Sanctuary – Revisiting the Dark Mirror

Sunday, 29th November 2020

‘Past tense to future tense let history unfold / so ends a decade now what will the nineties hold?’. An interesting sentiment originally delivered in 1990 that could easily hold true of today’s virus plagued, contentious political climate on a globe scale. Celebrating the 30th anniversary of Into the Mirror Black, Sanctuary established more a darker, melodic power side to the band that was already quite heavy and thrash-oriented from their Refuge Denied debut record. Choosing to expand the record with unreleased demos plus a full live show from Reseda, California – the record is given a remastering treatment and fleshed out with liner notes by bassist Jim Sheppard and guitarist Lenny Rutledge.

To let us know more regarding Sanctuary around this time, we spoke to Lenny who related many memories about that time period, assembling the special items for this release, working with Howard Benson during his early times producing, and what the band will be cooking up from this point forward.

Dead Rhetoric: Into the Mirror Black is now 30 years old. What are your most vivid memories surrounding the songwriting and recording of this album? Do you believe you were establishing more of your own style and sound compared to the debut Refuge Denied?

Lenny Rutledge: Yeah. As far as the songwriting goes, the band had just spent a bunch of time on tour, and we were really starting to gel. Playing the old songs for a while, we were pretty primed for something a little different. The writing shows where we were as far as being a little bit different than Refuge. We really love our thrash roots, but we were a band that had a little bit more melody as well. Almost a darker vibe, and that was something that we wanted to explore I think. Howard Benson, he made a unique record for us. It was a really good time for us.

Dead Rhetoric: What was it like working with Howard, as you said it was a little different than working with Dave Mustaine on the first record?

Rutledge: Howard was more of a pop guy. It was a weird pairing for us. He wasn’t used to this kind of music so I think it was kind of an experiment for him. He seemed like the guy that was up for whatever, he was starting out. For us, we were at a point in our career where even the record company wasn’t sure if they were going to continue with us. They weren’t quite sure, Epic Records, wasn’t a massive metal label. They wanted to sign a band in that genre, and a lot of bands were coming up around that time. They brought in Howard, and wanted to see what he could do with us. He spent a weekend with us, recorded three songs at a studio in Seattle, and the record company loved it. It saved our record deal – and those three songs are on this new re-release as well.

I think Howard made us a better band, and a different band. We pretty much stuck to our guns, but there are parts where we listened to him, took his advice and bent a little bit. We were young and set in our ways. He had some good ideas and all around a pretty good producer, even that early on. The result was Into the Mirror Black.

Dead Rhetoric: How did you feel about adding the full live show as a bonus element?

Rutledge: We got asked about that promo a lot (Into the Mirror Live- Black Reflections) – a lot of people got their hands on it. The record company mixed it, and they didn’t really ask us about it- we found out they were doing a promo and threw those songs on there. We didn’t ever know what happened to that, and an old manager that we had sent me some music of ours. He sent it to me, and it turns out that was the whole concert that we did with Westwood One at the Reseda, May 12th, 1990. What a great idea to release that, the demos, and the remaster of Mirror Black. I think it turned out really well.

The stuff you hear on that live recording is pretty much how it happened that night. We didn’t go in and doctor it up. There are bands that do that, and there’s nothing wrong with that because sometimes it’s probably necessary, but we left it alone. We wanted the fans to hear it the way it happened.

Dead Rhetoric: You toured with Fates Warning across North America and Europe to support this record during 1990. How do you feel the shows went and did you have a good relationship with Fates Warning as tour partners?

Rutledge: At first, I’m not sure. We were a little bit standoffish. We started our first tour in Rochester, NY. It took us a little while to warm up to those guys and vice versa, but we ended up becoming very good friends. We toured with them again in Europe, and we were really good friends with them by that time. They learned a little bit from us. We had a hell of a time sharing a bus with them in Europe, when you share a bus with people, you get to know them pretty well.

The shows overall went pretty well. There were a couple of shows towards the end in Europe, there was something going on with the promoter and there were some nefarious deals going on. A couple of the shows got cancelled at the end. It was a really good time. We took a train trip in Europe to somewhere in Germany to Greece. On our way there we had to stop in all these different countries, and one was in Yugoslavia. I remember all the kids on the side holding their hands out, and they were starving. It was an eye-opening experience. We would stop at certain places and people would get on the train with their livestock, sleep in the halls of the train. Soldiers would get on, and I remember we had two hotel rooms to ourselves, Fates Warning had one and we had one. Some soldiers came on with machine guns, they threatened us and said if we didn’t give up one of our rooms, they would do something bad to us. So we did, and the whole crew and band would be in one room. That was better than the alternative.

Dead Rhetoric: By the time you came back to your home state, alternative and grunge music started to bubble up from the underground and infiltrate the mainstream. Did you get any sense of a changing of the guard so to speak, and was that the beginning of the end for the original incarnation of Sanctuary?

Rutledge: Yeah, you really noticed especially in Seattle. I kind of remember the groundswell, but right when Nevermind came out, you knew something was changing. I remember thinking it was pretty cool. For some people Nirvana is a bad word, but there is something undeniable and special about Nevermind. The songs were catchy and hard hitting. We felt it, I remember sitting in the car with Jeff Loomis as he just joined Sanctuary. We heard “Come as You Are” and “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and we knew something different was happening.

These things go in cycles sometimes. I don’t think it’s a bad thing- there was a lot of music that needed to be cleaned up, hair bands and makeup and all that crap going on for too long. As you can see, a lot of the grunge went away too. There are some great bands, Alice in Chains I don’t consider grunge, I consider them a really heavy, cool hard rock band, dark. Soundgarden… people call Pearl Jam grunge and I kind of disagree, I think they are a really good hard rock band, a bluesy rock thing. Some of it I didn’t mind that much, some of it I’m kind of glad it went away.

