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The legendary Sanctuary, apparently? Despite never leaving much of a positive impression on me, they consistently get name dropped everywhere you go in the realm of 80's metal discussions. Perhaps it's the popularity of Nevermore and the connection there, to which I have zero interest in. So maybe you want to stop reading there. Maybe it's also that they had some good connections for releasing well produced albums with that fancy "Produced by Dave Mustaine" sticker or were in the populated Seattle and Bay Area scene. It's probably this constant reminder that gets me curious about Sanctuary again every once and awhile, so I'll do a return to one of their albums for another spin but nine times out of ten end up tapping out before it's even over and quickly find better alternatives.
Sanctuary's debut was like a beefier and slightly darker Judas Priest with a few cool killer tracks like Die for My Sins. It's a solid effort that gets the job done but nothing particularly innovates much or excels beyond shrieker vocalist Warrel Dane's insanely cool performance. Their follow up album here manages to sound more unique with its cold and evil tone throughout while turning in something that feels like a more original concept, kind of sounds like the atmosphere you get with early Ray Alder era Fates Warning. It feels like some thrash influenced poured in, but I am not sure I can call it pure thrash metal, speed, or power, so it still comes off like traditional metal that hits a bit harder than the norm and takes itself very seriously... perhaps too seriously.
Future Tense opens up strongly as one of the better tracks and sets the tone for the entire ride. A mid paced track that does a good job with some cool hooks and rhythms working perfectly in conjunction between Dane's awesome vocals. He sounds more demented and in control here and still shrieks a lot, going nuts with the falsettos in an amazing way. Not quite as much as he did on the debut though. Mostly depressing and dark lyrics throughout that almost humor me more than the cheesier stuff you get from a band worshipping tits and steel, this is that more tyrannical stuff you get from the Queensryche camp but doesn't really do much to boost my interest. Taste Revenge sounds like it follows a similar blueprint and the worries begin to pour in. The mid paced tempo is just about the same and never really changes course, it doesn't take long to eventually realize this is the tempo of the entire album. A longer solo emerges from this one and does a bit more, but still sounds like something from the tutorial books. The quality bounces back again with Long Since Dark thanks to drummer Dave Budbill getting more technical and faster on this one with some double bass action and fills. Epitaph slows things down tremendously which isn't exactly what I want by this point. Thankfully I really dig Eden Lies Obscured, something about this one sounds like old material dug up from the dungeon of Serpent's Knight. The Mirror Black is also solid enough but Season of Destruction is hilarious because of how half and half it is for me, I hate the weird whammy guitar riffs but then when the track changes its tune I dig it a lot. The last two tracks you've heard already by this point.
I hope that writing this piece will close this chapter off for me. Whenever the curiosity strikes to check them out again there's never any reward. A few cool tracks, excellent vocals, and a solid dark vibe, but these elements can't save everything from the one note mid paced tempo course and with just how bare bones the songs sound. Like they took some blueprints to work with and never fully finished that first draft to completion. I keep waiting for this or that track to do something and it never really does. It doesn't exactly have the charm and atmosphere that other USPM bands give off and it certainly doesn't have much of a tech showcase compared to speed/thrash to make the mid pace feel complex and dense. Sounds like I'm describing Iced Earth. There's just so many better options than this. What would this and their debut be without Warrel Dane?
Before Seattle became the focal point for the abomination that was Grunge, you had a fair share of solid metal acts putting out some impressive work such as this band. Sanctuary was among those bands who had a brief run at the metal castle in the 80s before things went to hell in 1992 putting out an earlier brand of power metal than the one that people know from today, relying less on keyboards and vocals for atmosphere and putting the burden on the traditional instruments of heavy metal. The sound found on “Into the Mirror Black” has a fair share of Metal Church, Crimson Glory, Fates Warning and Queensryche influences alongside a Geoff Tate and Ray Adler inspired vocal job by Warren Dane, better known for his work with Nevermore in the 90s.
“Future Tense” starts the album off with a creepy atmosphere of guitar scratch noises and clean yet somber arpeggios. At first listen you can easily mistake it for Fates Warning’s “No Exit”, and the faster sections of the song do occasionally come close to the thrashing riffs heard on “Anarchy Divine”, definitely the highlight of this album. Most of the songs that follow focus more on the aggressive side of the coin, particularly “Taste Revenge” and “Seasons of Destruction”, the former of which has the catchiest chorus on here. “One more murder” is also pretty solid, but parts of it get a bit repetitive and the vocal delivery sounds a little bit forced.
