The San Francisco Bay area area has a deep, albeit fading, history of extreme music. Even its most celebrated act, the Grateful Dead, were drug fiends who played challenging, non-pop music at notoriously high volumes. After their soundman, the infamous Owsley Stanley, went to jail for pushing LSD, they had a mammoth PA custom built for them, dubbing it the "Wall of Sound."
From Metallica to Weakling, Neurosis to Sleep, the region has festered along each decade, secretly incubating more solid and groundbreaking American metal bands than any other metro area. As San Francisco proper has slowly been consumed by condos and bistros, though, the burden has shifted to Oakland in the past couple decades. As a major industrial seaport with a historically astronomical crime rate, it is no wonder that the music emerging from Oakland would be a little more burly. It is from this formidable lineage the band Saviours was wrought.
Drummer Scott Batiste came over to the dark side at an early age, in "fifth grade, when Columbia House accidentally sent my mom [Metallica's] ...And Justice For All and Garage Days cassettes."
Local heroes-turned-millionaire-embarrassments James Hetfield and company are definitely a traceable influence on the band, especially in the vocals of singer/guitarist Austin Barber. On their newest record, Palace of Visions, his voice recalls the gilded Master of Puppets-era or maybe a less rabid, more controlled Matt Pike (of another Oakland act, High On Fire).
Although Saviours formed in the Bay over 10 years ago, according to Batiste most of the band has been forced to relocate to Los Angeles—an unfortunate exodus that is becoming all too common amongst the area's musicians.
"We've been based out of L.A. for a few years now. Only Sonny (Reinhardt, guitarist) is still in Oakland," said Batiste.
"I got starved of there in 2011. The tech industry scum ruined [San Francisco] and Oakland. They gutted San Francisco. It's unrecognizable. A one-bedroom apartment in the Mission now averages $6200 a month," Batiste said. "Even the most die-hard Bay area people, who were born there and would die there, are leaving. It's a shame."
Back when the band began, Batiste and his bandmates were mainly concerned with staying true to the heavy sonic aesthetic that they grew up loving.
"We started in 2004, which was a weird time for heavy music. It was kind of the end of nu-metal and all that post-grunge, stripper metal...all those bands that grossly misinterpreted Pantera. We just wanted to do a super heavy, ripping band that was raw and real," Batiste said, and their sound is exactly that.
While retaining the influences of their Bay-area elders, Saviours also folds in a healthy dose of NWOBHM (New Wave of British Heavy Metal) bands like Judas Priest, Motörhead and Iron Maiden. The result is a dedication to shred and thrash with a solid melodic element always in place. The guitars especially invoke classic Maiden when they lock in on dueling harmonies.
But Saviours is no mere throwback group. While they are able to have blatant inspiration from and references to the golden-era metal hierarchy, there's also some chord change or breakdown in their songs that lodge them firmly in the present and establish them as artists able to take the records they love and render in a sound their own.
Palace of Visions, produced by metal legend Billy Anderson (Neurosis, Fantomas, Sleep's Dopesmoker), is a solid addition to the bands catalog and, subjectively speaking, their best sounding recording to date. It keeps the band's original style intact while making subtle adjustments—organically and meticulously refining their sound.
"Everything was different about it," said Batiste about the process of creating this record. "It took us four years to write because, for the first time, we were not all in the same city. As far as the music, Sonny wrote a lot more this time around, and he did a great job."
Though the inception and execution of the album was new, the bands lyrical subject matter has remained constant throughout their career: a stark assessment of life on Earth and the dire prospects for the future.
"We never have a specific intent or theme for a record. It's been the same thing since the start of the band, which, in short, is that the world sucks now, and it's going to end soon."
In this way, too, Saviours carries on metal's tradition as a music that is secretly hyper-critical, even morally so, of humans and our culture. Before you get all worked up, consider how many times Black Sabbath (the Yahweh of all metal) has warned you that Satan is bad news, that you shouldn't do cocaine or that war is a horrible experience perpetuated by evil overlords.
Yet while the mainstream dabbles in their sub-culture right now, with nihilism and misanthropy getting its time in the pop spotlight Batiste is unconcerned with its effect on metal as a whole.
"It's cool if people are into it, I guess," Batiste said. "It's not a flavor of the month thing for us though. Seeing celebrities in Iron Maiden shirts or whatever, it doesn't bother me...We'll still be here when the fad has passed on to Christian rap or whatever the next big thing is."