Retro-review: ‘Independent’ by Sacred Reich

Don’t you hate it when something you really liked when you were young isn’t quite as great as you remember?

That was my experience with Sacred Reich’s 1993 album Independent.

When I bought this album, I was 15 years old. I saw the video for the title song on Headbangers Ball and I thought “man, I have got to get this.”

A couple of weeks later, I bought Independent and played it nonstop. It was probably one of my favorites back then. But as time went on, I listened less and less and it eventually found itself in storage.

Independent is still a good album, but there’s something that’s changed in me that just doesn’t find it as exhilarating to listen to as when I was a teenager.

I think it’s the production, honestly. Having listened to many albums since then, when I come back and listen to it, I can’t help but think it sounds polished. Too polished. There’s some rawness lacking in it that might have got lost in the mix. Independent lacks that sharp, but jagged edged sound that you heard on Surf Nicaragua and the American Way.

The songs themselves, they’re actually pretty good and well written. The show a little change in direction as far as songwriting from previous albums, as Sacred Reich adopted a more groovy approach, which many metal bands adopted at the time. I didn’t have a problem with it, but many metalheads, being one of the fan bases that hates change the most, threw their usual “sell out” smears.

Considering that Independent was the first Sacred Reich album I bought, I wasn’t comparing it to what came before. So, you know, eff them.

Sacred Reich’s lineup on Independent is Phil Rind, bassist and vocalist who delivers deep and clear vocals which give the band much of their signature sound. Joining Rind are Wiley Arnett and Jason Rainey on guitars and Dave McClain on drums.

The album

So, why did I love this album?

Well, let’s start with the first song, which motivated me to buy it in the first place.

The title song, “Independent,” kicks things off in the right way. This is the song that spoke to me as a teenager. Its lyrics “Let me be/I live by my own rules/Independent/Independent” just hit the spot. If you were driving in a car, this song would make you want to hit the gas. It’s fast, it’s groovy and it’s catchy.

Free” continues the theme of “Independent” which also spoke to my teenage self. I would take it as “Free” from parental and societal oppression, particularly that kids who didn’t quite fit in felt at school. The pressure to fit in and conform and then mocked when they tried to do so. There was no winning. It’s not as fast a song as “Independent” but it’s a good one, a mid-paced groover, one could say.

Another standout is “Crawling.” It’s another mid-paced song that pummels you like you’re getting stomped on, which kind of fits into the whole name of the song. McClain really drives this song and it’s probably his strongest performance on the album. It fits another of those teenage themes of someone forsaking their friends to join the right crowd, just to be rejected and “crawling” back to their old friends. The solo on the song is pretty good too and probably the best on the album.

Product” is another good one, which continues the theme of the individual vs. society’s expectations. I’m not sure how to describe it. It’s not a fancy song, mostly the drum and the crunch of the guitar with Rind’s vocals. It beats you down, like the subjects of so many songs on the album. There’s a sweet guitar solo to boot.

Rind’s bass really stands out in the longest, and slowest, song on the album “I Never Said Goodbye.” It’s tone is different from the other songs on the album, eschewing the individual vs. society theme to singing about losing a loved one. It’s a nice and very full sounding song. For those of us who lost parents at a young age, it does hit home.

Open Book” and “Do It” bring things to a strong close. “Do It” in particular fits well into its place on the album, with the whole band bringing their A-game. It’s got melody, it’s got groove and some good rage.

None of the songs on the album are bad. One or two might feel dangerously close to the dreaded filler, but Sacred Reich usually throws a little something in to pull them out.

The verdict

Would I still buy this album?

As an adult, the songs on Independent still speak to me. There’s a good chance I would buy it if I had the expendable income I used to. I still thoroughly enjoy it, despite the too-polished production feeling like it’s taken away some of the edge.

For other people?

Well, if you like your songs to speak to you lyrically, I definitely recommend Independent. It still reaches in and captures the feeling of being a loner who is isolated among his peers. Being the outsider trapped on the inside with people who will never understand you. Even with the overly-polished production, that part of it still stands out, even 25 years later.

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