Sanctuary – Refuge RevivedSunday, 7th September 2014
The year Sanctuary came to my attention: 1988. Even as a late teen, budget constraints often caused me to be very cautious on blind purchases. Thus after reading up on the bands in such publications as Metal Mania, Hit Parader, and Metal Forces, I’d try to get the most bang for the buck. Enter an Epic Records compilation laughably called Megahurtz featuring 2 cuts each from Fifth Angel, Riot, the Slammin’ Watusis (huh?), and this aforementioned power metal act from Seattle, Washington.
Once I heard the opening riff charge, drum march, and inhuman high pitch screams to “Battle Angels”, I was hooked. Sanctuary took Judas Priest to a heavier level – darker, monstrous, and bulldozing all bystanders. The band would release two albums on Epic Records: Refugee Denied and Into the Mirror Black, before breaking up in 1992 due to the changing local climate (metal out, grunge very in) and typical internal strife that can occur when you reach a certain level of success, yet not enough in the view of your suit and tie corporate types.
Following a lengthy, successful stint with Nevermore that lasted 20 years, vocalist Warrel Dane and guitarist Lenny Rutledge felt the time is right to bring Sanctuary back, first performing a series of reunion shows (rounding out the lineup with original bassist/Nevermore cohort Jim Sheppard, drummer Dave Budbill, and guitarist Brad Hull) and then writing and recording a brand new studio album. “What really fueled the reunion is when Jack Black got involved with the video game Brütal Legend and picked “Battle Angels” to be in the game,” Warrel says. “The rumor is he picked the song that he liked to fantasize a bit about. That got us talking. We gave Sean (Blosi, guitarist) the opportunity to be involved, but he decided it’s not his thing anymore. I respect that. We have known Brad through Forced Entry, and he was a part of the last tour in the early 90’s with us.”
Musicians often possess an intuitive sense about the creation of a record. I was curious if Warrel knew when things were going to be ok as far as this third album The Year the Sun Died. “About halfway through the songwriting process I realized everything was going to be fine,” Warrel opens. “I didn’t have any apprehension or fears because I knew we had been bottling shit up for a long time, and when it was going to come out it was going to be an assault attack, like that Michael Schenker song and album title. There might have been a few old ideas, but it’s all pretty much brand new, current, and relevant. I think it really sounds like a modern metal record. It sounds up to date and will get us back into the metal market.”
One of the key elements to push Sanctuary into 2014 is the recording expertise of Chris ‘Zeuss’ Harris, known for his work through the years on records from Soulfly, Shadows Fall, and Hatebreed. “Zeuss brought everything to the table, he is a great producer.” Warrel says. “Bottom line. He really pushed me hard, and made me sing better than I have in a long time. That’s one great thing that a producer can do when they are showing you their skills. They know how to push musicians, and he did the same thing with all the guys in the band. He wanted everyone to perform as (good) as they could. I love that guy for that. I think we are pretty lucky we got him, he wanted to do this record so bad, he was pursuing us.”
People clamoring for new material can check online to hear two new songs that Sanctuary first played live at the 2012 Bloodstock Festival in England, “The World is Wired” and “I Am Low”. Was there any discussion within the band regarding what fresh material would signal a preview to the new record? “Those are two of the first songs that we wrote when we were doing this whole thing.” Warrel explains. “We realize they are great songs, especially “I Am Low”. And those songs are really close to my heart, because there is some weird personal stuff on (the latter) song. The rest of the album is going to blow people away. The first track “Arise and Purify” is really indicative of what the rest of the album sounds like. That song has the high pitched screaming, the old Sanctuary sound, and it’s already up on YouTube and that’s a good thing because I haven’t seen anything but positive response to it.”
If you are looking for similarities to Nevermore, look no further than the lyrics. The Year the Sun Died, much like Dreaming Neon Black, is a conceptual effort, and happens again at the third album mark in each band’s discography. “I have to tell you it’s a coincidence,” Warrel tells me. “But the songwriting process for this record caused me to develop the story in my head. I knew this record had to be strong and very special because we had been away for so long, and I made sure that happened. I’m really proud of this record, I’m going to be slowly unveiling the story. When you read the liner notes… I kinda did the same thing as Dreaming Neon Black, in between songs I wrote a little script.”