Some other material on here does a pretty good job of marrying the clean guitar atmosphere with a more subdued approach to metal riffing. “The Mirror Black” and “Epitaph” are the most memorable in this department, the latter sounds like a gloomy hybrid of “Awaken the Guardian” era Fates Warning and late 80s Queensryche, while the former sees Dane actually almost sounding like John Arch at times. Formally they marry the progressive acoustic guitar work with standardized structures that are more at home in the power metal genre. The album’s closer “Communion” ends on a high note with riffs blazing, basically a slower and more melodic take on thrash metal with an eccentric vocal performance and my pick for second best track on here.
If you’re looking for the same brand of power metal with some progressive touches that Fates Warning played before “Perfect Symmetry”, Queensryche before “Rage for Order” and Crimson Glory before “Strange and Beautiful” this will definitely listen well. Contrary to what some may say, progressive metal did not begin with Dream Theater and power metal is not merely about fighting dragons and magic, but also a means for poets to comment upon the world as it is through an aggressive yet melodic medium.
Sanctuary's second release, Into the Mirror Black, is a big change for the band. The music here is alot darker, and dare I say "heavier" as well, the production is a huge step up from the first album. It's a bit progressive, and there's some thrash influence here too, to me this album sounds alot like Fates Warning's - No Exit. Not everything is good though, most of the songs sound basically the same, some are downright bland, though I wouldn't say there's really any truly bad songs on this album. Warrel starts to experiment alot more with the wierd off-key singing that he would carry on into Nevermore, and sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't.
"Future Tense" is a very good power metal song, just catchy and straight forward. "Taste Revenge" is heavy and catchy and just plain kicks ass, the vocals are very good on this song, probably the best song on the album. "Epitath" is much slower, and very dark, still managing to be catchy and kick ass. "One More Murder" has a nice driving rythym, fast and heavy, some good lead work and soloing. All the other songs range from decent to good.
It's nothing groundbreaking or overly amazing, but this is a very good album that goes overlooked by most. I would definetly pick this up if I were a fan of early Queensryche, Fates Warning, or Crimson Glory(or vise-versa if you've not heard much from any of those bands.)
After the great debut of Sanctuary's first album, "Refuge Denied", we see the sophmore and unfortunetley, the last album from the group, "Into The Mirror Black".
One of the striking things you will notice is the production. Much better in terms of sound and overall heaviness. As the first album had a raw, unprofessional sound, ITMB is more polished and refined, and all the instruments can be heard very well.
The vocals too have improved, not quite as high as in "Refuge Denied", still high pitched, but more of what Warrel would be doing later in Nevermore. Better vocal melodies and harmonies, which in turn, make the songs flow better than on the previous album.
As for the songs, a vast improvement by far. From the opening bass lines of "Future Tense" to the great riff starting "One More Murder", you will be getting your ass kicked for sure. These songs have a tint of progressive in them as well as a thrashiness, unlike the more speed metal attack on "Refuge Denied". Most of the tracks are pretty speedy, except for "Epitaph" and "Communion", which are alot slower, but are still great songs, coupled with Warrel's strong vocals.
Guitarists Lenny Rutledge and Sean Blosl show their skills (before going a grunge direction they later wanted) well, and some cool soloing as well. The opening of "Long Since Dark" reminds me in a way like Testament's "Alone in the Dark", catchy and a way cool solo.
All in all, if you are looking for a prog/thrash/straight ahead metal with some excellent vocals to boot, try this out, you won't be dissapointed.
Well, ladies and gentlemen, it is with great honour that I present you the album of the decade. This is it, this is the landmark of the latter days of heavy metal. In 1990, the audience had mostly turned to more extreme, newer forms of metal music, call me death metal, early black metal, or even earlier atmospheric bands like Paradise Lost and Anathema. Though there is nothing really bad about that, classic, sharp-edged, traditional heavy metal was in a significant decline. And though really great bands had released extraordinary albums (Painkiller, Rust In Peace, Persistence Of Time), it was clear that the future of the genre was somewhat dark…
And then there was Warrel. Few years before “Into The Mirror Black”, Dane and his bandmates were just a good US power metal group with a pretty decent debut album called “Refuge Denied”. But by the start of the new decade, Sanctuary made the artistic breakthrough with this masterpiece.
