Welcome to The Lazarus Pit, a biweekly look at should-be classic metal records that don’t get nearly enough love; stuff that’s essential listening that you’ve probably never heard of; stuff that we’re too lazy to track down the band members to do a Hall Of Fame for. I wasn’t sure if this week’s entrant was obscure enough, but judging by the pitiful turnout at their Los Angeles warm-up show (at an admittedly optimistic venue), you people need to familiarize yourselves with Sanctuary and their landmark Into the Mirror Black (Epic).
Before Nevermore were Nevermore, they were Sanctuary. Or at least 2/5 of them were. Anyway, it was a significant enough ratio that Sanctuary are usually considered the proper predecessor to that excellent act. In 1990, they were still five wide-eyed youths from Seattle with long hair and leather jackets who just wanted to play some damn thrash metal. Hell, Dave Mustaine himself produced their debut record, Refuge Denied. That was a more straightahead affair. By the time album number two rolled around, they were definitely starting to show signs of the canny genre hybrid that Nevermore would become.
There were a few things that separated Sanctuary from the fifth-generation thrash acts surrounding them. The big, obvious one is obviously Warrel Dane. His approach to the vocals bore more in common with the frontmen of nascent power/prog acts like Helloween and Queensryche than your average thrash screamer. In other words, he sang. Pretty well, too, and even though some of the higher pitched stuff intruded on Geoff Tate territory, he attacked his phrasings with a unique gusto. His backers, meanwhile, stayed away from the faster-louder- technicaler race, instead concentrating on having actual songs. Novel, right? Something those darn kids these days could learn from.
And what do you know, there are a few sweet tracks that could be learned from right here. These were some dark, dark songs, both musically and lyrically. Opener “Future Tense” paints a pretty grim look back at the 80s that holds pretty much just as true now, but it’s also catchy! “Epitaph” lets Dane show off his range with a creepy, King Diamond-esque tale of death and rebirth. The title track is probably the most Queensrychian, but that’s cool, because they were also from Seattle. “One More Murder” feel similar to the approach that Judas Priest would take a year later with Painkiller, albeit with more grounded lyrics about homeless people and stuff. And for those people that really hadn’t got enough of thrash by 1990, there was “Long since Dark” and “Communion.”
Obviously grunge hit right after this came out, and there was a lot of pressure for Sanctuary to go that route. They were from Seattle, after all! Dane and guitarist Jim Sheppard (along with touring guitarist Jeff Loomis) said no thanks and went off to form Nevermore. Still, they left behind this little gem, a record that illustrated the myriad directions that metal had come from and could go in – and would go in a few years later on The Politics of Ecstasy.