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Classic, and Never Equaled - 97%

GOOFAM, October 6th, 2015

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.