SACRILEGE ( UK ) ‘Ambulance Station Squat 1985’ vinyl review.

This 12″ found its way into my hands at a Warwound gig in Birmingham’s Sunflower Lounge this year, 2019. It’s been a while since I’ve started going back out to punk gigs, after a decade and a half absence from a scene that has gone even further underground, into smaller venues, with smaller PAs. It was only after about 20 minutes of watching Warwound that I thought – hang on, this fizzy racket sounds like a Sacrilege track. Turns out, of course, that it is Damien Thompson on guitar, and the girl with the blond hair at the back of the room trying to hide from everyone was, of course, Tam the original singer. And there I was having an eureka moment, 20 years after everyone else had worked it out. Jim from Extinction of Mankind looked at me with some pity. This is what happens when you spread yourself too thinly in the world.

For those of you unfamiliar with Sacrilege, they were an amazing crossover band from the mid-eighties, who, along with the early three-piece-era Napalm Death, Doom, and maybe peripheral acts like Boltthrower, were an absolute blessing for a shitty city like Birmingham. Of course, we never realised at the time how massive it would all become. I remember being with my relatively ‘normie’ mate from school and seeing Sacrilege at the Barrel Organ around 1986 or 7, and he turned to me half way through the set with crazed eyes and said ‘fucking hell, that was brilliant!’ This crossover period, where the speed of punk collided with the conservatism of metal, was a pivotal time in noisy music history, as non-noisy music people were beginning to see the appeal.

The track he was excited about was The Closing Irony from Beyond The Realms of Madness, an album which I wouldn’t have even known existed had a Mermaid pub friend not played it to me when we were sharing 50p worth of hash in a pathetically skinny spliff out of his bedroom window one day. You weren’t going to hear it on the radio!

The Closing Irony…..

And it was this song that Warwound were playing downstairs at the Sunflower Lounge. They were playing it like punks though – just a bit too fast, and through that tiny, trebly PA – so all its power was lost. It all seemed wrong – this song should be playing on a main stage at a metal festival, not in this shoebox! Still, it’s up to an artist to decide what they do with their creations I guess – but to some extent, you set your own price in the world.

The merch table / cardboard box had a few black 12″ next to it, and in the gloom, as I prodded the copies, the merchant, sensing my cider inebriation, said ‘Well, are you going to buy it or not?’ I said, ‘No, I’ve already got the album’ ( thinking it was Beyond The Realms of Madness ) and he said, ‘No, this is a remaster‘, with that fixed stare you do as a tradesman when covering your arse, or making a lie so obvious that your victim cannot believe it is possibly happening. But seeing as it was only ten quid, and even if he WAS lying, I bought the fucker anyway, and had another pint of cider and a chinwag with a few punters outside.

Upon getting home and actually seeing things in bright light, it turns out it isn’t a remaster of said album – no, the merchant was mistaken – it’s actually the early demos, and a live tape. It does say ‘remaster’ on the sticker though, so I thought I’d do a further remaster ( more below ).

The first side contains demos one and two, which I don’t remember anyone owning in my social circle, and in fairness it’s pretty poor. I’m not sure when they recorded their stuff for the Mortorhate compilation, or the Anglican Scrape flexi – it sounds like it’s from these sessions – but Jesus, it’s pretty unlistenable these days.

However, side two: Ambulance Station Squat, is the better offering on this vinyl, and makes it worthwhile owning – a glimpse into the scene around the time when they were still more punk than metal. Live, this band were just so powerful and this recording really shows it. Just get an earful of this. Tam’s vocals are ace!

I couldn’t find the right lead to record it direct, so this is a zoom H1 in front of the speakers. Air remastering if you like. I think it sounds like a great tape copy of a tape copy, done with two tape players, and you should thus get a taste of what 1985 was like for us poor bastards.

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