Eric Clayton and the Nine – A Thousand Scars

Almost twenty years after the last studio release, Saviour Machine‘s Eric Clayton is back with a new album. Let’s get up close and personal.

Some bands make such an initial impression that even years later you can distinctly remember where you were when you first heard them. In the case of Saviour Machine, it was spring 1998. I was still a school-going kid and had started buying German metal magazine RockHard after a trip to Berlin and finding my grasp of the language to be flimsy at best. And whilst it did help me improve my German a little bit, it turned out to be mostly beneficial to the development of my musical tastes. This was not in the least because the issues regularly came with a sample CD chock full of new music. One of these, as you may have guessed, featured a band called Saviour Machine with their single Behold a Pale Horse and it immediately seized my attention. Here was this song that was as brooding as it was catchy, with meandering riffs, pompous keyboards and a singer who sounded like a weird combination of a gothic David Bowie and Leonard Cohen. I was instantly hooked.

After some reading up it turned out that Saviour Machine was a Christian band from America that had released four albums by then; two self-titled ones and two in what they called the Legend trilogy, which was meant to be the unofficial soundtrack to the end of the world. In other words: this was epic Biblical end-time stuff and having grown up as a non-Christian attending a Christian primary school I did pick up a morbid fascination with the book of Revelation somewhere along the road. Nothing screams metal more than a good old Biblical apocalypse, so I dove right into the haunting, almost hypnotising soundscapes of Saviour Machine, who managed to somehow make eighty minutes of seemingly aimless plodding utterly fascinating. The Legend albums are a strange beast like that; they drone on continuously for the length of an entire disc, existing more of movements than actual standalone songs on which vocalist Eric Clayton wails dramatically about the end of the world. They’re depressing, beautiful and fantastic at the same time and it’s a shame the band went on a hiatus before they were able to complete and release the last disc in this four albums spanning trilogy (no, that wasn’t a typo). A demo version of Legend III:II was eventually released by Massacre Records but it’s very, very rough.

So, Saviour Machine disappeared from the face of the earth and so did Eric Clayton for years. The band briefly resurfaced in 2012 for a couple of acoustic shows and Eric reprised the role he played on Ayreon’s The Human Equation when a stage show was put on for that album in 2015. This apparently proved to be the nudge Clayton needed to get back into music properly. Plans were made to bring the band back together, release a new album that would continue on from Saviour Machine II instead of the unfinished Legend saga. We’re still waiting for that album, but it would seem that Clayton had to get some stuff off his chest and out of his system first. The result is A Thousand Scars and whilst it’s toned-down compared to his main band, this is Saviour Machine in all but name and line-up. It’s also a very introspective and at times painfully personal, autobiographical album. There are skeletons in this man’s closet and A Thousand Scars is his way of getting them out.

Musically you can regard Eric Clayton and the Nine as “Saviour Machine Lite” for want of a better description. Of course, Clayton wrote most of Saviour Machine’s music himself so that’s to expected, and even then he has such a distinctive, recognizable voice that you would be hard pressed to hear anything else in these fifteen songs. It’s still the same dark, solemn voice over a musical palette of piano, guitars and drums. More than in the past, there are quiet moments where it’s mainly Clayton and piano (A Man’s Heart, Chasing Monsters). Luckily, A Thousand Scars also brings back the lone, echoing guitar noodling in the background, producing a basis that invokes images of ancient Egyptian deserts and eastern mysticism. Never do things get too heavy here although the music and lyrical themes are dark enough. Listen to the haunting The Cages with its dark riffs and subtle orchestration; it’s like Leonard Cohen decided to make a rock album, especially when the female backing vocals set in. 

Most of all, A Thousand Scars is melancholy. Here we find a still deeply spiritual man trying to find his place again, doing soul searching through music. Never becomes this more clear than on Revelation Mine, where Clayton sings of his hope to find “the man behind the mask.” That man, of course, is the same man who used to enter the stage, in true Peter Gabriel fashion, with his head cleanly shaven and painted ashen white with a single red jewel stuck to his forehead. The man who would smear the American flag with blood on stage during American Babylon night after night. The man who quite literally wore masks. “Where is the man I used to be,” Clayton sings in A Subtle Collapse. “Turning inwards, burning out.” A Thousand Scars is so deeply personal that it becomes uncomfortable to listen to sometimes, even though you feel compelled to keep listening. And if you keep listening there is a lot of really good music to be found here underneath all the pathos and the melancholy.

A Thousand Scars is not the new Saviour Machine album we were promised. It draws from the same musical influences but it never gets as grandiose, pompous and over the top as in those days but perhaps that’s for the best. Perhaps this is just the album Eric Clayton needed to make before even being able to write or perform anything with Saviour Machine again. When you look at the lyrics and listen to how toned-down and understated the music itself is, it certainly seems that way. It’s a captivating album in any case that demands your attention and has the capability to really get under your skin at times. Like Saviour Machine’s albums, A Thousand Scars will most certainly not be everyone’s cup of tea and I doubt it will bring a lot of new fans to the flock, but for those who have been yearning for new music ever since 2001’s Legend III:I, this will prove to be a very welcome gift all the same.

Label: Self-published, 2020

Track listing:

  1. The Space Between Us (7:11)
  2. Revelation Mine (7:14)
  3. Where It Starts (5:55)
  4. In the Lines (4:56)
  5. A Man’s Heart (4:35)
  6. Initiated (5:47)
  7. The Cages (5:27)
  8. Lacerations (3:55)
  9. Chasing Monsters (4:07)
  10. A Subtle Collapse (6:29)
  11. American Whore (4:18)
  12. Faithful Son (1:46)
  13. New Man (4:48)
  14. A Thousand Scars (5:15)
  15. The Greatest of These (6:54)

Line-up:

  • Eric Clayton – vocals
  • Jeroen Geerts – guitar
  • Bas Albersen – guitar
  • Rob Dokter – bass
  • Ludo Caanen – keys
  • Twan Bakker – drums

Further surfing:

Review by Ralph Plug

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