without Internet Explorer,
in 1280 x 960 resolution
Nearly 30 years later, it's amazing how fresh this album still sounds. Perhaps more amazing is how fresh it sounds despite Dave Mustaine's amateurish production.
Indeed, Refuge Denied might be the best poorly-produced album of all time. Sure, Dave Budbill's drums thud around (those tom rolls on the slow sections of "Soldiers of Steel" and "Veil of Disguise," man...) and the guitar tones are somewhat muddy. Doesn't matter.
The star of the show here is Warrel Dane, who turns in a performance unlike any other. His air-raid siren of a voice brought together some different qualities that no other wailers quite possessed--he's got a ton of power, but his tone is clean and pure, and he brings a unique, extra-wide vibrato approach. He's capable of coming in with huge sustains out of nowhere, but also singing entire verses or choruses in the upper registers. At the same time, though, he also punctuates the proceedings with dramatic lower-register singing, which would later become his trademark in Nevermore. His unique voice and versatility really puts this album on another plane vocally, and the one thing Mustaine gets right on the production (other than making Jim Sheppard's bass audible) is laying Dane's vocals out front and center, with frequent multi-tracking that makes him sound truly larger than life.
Retrospectives on this album understandably focus on the vocals--it's the album where Warrel Dane sings really high, back before he ended up singing really low. What's lost in that focus, though, is that this is a damn good collection of songs. "Battle Angels" and "Die For My Sins" are the two that have endured the most, as they're the most immediate and hooky tracks, with indelible, larger-than-life choruses mixed with powerful, thrashy riffing and nice solo work. The more expansive "Soldiers of Steel" and "Veil of Disguise," however, prove equally rewarding--the latter may be the best performance of Dane's career, with an array of feels across an extremely wide range. "Ascension To Destiny" and "Sanctuary" are also irresistible slabs of intense power-thrash, and "The Third War" comes in just behind them. The only imperfect moments on the album are the underbaked, rushed "Termination Force" and the solid but mostly superfluous cover of "White Rabbit." Overall, though, six or seven classics out of nine? Hell of an album.
Oh, I should also mention...the other guys are pretty good too. Dane's bandmates are almost an afterthought given his outsized presence here, but Lenny Rutledge and Sean Blosl show themselves to be pretty interesting guitarists, particularly when it comes to creating interesting riffs. The solos are reliable if slightly directionless in places, and they never overstay their welcome, shifting the focus back to the man with the microphone. Budbill pounds away at his kit reliably, though the production takes away a lot of his charm--it wasn't until the band's 2010s reunion that his merits really shone through. Sheppard adds quality basslines throughout, though he's not the type of bassist to command attention.
Many bands have taken this sort of formula and tried to equal the album with modern production values (see 3 Inches of Blood and their ilk), but nobody has ever married such massive vocals to such a strong set of songs. This is a true metal classic that wields considerable influence to this day, and for good reason.
The dividing line between a classic and a cult classic is often chalked up to a simple numbers game, but closer inspection tends to reveal an inherent natural commonality between most in the latter category contra-the former, provided that context is kept paramount. In the area of 1980s USPM, there is a longstanding tendency towards a certain aesthetic of darkness and melancholy that is perhaps best represented in the renowned early works of Queensryche, particularly the self-titled EP and The Warning, as well as the 80s output of Crimson Glory and middle of said decade fair of Fates Warning. These albums would most readily be dubbed cult classics by those outside of the core audience of heavy metal, but within a purely metal consumer audience, they fall into the non-cult category due to their wider reach compared to other acts that adopted a similar sound but were less prolific. Sanctuary was a band that fell into this same general stylistic mode, though they came to the scene a little bit later, but were generally less of a factor in defining said style and didn't make as immediate of a splash as some of the persons within their fold would in the 1990s under the new brand Nevermore.
Through Sanctuary's short run in the latter half of the 80s, they established their own little niche through a sense of stylistic exaggeration, one that is represented in its most concentrated form in their debut LP Refuge Denied. This over-the-top demeanor permeates every musical facet of every single song, presenting a sort of deeper and darker shadow of USPM, one that mixes the wildly exaggerated to the point of becoming supernal vocal style of Crimson Glory's Midnight with a punchy, occasionally quasi-thrashing riff assault that is tuneful enough to pass for early Queensryche, yet also heavy enough to pass for a Fates Warning and perhaps a Metal Church sound. The production sees a fair bit of a larger-than-life personality, perhaps informed by Dave Mustaine's input as producer, which explains the heavy emphasis on a percussive punch to the guitars that's a bit more meaty than typical to power metal, but it also brings about an exaggerated dichotomy between harder sections and softer acoustic fair, resulting in something with a greater degree of contrast than usual, to the point of being jarring.
