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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.