Brand of Sacrifice could've easily become a meme. Here is a band born with the specific aim of honoring the art of Japanese manga creator Kentaro Miura through the prism of subterranean tuning, gravity-defying blast beats and turgid howls. This is technical deathcore filled with epic tales about Miura's beloved, long-running series Berserk — an initial vision so specialized that even vocalist Kyle Anderson never considered that it would become his primary vocation.
But thanks to Anderson and Co.'s stunning musicianship and growing desire "to think outside the box and destroy boundaries," the Toronto-based band is transcending all enveloping niches as they rapidly take their position as one of metal's most exciting new multidisciplinary acts.
The band — rounded out by guitarist and producer Leo Valeri, guitarist Liam Beeson, bassist Dallas Bricker and drummer Rob Zalischi — have released two full-lengths, 2019's God Hand and 2021's Lifeblood (both of which landed on Billboard's Heatseakers Album chart), a manga comic book, action-movie-level music videos and more. Brand of Sacrifice have also booked increasingly high-profile shows, including 2019's Summer Slaughter tour and, more recently, an opening spot for Dying Fetus.
Part of Brand of Sacrifice's success is due to their unique ability to strike an artful balance between their arcane source material and extreme-metal expressions. Fellow manga fanatics can page through the liner notes and identify all the easter eggs that rein-force just how deep Brand of Sacrifice's geekdom runs. (For the uninitiated, the band's name comes from the Berserk series: A "Brand of Sacrifice" is bestowed to those who overcome their last vestiges of humanity.) Or listeners can simply enjoy how Anderson's voice machetes through the careening guitars of the group's head-spinning compositions without ever considering the misadventures of Berserk's Black Swordsman.
"I've definitely tried to make the content a little more general," Anderson says of his evolving lyrical approach. "There are certain names and situations that happen in the lyrics [that are referential]. But I make it broad enough so … you can still get something out of it. We enjoy making the music. We're more dialed in than the old band."
Brand of Sacrifice rose from the ashes of the singer's previous outfit, the Afterimage. Anderson and that Ontario band spent seven years on the circuit perfecting a serrated metalcore sound before they developed a taste for something heavier. The group adopted the Brand of Sacrifice moniker, embraced their Berserk fandom and put out 2018 EP The Interstice. Their pivot to viciously technical, cinematic deathcore was originally intended to be a one-off diversion. But listeners went wild for the crew's sharp left turn into brutality, and Brand of Sacrifice soon fully supplanted the Afterimage.
The group continued their come-up with their latest single, "Enemy," which features an assist from Underoath singer Spencer Chamberlain. The ripping cut, which dropped in August, was also issued as a three-song vinyl EP that arrived with a limited-edition manga comic. (The "Enemy" cover art is blessed by both a lustrous angel and a cloven-hooved demon — each plucked, fittingly, from the Miura style guide.)
Sonically, "Enemy" seethes with harsh, lightning-fast power chords that bleed out into a saw-toothed, synthetic miasma, guided by a wailing gothic choir somewhere off in the distance. All of Anderson's influences are laid clear on the surface — from canonical heavyweights like Meshuggah to the punishing overkill of the DOOM soundtrack. It's a perfect amalgamation of multiple different traditions of geekiness; the gamers, the crate-diggers, the kids who grew up syncing Toonami theme songs to their iPods, presented with a ferocity that demands to be taken seriously.
Anderson's ability to seamlessly merge his artistic obsessions with brutal music is so natural that one could imagine the singer's childhood was a whirlwind of manga and metal. But growing up in Ontario, he wasn't exactly set up for heavy-metal success. Anderson was raised in a conservative Christian household and wasn't allowed to listen to heavy music in his youth. "I might've had access to Backstreet Boys and NSYNC," he reveals, "but definitely not metal." Anderson's first love affair with pop culture came in the form of classic anime like Astro Boy, Speed Racer and Dragon Ball Z, and by his preteen years he got his first taste of musical heaviness in the form of chart-toppers Linkin Park.
"I think the heaviest song I heard growing up was 'One Step Closer,'" he says. "That must've been, like, 2000 … It was on the radio, it had that screaming in it, and it caught me off guard."
Anderson soon discovered Miura's creations, and by high school his passion for heavy metal had firmly taken root. He had the look (skinny jeans) and a list of aspirational screamers (Lamb of God's Randy Blythe was an idol) — and decided it was time to start making some noise of his own. "I just really wanted to be in a band," says Anderson. "I started off with guitars and bass and wasn't good at those. But there weren't many vocalists around."
The budding singer picked up Melissa Cross' Zen of Screaming instruction DVD and started working on his chops. Anderson performed with a few different bands in his local Canadian scene, before eventually settling in with the Afterimage. For years he kept on the sacred grind: playing basement shows by night and selling insurance by day. It wasn't until the singer landed on the Brand of Sacrifice formula that his current path unfolded before him. Not only did the manga-inspired band unexpectedly attract "a lot more eyes" — it also tapped a wellspring of creative possibilities.
If Brand of Sacrifice's latest release is any indication, Anderson and his band are ramping up to go as wide as possible with their vision. The "Enemy" comic establishes a narrative that hints at a grander story arc for the outfit to follow as it continues to churn out new music. Anderson is setting up a multi-format approach (a "360-degree experience for fans," he says) that could conceivably deliver new installments of a Berserk-ian saga with every brain-melting break-down. And Brand of Sacrifice's world-building doesn't stop there. The interconnected videos for the singles "Enemy" and "Animal" work together to form a legit short-form ninja action movie — and punch well above their weight in terms of production value.
As far as Anderson is concerned, the fun is just getting started. "The original goal was to pay tribute to Berserk and to do so through brutal music," he says. "Now, it's about splitting the difference between that while expanding … incorporating more influences from other genres … in a way that feels as crushing as possible."