In retrospect, it's actually not terribly difficult to see where Nevermore's progressive characteristics came from given how freely structured and asymmetrical many of these songs come across. Even more straightforward songs like "Battle Angels" and "Ascension To Destiny" that ride on more of a mid-paced groove and avoid acoustic interludes or thrashing tempo shifts, come off more as free verse dictations with Warrel Dane telling a tale without a distinct verse and chorus distinction, and more often than not the songs will cadence on a rhythmic shift or a glass shattering scream. Truth be told, while there are some clear thrash metal elements in many of these songs, the general demeanor of this album leans a bit towards an earlier incarnation of the darker, heavier sound that Judas Priest would end up propagating on Painkiller, and it's perhaps at its most blatant on faster songs such as "The Third War" and "Die For My Sins". When coupled with an extremely wild lead guitar input that includes several solos by Mustaine itself, this is one of those albums that is fairly short and to the point, yet also the sort of listening experience that tends to take a lot of listens to fully sink in.
At the end of the day, Refuge Denied is one of those albums that is both typical to its time period, yet reflects the atypical and chaotic character of its type. It's all but impossible to miss all the common stylistic quirks that this shares with any number of recent contemporary works by a number of power and thrash metal acts, particularly between 1984 and 1986 when both styles were truly taking shape. But at the same time, there are a number of deviations that put it in its own territory and lend itself to a forward looking mentality that gives it some degree of affinity with later works out of Dane and Sheppard via Nevermore. This is underscored by the band's cover of Jefferson Airplane's "White Rabbit", which perfectly translates the bizarre psychedelic character of the original into the blacker and bleaker world of Sanctuary's aesthetic, while simultaneously avoiding the comic character of most contemporary thrash metal bands that were covering non-metal songs. It sees the world as a truly ugly place, and creates an alternative universe that's even more fatalistic to remove all doubt from the equation, though it isn't a complete paradox to enjoy this album while not sharing the same degree of cynicism.
First off, fuck Nevermore. I've never been a fan of that band and probably won't be anytime soon, especially when I can just listen to "Refuge Denied" whenever. The relationship between Nevermore and Sanctuary is basically the same as the one between Machine Head and Vio-Lence. Both Sanctuary and Vio-Lence are bands that are highly respected in the underground while bands made up of former members go on to shit on the bands they once played in by making very lackluster music that panders to the mainstream. It's ok though, because "Refuge Denied" and "Eternal Nightmare" are always there to listen to endlessly.
Anyway, back to Sanctuary. These guys played some great power metal that really took influence from Judas Priest (A very heavy influence I might add) and the early thrash bands of the eighties. Quite a few of the riffs have K.K. Downing and Glenn Tipton written all over them, with the catchy melodies intertwined, most notably on the songs "Ascension to Destiny" and "Die For My Sins." Some of the riffs were a lot faster and could have fit well on a speed metal record. Tracks like "The Third War" and "Battle Angels" in particular, as both songs have an almost anthem-like feel to them, making them perfect songs to charge into war to.
While the aforementioned songs are all terrific, Sanctuary was really at their best when they were successfully blending those elements with clean and acoustic sections. The intros to "Sanctuary" and "Veil of Disguise" add an epic atmosphere to the overall product, especially when the vocals come in. The combination of the chilling clean/acoustic interludes and Warrel Dane's "Marcolin-esque" vocals are damned good, and even better once some heavier riffs come in and Dane's vocals start to resemble Rob Halford. The song "Termination Force" is another great track from "Refuge Denied" that features the clean guitar passages, but throughout the song and not just the intro.
It's definitely a shame that Sanctuary never got the attention that they deserved, but that's all part of being an underground legend I guess. It's clear that the work the band did on this record was influential as it can clearly be heard on albums by bigger bands such as Iced Earth on their "Night of the Stormrider" album. "Refuge Denied" is a must-have if you're a fan of great music and if not, then enjoy listening to your Nevermore.
"Die For My Sins"
"Veil of Disguise"
Originally written for Nightmare Reality Webzine.
The 1980s were such a wonderful time for heavy metal, birthing some all time classics like the early Maiden albums, Omen’s Battle Cry, Jag Panzer’s Ample Destruction, Mercyful Fate’s Don’t Break the Oath, the early albums by Queensryche, Crimson Glory and Fates Warning…yeah, don’t you just wish naming good bands in a review of a crappy one would make said crappy album better? It doesn’t. Sanctuary is still a lame ass band and Refuge Denied is still a lame ass album. Why? Well, what isn’t lame about it? That’s the shorter answer! Let’s get started.
