Sanctuary – The Year the Sun Died
Release Date: October 14th, 2014
Remember Refuge Denied? Back in 1987, a small band from Seattle called Sanctuary debuted this album produced by the legendary Dave Mustaine, and it followed up with their sophomore album Into the Mirror Black in 1990 before ending their run in 1992. They were a sonic wrecking ball in the center of the grunge apocalypse. Unfortunately, Sanctuary fell victim to the industry’s desire to clone the sound of the moment, and frontman Warrell Dane was not having any of that. The band went into stasis and Dane emerged alongside guitarist Jeff Loomis in Nevermore.
Fast forward 20-some years and Nevermore itself goes into stasis. As Dane loudly declares, “Nevermore did not break up. Two guys just quit the fucking band. Nevermore and Sanctuary were co-existing at the same time.” Great news for fans of both bands. But I digress…
Dane is a natural baritone capable of singing pitches so far across the octave scale he leaves people scratching their heads in wonder. He has amazed the world even with his solo work and a project with Behemoth in ’07, but it is inspiriting that he has returned to studio with longtime comrades and original Sanctuary mates, Lenny Rutledge (guitar), Jim Sheppard (bass) and Dave Budbill (drums). Another long time Sanctuary ally, Brad Hull (Forced Entry), has lent his guitar skills to the mix as well. The result, after a staggering 25 years – The Year the Sun Died.
The obvious downside of being a Nevermore fan is that everything that Warrel Dane and Jeff Loomis put out on their own ultimately feels a bit incomplete without either of them complementing each other. As I started my journey from the very first track, “Arise and Purify”, I realized Dane and gang are here to prove everyone wrong. Rutledge’s knack for engaging riffs and inspired melodies has only improved over the years. There really are not enough superlatives in the English language to sufficiently describe the utterly jaw dropping virtuosity on display. I was expecting a slow, melancholic prologue to the start of this record, maybe some acoustic guitar and harmonies but I did not expect “Arise and Purify”. This song comes in right from play and hits you hard with harmonized guitars, heavy drumming and a voice that can grapple with your soul. The pitch and pace of this song messes with your head, its sound is so new, and it shocks you to think the group hasn’t recorded together for two decades. If this song doesn’t send you into a trance with its bone chilling vocals and mind-blowing guitar solo harmonies, then you really need to listen to it again, period.
While the next track “Let the Serpent Follow Me” continues to mesmerize, the third song “Exitium” is like getting hit with another drug when the first one hasn’t worn off yet. The vocals and guitars are like two planets colliding with the aid of a bellowing bass and earth shattering beats. Rutledge and Hull balance and compliment each other amazingly well. Squealing guitars aided by Dane’s inhuman humming make it really difficult to get this track off loop, and when you do, you’re tossed into the air with “Question Existence Fading”, before the next track “I Am Low”, brings you back to the ground. This is a demonstration of the soul of metal music. With unfathomable melodies and Dane’s vocals, if the metal world needs a national anthem, this track is it. If you really invest sometime and effort into the lyrics, you will understand why goosebumps will be the regular bodily reaction while listening to this album.
I can go on and on about the unforgettable chorus in “Frozen”, or the eerie acoustic echoes in “Sworn In Believe”, but the moment “Ad Vetam Aternam” played, time stood still for me. The title song follows up with a grand finale called “Waiting for the Sun”, which I’ll let you experience by yourselves once you get a copy of this album; which by the way you simply must.
The album artwork is modern, artistic and is a straight-forward pictorial representation of the title: a dying, disintegrating ball of fire being engulfed by the darkness of death as it breathes its last. You can listen to Dane talk about it in our recent interview.
The only downside to this album will be the expectation from Warrel Dane’s fans when it comes to his cherished high-pitched vocals on their debut album Refuge Denied. This album is more aligned with the band’s second effort, Into the Mirror Black. If you are in search of those high-pitched moments you won’t find what you are looking for here. That said, this album does not require them to make its point or drive the music home.
The band tapped Chris “Zeuss” Harris to produce, and as always, he does a masterful job. When no two songs sound alike, and all the tracks sound electrifying, refreshing and amazing, you get an excellent album. Take all that and give it a soul, and you get Sanctuary’s The Year the Sun Died. That is the definition of this masterpiece. Sanctuary is a group who after over two decades are still raw in their inspiration, and positively gifted with their music. Final verdict, just go and get this album now, because you have not never heard anything like it in quite a while.
Bottom Line: If a band like Sanctuary does not deserve your support, then no one on this damn planet does. Period!