started performing it live, it still had no name but was accompanied by snow-like confetti that wafted down from the ceiling to the stage. One night, a fan commented to the band that he “liked that song where all the snow shit comes down.” You gotta love it!
“Sinister Soldiers” finally comes down the home stretch on Side Four and, for some reason, the recording quality here dips almost too far into a murky drone. Still, while this kind of production might kill some material, it actually adds to the vibe of the three battering rams called “Airborne,” “Sorcerer” and “Schitzoid.” These go back to the short, direct attack of the album’s opening cuts and hit me like classic Sabbath and Motorhead brawling in a dank basement. I think “Schitzoid,” with it’s great B-movie references to being “instantly destroyed, forever trapped on the Planet Schitzoid” is my fave of the trio.
With “Sinister Soldiers,” SORCERY had produced a unique double album that, had it been released on a major label, would’ve had them revered in the same breath as Sabbath, Priest, Budgie, etc. In fact, through some sort of grapevine, the band acquired a following of sorts in L.A. and, sometime in 1978 journeyed to the Left Coast to do a club tour. Word has it that they played some shows with Survivor (the “Eye Of The Tiger” variety, who I’m sure they decimated) and actually headlined over Van Halen at one venue. It’s also rumored that on this excursion, they sold a very nicely made color SORCERY tour program. Find one of them for me and I’m liable to trade my home and property for it! Sadly, however, with only a limited supply of the album to sell (I’ve been told 1000 were made but try to find one now…it’s one of the rarest metal LP’s ever), SORCERY would remain infinitely obscure.
This was not the end of the story, however. After some soul-searching and a line-up change or so, Kirk Bryk and his band recorded and released a second LP in 1980, the single album “Tell Death Do We Part.” It is a good album musically but to be honest, not even close to the epic piece of art that is “Sinister Soldiers.” The songs are all fairly short (i.e. nothing like “The Last Goodbye” or “Snowshit”) and the vocals are not a patch on those done by Barrett, at points sounding like the most whiney ever conceived by Dave Mustaine. Of course, the caked-in-molten-lava guitar tone of Bryk is still rampant and cuts like “Ogre,” “Fly Away” and “Right To Survive” are quite good songs. So, “Till Death Do We Part” is surely worth hearing, although it’s awfully expensive if you can. In keeping with “Sinister Soldiers,” the 2nd SORCERY release did nothing to garner the band a household name in the metal world. Still, Kirk soldiered (ouch!) on and sometime in the early ‘80’s he recorded an album’s worth of solo material that was never laid to wax. I haven’t heard any of this stuff but I’m told it was eons more commercial than “Till Death….” Apparently a single was selected from this collection and a video recorded for it, which was actually shown several times on Ted Turner’s cable TV network rival to early MTV. Anybody remember seeing it?
From what I understand, Kirk Bryk kept playing music well into the ‘00’s and may still be to this day, continuing to extrapolate from the influences of bands like Sabbath, Motorhead and, interestingly enough, Witchfynde. If anyone reading this has any more information regarding the man’s later musical activities, please do me a favour and pass it along. In the meantime, if you’ve never been fortunate enough to hear “Sinister Soldiers,” do yourself a favour and try to do just that. While landing an original LP is completely out-of-sight, an internet foray may land you one of the various CD re-issues that have cropped up over the years. Hits You Like A Ton Of Bryks
NOTE: This Chicago SORCERY is not to be confused with another obscure Sorcery who also released a fantastic album called "Stunt Rock" within the same year as "Sinister Soldiers." But that's for another chapter of the Grand Halls....