This is a really good example of why the 80s should never come back. I mean, listening to this album makes me glad the 80s are done with, and I didn’t even live in that time period! For those not in the know, Sanctuary was the band that perpetual underachievers Nevermore’s prominent members started out in before they went on to form that band. In a way, it makes sense. Nevermore were a stereotypical 90s metal band with lackluster songwriting, and Sanctuary were a stereotypical 80s metal band with lackluster songwriting. Don’t you just love how things go in circles?
Everything about this is more or less what you’d expect. The vocals from Dane sound like a dead ringer for Painkiller-era Halford a few years early – shrieky and high pitched like a wolverine on helium – the guitars are melodic and crunchy, the drums are galloping along…this should be a really good album. And for a while it is, with the opener “Battle Angels,” which is the only song that anyone really likes off of this album even when they give it positive ratings. It’s a cool song, I cannot deny. ”OOOOON YOUR KNEEEEES!” Pretty cool song, even if it still isn’t some forgotten classic or something. And the band’s self titled song “Sanctuary” is pretty good, too. Even if it does make the chorus of Queensryche’s “No Sanctuary” pop into my head over and over again, instead. Maybe that’s why I like it.
But everything else on here is just half baked. “Termination Force” has some really uninspired slow parts slagging along like a bad Crimson Glory impersonation, and it’s too short to be a real epic like it’s trying to be, with the transitions between slow and fast being clumsy. It just sounds confused and directionless. “Soldiers of Steel” is a little better, but it still just doesn’t captivate. It sounds a bit like Savatage, except again, not as good. The cover of “White Rabbit” is just pointless, and there are several songs that just don’t really click: “Die for My Sins,” the which-song-did-we-re-use-this-riff-from “Ascension to Destiny” and the boring last two tracks. Seriously, “Veil of Disguise” has got to be the most hacked up, cliché piece of 80s nothingness I’ve heard in a long, long time.
Sanctuary’s problem on here was just that they didn’t really write great songs. These songs have nothing technically wrong with them most of the time; they’re just dull, and they don’t go anywhere. People will crow on about how this is a lost classic, but really those people just need to start discerning between good and bad 80s metal. Seriously, just because it’s from the 80s and is classic sounding heavy metal…doesn’t actually mean it’s a classic. Listen a little closer.
Refuge Denied. A very nice example of US power metal, with some of the best falsettos I’ve heard given by Warrel Dane. This album starts off very strong, kinda slips in the middle, but then pulls it together in the end.
Warrel Dane’s voice is definitely one of a kind, with that “edge” to his falsettos that you hear when you listen to excellent metal singers (Conklin, Midnight, Halford, Breed, Tate), and it fits in perfectly with the music. Sean Blosl and Lenny Rutledge are not exactly riff gods, but the tone that Mustaine gets out of their guitars gives this album its “dark” power metal feeling. Dave Budbill does exactly what is needed for drumming, nothing spectacular. Jim Sheppard gives good bass work throughout the album.
Battle Angels starts out the album and what a song to start off with. Maybe not the best opening song on a debut metal album (Beyond the Black, Evil), but it works extremely well it getting you prepped for the mood of the album. A nice little riff build-up into the starting verse, and then BAM,”Their heathen ways have sealed their DOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOMMMMMMM!” Hearing that was the first time I experienced getting annihilated by a shrieking falsetto, and oh how glorious it was. Nifty little chorus, nice solo, all-around solid song. Ending is a little weird, with some Spanish radio segueing into the next song.
Termination Force uses one of metal’s best and oldest tricks, using a nice semi-clean guitar intro and then cranking the amp up to 11 and throwing the riffs in your face. The song then leads into Dane doing some interesting “talking” over the clean guitar before breaking out his godly falsetto. Then the song starts thrashing again and basically repeats this formula till the end of the song. Decent solo, but nothing special.
DIE FOR MY SINS! Probably the best fast song on the album. Excellent harmonizing riff work by Blosl and Rutledge, making this song sound the most traditional off the album, and it works. Really fucking well. Throw in an excellent chorus and more godly falsetto and you’ll be headbanging like a madman.
Soldiers of Steel is my favorite song off the album (No Shit?), and it is a nice slow-burner with the best vocal work on the album. Excellent riff work, tasteful solo, it all comes together on this song. Nice little clean parts keep you excited for the heavy when they roll back around.
Sanctuary has an excellent intro, but the rest of the song fails to match up to what was promised by the intro. Instead of being epic, it kind of just chugs along till the end.
White Rabbit is an excellent interpretation of the Jefferson Airplane song, with a great guitar intro from Mustaine and more ridiculously high vocals from Dane.
