Chemistry, Class: Sanctuary’s Reunion Album Just Makes The Grade

  • Anso DF

Emerging in the wake of a big band’s break-up, Sanctuary’s third album — and first since 1991 — might be expected to do two things: Establish itself firmly as apart from the vibe of that defunct big band (Nevermore, their singer’s most recent gig) and to sound like an ’80s thrash band matured by 20-ish years (their only option per the need to distinguish from Nevermore). But The Year The Sun Died does neither. Instead it plants a foot in busy-riff Krank metal and the other in ’80s metal dynamics.

After a few listens, you could say that the biggest difference between the two bands is chemistry: Here at the outset of their reunion, Sanctuary’s inter-band relations could be tentative or businesslike yet still measure a hundred degrees warmer than Nevermore’s since 2005 or so. That means good atmosphere for creating a good album from thin air, which they did. Sure, we’re right to register that as just a semi-perceptible speck of sonic space between Sanctuary and Nevermore, even if it is The Year‘s “biggest difference” and even if you don’t hear Nevermore’s final album(s) as procedural and bloodless. But hey, the speck is there.

The first things you’ll notice about The Year is Nevermore’s ’00s vacuum-packed riff metal with post-Pantera groove (not the dark, unhurried thrash of Sanctuary’s first two albums), Nevermore-level double-bass drum beats (not neo-thrash’s punk-meets-hair metal pulse), and the middle of Warrel Dane’s range like Nevermore (not his glass-breaking shrieks of 1989). Even Dane’s lyrics visit vague self-pity instead of Sanctuary’s “You’ll burrrrn!” vibe. Though, tellingly, opening track “Arise And Purify” quickly offers a comforting wink to Sanctuary fans in form of super-high backing vocals. It’s a hint of what’s beneath the surface.

For in its best light, The Year can be viewed as a faint rendering of Sanctuary in 2014. (Or at least 2003.) Dane’s melodies don’t aspire to reinvention yet average an A-, while guitarists Lenny Rutledge and Brad Hull (ex-Forced Entry, in his Sanctuary debut) draw on the type of changes, pauses, and breaks that keep back-then Thrash memorable all these years later. Especially in its third act, The Year‘s notes ring longer, its riffs dazzle less and shove more, its singer seems bigger than medium. It’s as though The Year‘s body language is old Sanctuary’s (though its spoken language is pidgin Nevermorese) like that of ’80s melody-based metal bands who descended from pop. (Soon metal shifted its focus to rhythm — via groove, way more notes, hardcore — hence Nevermore.) Or maybe think of it as a fancy clear electric violin played by an old master, albeit one who wobbles at low tempos and whose pinky finger no longer stretches to ninja notes. Even if Sanctuary is not distinct enough, The Year is good enough.

Sanctuary’s new album The Year The Sun Died is out Tuesday via Century Media. Pre-order it here

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