SANCTUARY – Into The Mirror Black (30th Anniversary Edition)

SANCTUARY – Into The Mirror Black (30th Anniversary Edition)

Sanctuary_IntoTheMirrorBlack(30thAnniversaryEdition).jpgWe tend to give credit to Exhorder or Pantera for turning trashcore into groove but, in my view, given the comparable times of release, the Seattle, Washington -ian progenitors of the mighty and much missed Nevermore, Sanctuary, are responsible for it. There is, in my view, one album (however influenced by traditional metal and early thrash) which had started the upward spiral of the progressive, thrashcore to groove releases, Sanctuary’s 2nd LP "Into The Mirror Black" and this year (September 10) Century Media commemorates it with a 30th Anniversary 2 CD Edition, which includes: CD 1 the original album remastered by Chris "Zeuss" Harris with a few extra tracks on CD 1, and the 10 track Reseda Live show from 1990 on CD 2.

In order to realize how influential Sanctuary was on the post-thrash and early groove scene it is necessary to frame it in a timeline against the backdrop of peer releases. Having been conceived in the minds of Warrel George "Dane" Baker (vocals), Lenny Rutledge (guitars, additional vocals), Lenny’s cousin Sean Blosl (guitars, additional vocals), James Patrick Sheppard (bass) and David Budbill (drums, additional vocals), in 1985 (1 year after Metallica’s "Ride The Lightening" and the year of Megadeth’s debut "Killing Is My Business…And Business Is Good!", both relevant to this exposition) and having released "Sanctuary" demo (1986 – the year of Queensrÿche’s 2nd album "Rage For Order", Metallica’s "Master Of Puppets" and Megadeth’s "Peace Sells…But Who’s Buying?", 1 year before Testament’s "The Legacy" debut, the last three extremely seminal to latter thrash), and finally, "Refuge Denied" (1988, produced by Megadeth’s maestro David Scott "Dave" Mustaine), Sanctuary were onto something with their blend of Mercyful Fate, King Diamond on one hand (especially given Warrel’s banshee vocals) and New Wave Of British Heavy Metal stylings of Judas Priest or Iron Maiden, on the other. But 5 months before the Texan glam rockers Pantera released their first skullcrusher, the fantastic "Cowboys From Hell" (which became their 2nd moniker to compete with Metallica’s "The Four Horsemen"), in my view, their finest album to date, and 2 years before Dream Theater’s 2nd album "Images In Words" and, finally, the year of Megadeth’s timeless masterpiece "Rust In Peace", Sanctuary unloaded their sophomore album "Into The Mirror Black", a vast improvement over the debut.

While the Mercyful Fate-ian and Judas Priest-ly core guitar work was kept and much refined, Rutledge/Blosl solos became a gateway to or excuse for more a "Ride The Lightening" and "The Legacy" sound, enriched also by "Rage For Order" progressive melodiscism, whereby we can hear FUTURE recordings of bands like Pantera (Cowboys, Vulgar Display Of Power), Dream Theater (Images), Biohazard (Urban Discipline) or Prong (Beg To Differ) and even latter Death (Symbolic). For example, the very excellent opener "Future Tense" (a double entendre on the anxiety the 90’s were bringing) commences with an ominous atmospheric bass intro followed by a very future Death-ly riff (Symbolic), followed by a hardcore riffing typical of Biohazard’s breakthrough sophomore album with David’s future drumming recalling Prong’s future 3rd album (interestingly, released 1 month later via the same label Epic Records), but, most interestingly, the track ends with a Panter-ic thrashfest a’la "Heresy" or "Mouth For War" (the latter from the future, 1992 "Vulgar Display Of Power" album). Some of the stylings in the favorite "Long Since Dark" anticipate Sepultura’s "Desperate Cries" (from 1991 "Arise" album), while "The Mirror Black" foreshadows as much Dream Theater’s "Pull Me Under" as Nevermore’s "Tomorrow Turned To Yesterday" ("Enemies Of Reality", 2003). Stranger yet things can be heard on the extra tracks after the original 9 track album. The 11th track "I Am Insane" (from the 1989 demo) is a NWOBHM song where certain riffs sound like…In Flames’ 2nd album "The Jester Race", released 6 years later! Clearly Sanctuary was influential horizontally as well as vertically with their first 6 years of existence.

The 2nd disc, the the 10 track Reseda Live show from 1990 is a mix of "Refuge Denied" and "Into The Mirror Black" delivered with such powerful production, bravado and confidence that the 2nd disc is worth the (whatever) price of the Edition alone. The tracks fly by delivered faithfully to the originals but there is added power, and, most interestingly, the concert renditions of debut album’s "Die For My Sins" and "White Rabbit" anticipate latter Trivium or War Of Ages in the former case, and Machine Head-ian atmospheric stylings, in the latter. The concert shows Warrel as a ferocious and fascinating, if slightly insane (White Rabbit), frontman whose band he believed in with his heart and soul.

It is probably that fierce dedication to Sanctuary that wouldn’t let its members to succumb to the grunge fad born in their home town subsequent the 2nd album’s release, and Epic Records’ pressure went nowhere, whereby Sanctuary, so eager and ready to deliver another progressive thrashterpiece disbanded, instead, in 1991. Their peers fared differently, some grunge-ing their sound (Queensrÿche, Dream Theater, Metallica, Megadeth), some more than others. Others, such as Death, Pantera and Testament, pressed on, relentless to stay true to what made them great. Having conquered the grunge craze, Death died with Charles Michael "Chuck" Schuldiner (2001), Testament went on a 9 year hiatus (1999-2008) and came back stronger than ever, but Pantera, that great southern trendkill, succumbed to terminal injuries from self-inflicted wounds (2000). As for Sanctuary, it broke in 2: Warrel Dane, Jim Sheppard and touring guitarist Jeff Loomis (who had once audited for Megadeth) formed Nevermore (and went huge for 7 albums) and Lenny and Dave created Undone.

Sanctuary, however, was resurrected in 2010, with Warrel, Jim and Loomis pulling double duty, however, internal conflicts led to Loomis’ departure from both bands and Nevermore was nevermore. Warrel and Jim stayed put in the band of their youth and released the very good "The Year The Sun Died" (2014, which, interestingly, clearly utilized some grunge stylings long after the genre’s death as if it were flipping it off) followed by a complilation of early demos entitled "Inception" (2017). The future looked promising but Warrel Dane suddenly died of heart attack shortly thereafter. Again, Sanctuary pressed on despite the devastating loss, having secured Witherfall’s vocalist Joseph Michael for replacement and future tense, so Sanctuary’s story continues.

As for this 30th Anniversary Edition of the legendary "Into The Mirror Black", I recommend it firstly, for its undeniable songwriting and execution quality, secondly, to those Nevermore fans unaware where it came from, thirdly, to lovers of old school progressive thrash of early Metallica, Megadeth, Testament, Prong and "Cowboys/Vulgar" Pantera, as well as early Queensrÿche and Dream Theater. May this recording be a testimony to how a small band of Seattle, Washingtonians had overcome the grunge manace to heavy metal inspiring the latter’s latter revival.