It sets the game off with a more-than-classic song called “Future Tense”. Monstrous heavy metal riffs, superb high pitched vocals, everything was there to rejuvenate what seemed to be lost by the end of the 80’s. But still, the guys from Seattle had even more deadly arrows in their quiver. As you continue to the next songs, “Taste Revenge” and “Long Since Dark”, you realise that though the music is this burning, solid heavy metal played in the 80’s, everything else is more mature, more sophisticated. The lyrics, oh my God, these lyrics could be easily seen as poems…The artwork is on a higher level, nothing reminiscent of the 80’s heavy metal “age of innocence”, with the cartoon like artworks and the fantasy-dragons-kings-and-queens thematology. By the time your stereo reaches “Epitaph”, you’re in for the shock of your life. This song RULES, RULES, RULES. Surreal lyrics, totally psychotic vocal lines, this is a complete epic. And hold on for more…”Eden Lies Obscured”, “One More Murder”, “Seasons Of Destruction”, whoa, I can’t get enough of this album…Destructive, almost corrosive metal tones, storms of beastly drumming, all played in extreme tecnhique. This album has an unbelievable quality. Some people say that this one is “the last action hero”, the last album that can be named as a classic. And it is really really sad that it never had a successor. After “Into The Mirror Black”, Sanctuary came to an untimely end. The two guitarists, Lenny Rutledge and Sean Blosl had major disagreements with Warrel and the others about the direction that the band should follow after this album. Rutledge and Blosl were drawn to a more grungy style, which Warrel didn’t like at all, so he decided to leave the band (along with Jim Sheppard) and create a glorious new chapter in the history of rock music called Nevermore. So, to sum up. Guys, steal, borrow, kill, do whatever is necessary to get this one. This is history. Pure, burning heavy metal history. The last one before the fall, the last classic.
I expected more from this after hearing much hype over the high-standard this record was supposed to set. Sadly, I don't hear what other people are hearing. This CD makes me imagine Queensryche morphing into a thrash band with middling results. It's more thrashing and exciting than later Queensryche and Warrel Dane is a talented vocalist (despite use of terrible vocal melodies) and the band are skilled. Sadly, this is where my first, second and third impressions end. There is nothing here to set this apart from a few other talented bands (Winter's Bane with Ripper was better) doing similar ideas, despite this being darker than the others.
The music is pretty good, the musicians deliver the thrash-prog with a convincing attack (despite the actual writing being being somewhat bland) and high-strung vocals that follow awkward melodies. It's impressive, but not very connected to an actual skilled compositional attitude. The band moves and shows the chops...but the songs fly in and fly all as soon as they are complete. Few hooks exist, and the mood of the music is not dark enough to carry a worthy "atmosphere". The whole CD works as an anticlimax of potentially brilliant ideas. Unfortunate, as the band had potential...
This is something I can't get into, but fans of Queensryche styled material and Nevermore fans will obviously love this. It's a bit thrashy, it's a bit progressive but it's all a bit silly and out of touch with serious music. It's ernest in a way that seems naive...and really doesn't match the hype created around it.
Overview - And thus a much more polished and original Sanctuary is born and the seeds for Nevermore are planted. The beginnings of Nevermore's sound can truely be heard here and the band comes off as both original and more interesting. Gone is the over-use of high end vocals and in it's place is a much more moody style that captures the emotion of the band. I have a hard time drawing stylistic comparisons other than Nevermore as they are, if nothing else, unique.
The Good News - Production does a band good. Dave Mustaine may be a great guitarist and songwriter, but seems to know little about producing another band. The first Sanctuary disc sounded on the 'raw' side which really failed to capture the intensity of the band. The problem is rectified here. Future Tense starts off the disc very strong and all the songs have their own flavor, unlike the last release. Taste Revenge, Long Since Dark, and One More Murder are also extremely above average cuts.
The Bad News - In comparison to the last there is little bad news to be found. What a step in the right direction. Not as thick and punishing as Nevermore will be, but essential to any Nevermore die hard none the less. I really have no complaints. Warrel's style, as it has developed here, is a love or hate affair is the only thing I can say. I've heard people go on about how they hate it where as he is one of my top vocalists of all time. The only way to describe his voice here is sorrowful yet aggressive at the same time. A description which will suit Nevermore well in the future.