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Refuge Denied / Into The Mirror Black
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Refuge Denied- Thrash with a different perspective, released in 1987 and produced by Dave Mustaine , containing a great version of Jefferson Airplanes White Rabbit. Into The Mirror Black- Sanctuarys second and final album released 1990 is an overlooked masterpiece, blurring the lines between technical, Bay areastyle thrash, traditional heavy metal and European power metal. Every song hitting the sweet spot between hook and riff, it is a triumph and a shame that it was their final album. Warrel Dane and Jim Sheppard went on to extend Sanctuarys ambition and song writing sensibilities into the superb NEVERMORE.
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May 21, 1988 I saw Sanctuary perform in Germany with Megadeth, Testament, and Flotsam and Jetsam. That day when they hit the stage, my mouth hit the floor! The opened with "Battle Angels" and the guitar riffs, solid drums, and the vocals, oh my, the vocals, I could not move! I was in love!
When "Into the Mirror Black" was released, I must have played it nearly 1000 plus times. Sanctuary was and is a band you could not get sick of. They have a very solid sound! I own the originals on both of these and imports from many years back. I will say I can hear the difference in the re-mastered versions. I personally did not think it was possible to make Sanctuary sound better, but they are a bit clearer.
As everyone knows, Dave Mustaine of Megadeth signed and produced their first album. Warrel was very persistent with having Dave hear their (Sanctuary) music and it finally paid off. Back then and to this day I can't compare them to any other band. They are in a league of their own! Warrel will make the hairs on the back of your neck stand up with his vocals. Sean and Lenny on guitars are so well blended together. Jim on bass, you can hear and feel the bass come through on so many songs. Dave on drums, he was probably one of my favorite drummers, very solid sounding.
As you probably know Warrel and Jim parted ways and formed Nevermore. Sean at the time stopped playing and Lenny is now back in action along with Dave. Sorry, but I have always thought Dave was a lot better on the drums then Van who played with Nevermore.
If you are looking for some great solid metal that you want to bang your head to, this is it! It will leave you memorized and wanting more! I loved Nevermore but sadly I think Sanctuary was better.
For those wondering about videos, they only one they released from these albums was "Future Tense" from ITMB. I still have a copy of it and can't get sick of it.
I am glad most of them are still rocking and thankfully most of them reunited (Warrel, Jim, Sean and Lenny) and played several shows together as Sanctuary last year and this year. Over 24 years ago they blew me away and to this day I still cannot get enough! Amazing band and music!
The songs range from great to solid with no dogs. Aside from the aforementioned "Sanctuary," here's a rundown of the tracks:
"Battle Angels": Arguably the best song on the album and simply metal at its finest! It should've been a huge hit for the band, but it eschews the pop sound of the typical rock/metal radio hit, which is a good thing. In other words, as ultra-catchy as it is, it's just too pure metal to be a hit.
"Die for my Sins": A heart-wrenching account of the tragic fall of a minister, possibly Jimmy Swaggart or Jim Bakker. Warrel's vocals make you feel the anguish of the duplicitous believer. An incredible piece.
"Soldiers of Steel": Another strong track. Warrel truly sings his heart out in the opening verses, which are effectively contrasted by some fitting 'acoustic' sections.
"Veil of Disguise": Like "Sanctuary" this one starts out 'acoustically' but it's meatier, lasting well over two minutes before the heavier stuff kicks in. The song's almost epic.
"White Rabbit": This is a powerful metal version of the Jefferson Airplane song. Dave Mustaine, who produced the album, plays the opening lead solo.
"Termination Force": Starts out eerie & innovative and eventually takes a strong thrash turn. In fact, it's easily the album's thrashiest track. This was always my least favorite song on the CD, since it can be somewhat annoying, but it's still a really good number and one of the disk's more distinctive cuts.
"Ascension to Destiny": This one has a memorable vocal melody on the verses, but it also has a samey-sounding vibe that may turn off some listeners. This is a minor flaw of REFUGE DENIED in general, but give the album some time and each tune will ultimately stand on its own.
"The Third War": It took a while, but this song eventually became one of my favorites. Like "Die for my Sins," it's short and punchy with potent lyrics and a vocal delivery that makes you feel the words.
The production/mix obviously didn't have a billion dollar budget so the album has its limitations. Regardless, it works because the songwriting and performances are stellar; hence, the material stands up to this day. And that's the bottom line.
Needless to say, if you're a metal fan and don't have this album in your arsenal, get a copy ASAP!
Sanctuary followed-up REFUGE DENIED with the much-anticipated INTO THE MIRROR BLACK circa 1990.
