On a beautiful Thursday in May of 1988 I decided to hoof it to Record Collection and NOT take the bike. Calm down, calm down! Nothing was wrong with my Blue Bomber (as I called it), I just felt like walking. It was gorgeous out, and I had just gotten paid for mowing some lawns, so I had extra pep in my step. Plus, after reading in RIP magazine how Dave Mustaine produced this band called Sanctuary I was highly motivated to get my hands on it. Sure enough, Record Collection had it. Refuge Denied, the debut album… on tape only. Fine by me! As a bonus I also got DIO’s Dream Evil used for $10, but we’ll come back to that another day.
Suffice to say, the walk home was nothing short of amazing. The opening strains of “Battle Angels” had me all kinds of riled up, and when singer Warrel Dane let fly with “Their heathen ways have sealed their DOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOM!!” I about fell over. That falsetto almost knocked me down! Clearly, I was gonna love this album. Up next was “Die For My Sins”, a near-perfect blend of classic Judas Priest-era and power/thrash metal, guitarists Lenny Rutledge and Sean Blosl serving notice in riff-tastic fashion. The tempo change halfway through is totally unexpected and the transition back to the earlier rhythm is seamless. “Soldiers of Steel” fittingly takes us into marching territory of course, ready to battle false metal to the death. And when it goes quiet, we really get some inspired mid-range singing from Dane as well.
The acoustic intro to “Veil of Disguise” is a very good example of Great Production 101. Dave Mustaine really got a rich guitar sound from these guys, but not at the expense of the drums and bass of Dave Budbill and Jim Sheppard respectively. This one is a slow potboiler that could almost be Sanctuary’s answer to “Welcome Home (Sanitarium)” from Metallica. Title track and side one closer “Sanctuary” is another one that starts off cleanly before Dane’s falsetto rips through the sky like nobody’s business and the band is right behind him, hacking and slashing at everything in their path. At this point I was home, and had to get washed up for dinner. DAMMIT!!
As soon as I could get the hell away from the table and my relatives who were visiting from Ireland I hauled ass upstairs, closed the door and threw the tape in the old Fisher. I was NOT prepared for what I heard next: an even-better-than-the-original version of Jefferson Airplane’s “White Rabbit”, complete with guest solo from Mr. Mustaine. Dane’s eerie sonic resemblance to Grace Slick on the verses (only MUCH scarier and more evil!) blew me away, and I had to rewind it several times before moving on. “Termination Force” features some clean guitar intros, evil talking parts, and that fucking falsetto that seven songs in I STILL can’t believe is human as I’m sitting there.
“Ascension to Destiny” and “The Third War” round out the album with a sonic gut punch combo that had me rushing to flip the tape over and go another nine rounds. Refuge Denied really is one hell of a debut album from a band that had a ton of promise. Subsequent records ranged from bad to worse, and both Sheppard and Dane went on to form Nevermore, who I just really couldn’t get into. But in the spring/summer of ’88, man did I play the shit outta this one. The good news too, is that Sanctuary is back, and they’ve signed with Century Media Records, so hopefully I’ll get to hear these songs live and relive those memories again soon while making some new ones. ~dc