Ascension to Destiny is a decent song, although it’s longer than it needs to be.
The Third War showcases more falsettos and some interesting double bass work by Budbill during the verses.
Finally we come to the closer, Veil of Destiny. Excellent acoustic guitar work leads into Dane giving us some epic vocals which fit perfectly with the song. Interesting Egyptian-themed lyrics with some of the better vocal lines here, with the song picking up about three-quarters of the way through and then exiting out with a great line by Dane:
As I see the sun rise on these ancient sands
My immortal gift lies dying in your hands
Overall it’s an excellent example of traditional/early power-thrash, especially US-style power, with some weak spots here and there that are easily compensated with Dane’s godly vocals.
Here it is, the beginning of the group that would eventually become Nevermore. Just to instantly get it out there, if you're expecting a precursor to Nevermore or anything of that sort here, you'll be seriously damaged by what's going on with Sanctuary here. It might even take time to recognize Warrel Dane on vocals. Here we have some straight up Priest-esque traditional metal with some power metal moments popping up a few times here and there. The inconsistency factor is pretty much it's greatest weakness (and hey speaking of Priest, compare it to Ram It Down in terms of consistency).
As my title states, I'd have to say this album is a "slightly denied" experience. A lot of it feels a bit anti-climatic, you'll be thinking some powerful solo or insane chorus is about to appear out of nowhere and yet nothing ever happens. A good chunk of the songs sound a bit too similar as well. I can't lie though, if the majority of the album were faster I'd probably enjoy it a lot more but that's not the case and most of the songs just don't stand out that much when you walk away from it. As I typically like to make clear in a handful of my reviews, it's never really simplicity that I have much of an issue with, but this one just lacks passion and "punch" behind it that makes it fairly uninteresting.
Warrel Dane and the "high moments" the album has though, are it's saving grace. As I said earlier before though, Dane sounds nothing like he does in Nevermore here. He shrieks constantly and at times it sounds like he's singing entirely in falsetto. Even though it's really over the top and constant I think it's pretty awesome, but you obviously have to be in the mood for it. So, you're probably going to either love or hate the vocals here. The production is noteworthy as well (apparently mastered by Mustaine himself), as it's pretty powerful, heavy, and does have a rather dark touch to the whole mix.
I think Battle Angels does a good job summing up my "anti-climatic" argument here. If you took out Warrel Dane on this one could you imagine how tasteless it would be? The buildup is only decent, the majority of the song is slow, the solo fails to impress (most of them do on this), etc. Termination Force isn't bad, Dane has a more diverse approach to this one with some mid range singing that actually sounds great. The next song is basically an example of how good everything could've been here, if it worked; Die For My Sins. The pacing, Dane's vocals, the unforgettable rhythm's, the catchy melodic chorus, the engaging leads, this song is an absolute classic. From here on it's decent material at best with the exception of the final tracks The Third War and the end of Veil of Disguise standing way above the huge gap between Die For My Sins.
It's really a shame the two previous songs off their 1986 demo, Insane and Incubus didn't make an appearance here, as those songs easily top everything here and could've made this album infinitely more enjoyable (okay, guess it'd be a fair fight put up against Die For My Sins). Not to mention those two songs had a far stronger power metal demeanor to them compared to all the material on this one (also including their next full length release). Even Dane's first band Serpent's Knight had a stronger sense of direction. I bring this rant up because often in "classic US power metal" discussions Refuge Denied gets thrown in with one too many recommendations, when seriously, there's far superior stuff out there in such a field that many should explore a little more. If you want something similar, early Deadly Blessing and Liege Lord would be drastically better choices ... and so on. Overall, this is a fun album and potentially worth hearing for Die For My Sins alone, but as time continues on my interest in this one just doesn't hold much of a strong position. If you enjoy 80's metal and want to see where Nevermore began, check it out. In the end, this is like half and half early US power metal.
Everyone knows by now who is in this band, and who produced it. So I'll just go straight to the music.
Sanctuary were kind of a unique blend of traditional metal, early power metal, thrown in with some speed/thrash moments. Most songs are mid-paced, while some are fast, no ballads to be found, this album rips from beginning to end. The riffs and solos are absolutely top notch, these guys could play. The vocals are insane, incredibly high pitched but with alot of power and a very rough edge(probably most similar to Painkiller-era Halford). Not your typical light, and happy power metal vocals. The only real fault this album has, is pretty horrible production. The music is loud and fairly clear, but it just doesn't sound natural....The drums suffer especially bad.