Dead Rhetoric: How do you feel about the work of Century Media in comparison to how you were treated over your time on Epic – as it’s obviously different to be involved with a strong independent label dedicated to metal versus being a part of the major label machine?

Rutledge: For me, my experience is only on two labels: Epic and Century Media. It’s night and day. I don’t know if I would say that Epic was not a good label, they were and they did great for the bands that they understood. We were just a band they thought was going to catch fire, they were probably hoping it was going to take care of itself. Century Media definitely is more hands on. I felt a little more like family, they had worked with Nevermore as well, so it was kind of a seamless thing. Sanctuary felt like we were home. I think they are a decent record company. They seem like good people and they know what they are going.

I wish nowadays that all record companies spent a little more time on their artists and promoting, the cycle being longer. They have to move faster, in the old days record companies would take more time and really develop a band. Century Media can do that, but they have to move much faster because budgets are so tight.

Dead Rhetoric: Work has begun on the fourth Sanctuary album – which will be the first to feature current vocalist Joseph Michael. Do you have a sense of what direction you want to go in with the songwriting, tones, and style- as I’m sure there is pressure to align well with the three previous albums?

Rutledge: I can tell you that the music, there is some music that is pretty aggressive at times, and it does sound a little like The Year the Sun Died music-wise, but there are more upbeat aspects. With Joseph’s vocals, he does have a little bit more of a range – I love Warrel’s work on the last album, some people expected to probably hear more of a throwback to Refuge and Mirror. I like what he did, it sounded like we had grown up a little bit, I don’t know if that’s a bad word for people. As a musician you want to grow and you want to change and make things more interesting for yourself as well, not just your fans.

This time, we’ll probably explore some of the old vibes of the first couple of records. It probably will be a blend of all three records. It’s turning out pretty good so far, we are realizing we have a lot to live up to. I feel that Warrel is somebody that is very underrated, and he’s always on my mind. I want him to be proud of this, or at least okay with (it). For me, that’s always in the back of my mind.

Dead Rhetoric: Losing Warrel Dane in 2017 was quite a blow to the band and the metal community. What are some of your fondest memories of the man through Sanctuary, and your relationship that you had with him personally?

Rutledge: Oh God. I think one thing that always surprised me about Warrel, he comes across as a very intense guy and maybe dark, but he was a really funny, goofy guy. Which seemed very unlikely based on a lot of the intense stuff he wrote. I get to see sides of him that were very caring. He could be a dick sometimes, but that was very rare. For the most part, he was not his persona that you would see. He was a really fun guy to hang out with – I don’t consider myself a super dynamic guy. There was something about him, he was quiet and shy but he had this way of turning things on and being the life of the party. Jim and Warrel, when they were together he was a lot of fun. When Sanctuary first got back together the second time around in 2010, Jim, Warrel and I would get together and would just hang out. Sometimes we weren’t even writing, we would just play acoustic covers and hang out in the studio here. We didn’t start writing songs for a couple of years, we were getting reacquainted. Those are really fond memories for me.

Dead Rhetoric: How do you view the state of heavy metal today? Do you believe that you appeal now to multiple generations because of your history and current work?

Rutledge: I hope we appeal to multiple generations. I can’t tell you how many times somebody comes up with their kids and say the kids are into it as well. I don’t know. I like a lot of music, but some nu-metal I’m not a huge fan of. I tend to listen to more of the old school stuff. I listen to some new stuff, I love Insomnium, I love Arch Enemy, a band called Deathwhite, really cool… kind of a doom band. To each their own, it’s hard to say. Music is such a personal thing. I know guys who love Five Finger Death Punch- it’s not really my thing, but they don’t suck. It depends on what you are into.

Dead Rhetoric: Given the tools of social media and instant communication technology, how do you handle these mediums compared to the older ways of promotion for Sanctuary?

Rutledge: You know, I’m not very good at it. Luckily we have Joseph Michael, and he’s pretty good at that stuff. I get to have him handle all that stuff. I can speak for everybody in the band, they really like that because it takes a special touch. I think it’s necessary, but I know when I do it I’m not very good at it so it’s great to have somebody I can lean on and ask for help and advice. It’s a really good tool.

Dead Rhetoric: How do you look back at your twenties and thirties now that you are in your mid-fifties? Have your views on life and the world changed much over the years?

Rutledge: Yeah. Probably I’m a little more political now, although I don’t talk about it that much. That’s pretty standard, I think people tend to care a little bit more and you are little more grounded, you have a mortgage. When I was younger it was important, but it seems to be more important as you get more stuff, more family, and more rooted in everything and your surroundings. I feel like that’s where the change is now. I live on a place where I am fortunate to have a nice piece of property with two and a half acres of land, a barn on the edge of the property and I don’t annoy everybody when I get pretty loud, I have a little studio in there. It wasn’t something that I had access to back when I was younger.

Dead Rhetoric: What does the next twelve months look like for Sanctuary now that this reissue hits the streets? Will you reschedule plans for performing shows in support of this, as you originally had plans to do this album front to back in Europe, South America, and North America if I’m correct?

Rutledge: Yes. COVID stopped everyone. We do have shows scheduled for September and October 2021 in Europe. And we are going to try to see what we can do for South America and North America. Nothing is set in stone, because every time you turn on the news you hear something about the numbers are rising. Who knows what’s going to happen. Hopefully all these shows happen in 2021, we have those two tour dates for the fall and whatever else we can do as well.

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