Most in the metal community seemed shocked when watching the breakup of Nevermore occur in the spring of 2011 following a European tour with Symphony X. Guitarist Jeff Loomis and drummer Van Williams announced their departure due to ‘internal struggles and ongoing issues within the band’. Now that we are a few years beyond the dissolution, what really happened? “The implosion of Nevermore, you may say that but those guys just quit.” Warrel says. “I have said this before, Nevermore is the best band that alcohol ever destroyed; some of the best years of my life had been with Nevermore. European bands are just so great. America is wrapped up in everything nu-metal or whatever you want to call it these days. I have nothing but good memories of that, I’m going to be touring in Brazil next month with my solo band and doing the whole Dead Heart album in its entirety, I would love to do that as well in the United States. I do the Paul Di’Anno thing down there in Brazil.”
One tool that didn’t exist in the first go around for Sanctuary that is necessary for most metal bands to succeed is their use of the internet to get the word out about their activities. It can be a double edge sword though, developing a friend or foe relationship much like any type of technology that can make things easier to accomplish your goals in this fast paced world we live in. “Social media can be an adversary and an ally at the same time.” Warrel explains. “You have to use it correctly, like any technology you can use it to your advantage or you can let it you use you. I prefer to use social media as I do something like Pro Tools; you have to know how to use it and use it to your advantage. You can’t always do the copy and paste thing with ProTools because I change the lyrics all the time. Verses and choruses. It can’t all be the same time. You have to become accustomed to it, learn how to work in the new times.”
Reaching back into the past memory archive, I wanted to find out from Warrel what those early years were like when going on the road in support of Refuge Denied and Into the Mirror Black. “Touring for Refuge Denied was amazing because we were children back then and we got to go on tour with Megadeth and Warlock. I just saw Doro (Pesch) a couple of weeks ago at the Wacken Open Air festival in Germany and she has not changed, my God she has not aged a day! She still looks the same and is the sweetest woman you will ever meet. She wanted to know the name of the new Sanctuary album and was getting excited. I told her it would be exciting if we could get Dave Mustaine to take us all on tour again, do Megadeth, Warlock and Sanctuary. You never know what’s going to happen, I’m putting it out there, I know Chris Broderick pretty well. That would just made my day to do that tour. As far as the second record, I love me some Fates Warning, love Ray Alder, one of my favorite singers ever to tour with on Into the Mirror Black for the US.”
The new Sanctuary album is coming out at a critical part of the year, the fourth quarter where record labels like to see the deck stacked in their favor in terms of sales. The metal world is no different in 2014, so I wanted to find out if there are any particular releases that Warrel is excited to hear and champion for the masses? “Have you heard Opeth? It’s so good! Let me be the first one to say it. I am so excited for new At the Gates as well; Slaughter to the Soul is one of my all-time favorite metal albums. I’m frothing to hear that one. They started the whole melo-death thing, they are Swedish and we all know that Swedes cannot go wrong! (laughs) It’s inspired everyone to become better musicians as a result. The musicianship is evolving, it’s hard to absorb everything but it’s exciting. It’s pushed us to become better musicians on every individual level.”
The major question on everyone’s mind, at least in North America, is will we see Sanctuary touring in support of this new album? The old guard may have been able to see these power gods live, but you now have a newer generation clamoring to see if these veterans can deliver once again on stages far and wide. “We have a record release show on November 14th in Seattle,” Warrel opens. “We will do a West Coast run and we are working on an East Coast run, we have to get to Chicago and New York City at least. We are also shooting a video for the song “Frozen” which you haven’t heard yet. We are doing that in Germany, we are headlining a festival in Essen, and it’s free to get in. The city shuts down and they have food, art, music, so it’s killer.”