Man, nostalgia is a very strange and powerful thing. Typically, its only purpose is to make people severely bummed that the stuff they used to love isn’t around anymore and if it is, it isn’t near as good. As far as the world of extreme metal goes, nostalgia is so powerful that it serves as a zombification for anything in the genre that is even remotely good. Therefore, the genre has been hit by a near-constant barrage of old bands coming back after long hiatuses with varying amounts of gas left in the tank. One prime example of this is reunion of 80’s thrashers SANCTUARY. Formed in Seattle, Washington in the mid 80’s, the band only produced two full lengths before calling it quit due to record label drama. Eventually, the band’s vocalist Warrel Dane and bassist Jim Sheppard went on to form progressive metal icons NEVERMORE and that’s where their story ended until SANCTUARY’S 2010 reunion.
During the band’s heyday of the late 80’s, they built their legendary status on the back of neck-snapping thrash metal riffs and Warrel Dane’s eardrum-shattering falsetto’s, most notably on the track “Battle Angels” from their debut Refuge Denied. Now 25 years since the release of their second album Into the Mirror Black, the band has a new album on Century Media Records titled The Year the Sun Died. It’s very fascinating to me on multiple levels, really. First and foremost, due to all of the advances in technology in the last 25 years, it’s relatively impossible and even illogical for a band like this to come very close to recreating their classic sound. The thing is, thanks to the band’s underground status, the majority of folks hearing their new album that actually know who they are expect them to sound like they did in their 20’s, which, again, is basically impossible.
From the moment the album first kicks off with opener “Arise and Purify”, it is made abundantly clear that this isn’t your dad’s SANCTUARY. However, the riffs on the track are absolutely fantastic. It features an awesome mixture of brutal groove and old school heavy metal goodness. This is also notable for being one of the very few spots on the album where Dane lets out one of his insane falsetto-laden wails. From there, the album’s next few songs manage to keep up the pace with more awesomely groovy riffs and classically-inspired solos as Dane’s twisted story begins to truly unfold. This includes one of the album’s standouts “Question Existence Fading” which features a dominating vocal performance from Dane and some of the album’s best riff-work. Another one is “Frozen”, which has the best chorus on the album and is also another great showcase of how great of a team guitarists Lenny Rutledge and Brad Hull are.
The thing about The Year the Sun Died that I like so much is how simple it is, really. I mean, these dudes could have gone over the top to prove how talented they still are. But rather than going crazy with guitar heroics and Dane’s falsetto squeals, or even doing the opposite and trying really hard to make an 80’s thrash record, they made an album that plays perfectly from front to back. Though many fans are likely to be turned off by Dane’s more gruff vocal approach on the record, his style fits the music of the album perfectly. Another bit of perfection on the album from Dane is the futuristic, utopian lyrical theme that runs throughout. Centered around a prophet named Lenore who predicts the death of the sun, the futuristic, dystopian story that unfolds could easily be made into a movie 10 times more original than garbage like Divergent and The Maze Runner.
I really can’t get enough of how fantastic this record is, really. As far as its storyline and awesome riffs go, as well as the expert-level production value by Zeuss, it has truly proved SANCTUARY is still a force to be reckoned with. I think this album is one of the best of the year and definitely belongs in the same breath as recent gems from fellow thrash legends like OVERKILL, TESTAMENT, EXODUS and KREATOR.
STANDOUT TRACKS: “Frozen”, “Arise and Purify”, “Question Existence Fading”, “The World Is Wired”
WRITTEN BY JOHNNY RINGÖ