I didn't find INTO THE MIRROR BLACK as immediately gratifying as REFUGE DENIED; it took longer to appreciate, but it is a solid follow-up. Here's a rundown of the songs:
"Future Tense": This is a strong opener, but it's not as good as half the songs on REFUGE DENIED and Warrel's voice takes an out-of-tune turn on the chorus. Plus, although the song has some great things to say about corruption in government, the lyrical emphasis on the 90s unnecessarily dates the song over two decades later.
"Taste Revenge": This is the `hit' of the album, but not in a pop-hit sense. Like "Battle Angels," "Taste Revenge" is just too metal for that. I was never too keen on the subject matter, but that's a personal thing. Regardless, it's definitely one of the top three songs on the disk and arguably as good as anything on REFUGE DENIED.
"Long Since Dark": I like how this song balances driving double-bass or galloping parts with more emotional mellow segments. It's not a standout track, but it's not a lesser track either. Solid.
"Epitaph": Similar to "Veil of Disguise" from REFUGE DENIED in that it starts off with eerie acoustics before taking a heavier turn. A meandering nigh-epic that's not bad at all, just not all that memorable.
"Eden Lies Obscured": Brace yourself `cause this is a metal masterpiece of the highest order. Warrel laments the human condition: We're all born innocent but are eventually corrupted by carnal desires and blind fools in authority. It's a commentary on humanity's vain search for happiness, paradise and immortality. In a sense he's right, but in another sense he's only partially right. I believe "Eden" CAN be attained, but it's not through human effort or ingenuity, but rather reconciliation with the Divine. In any event, it's a brilliant song that stands the test of time. You can just FEEL the emotion when Warrel cries out: "No one knows where Eden lies." Also, although this is another nigh-epic, it wisely doesn't overstay its welcome.
"The Mirror Black": Another gothic-tinged number that effectively employs the light/heavy dynamic. Solid, but not a standout.
"Seasons of Destruction": As long as you can get past the main riff with the strange trill lick, this is a decent track, but I never got over the goofy vibe of that lick. Yet, let me hastily add, I like it better today than I did back then; and the haunting backing vocals on the bridge or pre-chorus are very notable. All in all, however, the song just comes across too contrived and disjointed.
"One More Murder": A commentary of life on the streets on the other side of the tracks. It's okay, just not very memorable, but the fade-out climax is strong.
"Communion": The title comes from the (supposedly) non-fiction book "Communion: A True Story" by Whitley Strieber, who's also known for the novel/film "Wolfen." The book's controversial because it details Strieber's visits by a group of non-humans, i.e. aliens. Strange lyrics aside, the song is another masterpiece almost on par with "Eden Lies Obscure." It mixes eccentric elements with innovative riffing and peculiar influences, like - believe it or not - "The Devil Went Down to Georgia."
BOTTOM LINE: INTO THE MIRROR BLACK has better production values and half the songs are as good or better than anything on REFUFE DENIED, but the album's hampered by the other tracks that fail to rise to the bar already set. Yet, at the same time, they're not bad by any means. Another criticism is that Warrel failed to utilize the ultra-hooky banshee vocals he used throughout REFUGE DENIED, causing some to theorize that he permanently damaged his vocal chords during the REFUGE DENIED era. Despite this, his regular vocals are still better than 99% of metal vocalists, except for that one chorus line in "Future Tense" that grates on the nerves.
ENDNOTE: Sanctuary unfortunately disbanded in 1991. Half the band morphed into Nevermore, who were more technical, but rarely attained the level of songcraft of Sanctuary. And, in my book, it's the songs that matter, not doodling around on your instrument to show how great you can play (don't take that wrong, as I like Nevermore, just not as much as Sanctuary). Thankfully, Sanctuary reunited and played some shows in 2010-11 and are expected to put a new album out. Imagine that, a new album after over two decades!
a few months later after i posted the above review, i learned that warrel dane informed that sanctuary has reformed and a new album is in the making. as posted on wikipedia.org, "Warrel Dane announced in May, 2010, that Sanctuary will reunite to record a new album". oh my goodness, this is a dream come true. SANCTUARY RULES!!!!! Warrel, hurry up with the new album and a north american tour.
They reformed and are supposed to have a new album out in 2013. u can listen to some of the new songs on YOUTUBE.
The music itself. The vocals are just amazing. They are the reason I started listening to them. I was in a phase of Queensryche and Manowar where I liked the high pitched vocals. I like how there are times that it feels very operatic. Hard crunching guitars and fluid vocals. Interspersed with more melodic guitars and harsh vocals. The other reviews describe things better. I'll just say that they are great music. Thrash. Metal. Almost typical early 90s thrash except for the vocals. A unique sound and very good.