Register Forgot login?

© 2002-2019
Encyclopaedia Metallum

Best viewed
without Internet Explorer,
in 1280 x 960 resolution
or higher.

Privacy Policy

An arcane decree from the metal pulpit. - 91%

hells_unicorn, October 4th, 2015
Written based on this version: 1988, CD, Epic Records

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.