The first song is "Battle Angels" this is the most well known song from the album. And for good reason, great riffs and melodies and some menacing and powerful vocals. A great use of falsetto in the pre-pre-chorus, "Their heathen ways have sealed their....DOOOOOOOOOOOMMMM!" awesome stuff. Great solo, just balls to the wall classic heavy metal in it's purest form.
"Termination Force" is next, kind of a weird song. Some clean guitars and weird vocals start off the song, then the guitars distort and the vocals go into a really high falsetto and the song eventually picks up into total speed metal. Really great song.
"Die For My Sins" has probably some of the best vocal work on the album. It's a semi speed metal type song, very Manowar-ish. The vocals really own this song, "Suffering no one can help you noooooowwwwww.....Betrayed by your worn and tattered voooooooooowwwwwsss!" 3 great songs in a row so far.
Then comes "Soldiers of Steel" and this is easily my favorite song on the album. A bit longer than the others, and more ambitious than the first 3. Some whispered vocals mixed with some really intense screaming give a great feel of build up. This song also has the best chorus on the album, and the best solo as well. That ending falsetto scream is just fucking insane..."Relentless screams call onto me, we are the soldiers.....of STEEEEEEEEELLLL-YEAHHHAAAHHH!!!"
"Sanctuary" is a pretty dynamic song. Changing from a Manowar style intro, to a doomy Sabbath style riff, then into a thrashy speed metal riff drives the rest of the song. The verse riff is probably the best on the album, and a solo that just ends too soon. The heaviest song on here, real head banging material.
"White Rabbit" ok now this is kinda weird. They manage to pull it off quite well, it's a Jefferson Airplane cover for those living under a rock. It's the slowest song on the album, and pretty darn creepy. It's cool when a band really puts their own style on a cover song, it fits the album suprisingly well.
"Ascension to Destiny" could have been a great song, but it's too long for it's own good. The ending is really cool though.
"The Third War" is really fast paced, but like the song before it, it kinda drags on for too long. It's a shame though, both of these songs have some really great moments.
"Veil of Disguise" closes the album off quite nicely. It starts off with some accoustic guitars and soft and soaring vocals. Then eventually picks up to a pretty fast paced rocker. Nice chorus, and some pretty varied riffing all throughout the song.
All in all this was an amazing debut album, even if the production struggles alot. But in a way, the weird production gives the album it's own style, I can't think of another album that really sounds like this one does. Very highly reccomended for anyone who loves classic metal, and early power metal, or just heavy metal in general.
Sanctuary is a band that was a very good start for Warrel Dane and Jim Sheppard, who would go on to form Nevermore. And Refuge Denied is the beginning of even greater things to come for these two people in the future. Enlisting Dave Mustaine to produce this album, the album would sound fairly good in the mix department, with the vocals and guitar in particular being very clear. Unfortunately, the band is a little bit all over the place to consider this an excellent job in production from the Megadeth mainman.
The highlights: Warrel Dane is a great singer, and he shows off his pipes by using his falsetto in a big way. This is the first (and last) album where he really lets his falsetto loose, perhaps even a little too much so. There are some really excellent songs that hold up this album very well. "Battle Angels" has an excellent head moving rhythm and highly effective Dane vocals, and "White Rabbit" is one of the best covers I've heard done by anybody. In my opinion, this cover miles ahead of the Jefferson Airplane version. "Die For My Sins" and "Soldiers Of Steel" are also good, with the latter song having an etched and refined guitar solo in the last third of the song. The vocals on "Die For My Sins" have a very evil sound to them, especially in the chorus. "Termination Force" has a good guitar sound, and a nice solo around the middle of the song.
The lowlights: Like I said earlier, the members of the band seem to want to do a little bit too much of their own thing in differnent parts, making some of the parts feel slightly disjointed. Many of the songs sound too much alike, mainly due to the lack of variety in the songwriting and Dane's high-end vocals that are beaten a little too much to death here. The songs, while very good, seem to follow the same format for the most part. "Ascension To Destiny" and "Sanctuary", while they are good enough songs, are examples of songs that sound too similar, and leave the listener scratching their head. Sanctuary will improve on these mistakes on the next album, fortunately, and then a much better form of this band called Nevermore will arise in the future.
Who this album's for: Power metal fans with a love for falsetto vocals like Geoff Tate's and Bruce Dickinson's, and newbies to Nevermore who do not know Warrel Dane's and Jim Sheppard's beginnings. Also for people with an interest in music (mainly metal) that came from the Seattle besides grunge.
The bottom line: A good, but not great power metal album with some hints of thrash, with mixed results, especially in terms of production, songwriting and variety. Not the best place for a newbie to Warrel Dane's work to start, I would recommend Nevermore's Dreaming Neon Black first.