Q&A: Lenny Rutledge Soldiers Sanctuary Onward


After 20 years of silence, the sound of Seattle’s Sanctuary reverberated metaldom once again in 2010. The group famous for hard-hitting, high-sailing progressively-tinged heavy metal were back in attack mode, writing the follow-up for 1990 milestone Into the Mirror Black. With original vocalist Warrel Dane (then of Nevermore fame) fronting, original guitarist Lenny Rutledge riffing like mad again, bassist Jim Sheppard (also of Nevermore fame) on the four string, and drummer Dave Budbill controlling the tempi, the reactivated Sanctuary were ready for the next chapter of their storied saga.

Sanctuary wrote new album, The Year the Sun Died, to favorable response from fan and critic. While most had expected a straight return to 1990, Sanctuary were in a different headspace. They modernized Sanctuary’s sound. There was no sense in re-doing the past, in fact, but Dane, Rutledge, Sheppard, and Budbill had their sound, and they went after it with tracks like “Frozen,” “Question Existence Fading,” “Arise and Purify,” and “Exitium (Anthem of the Living).” Released in 2014, The Year the Sun Died was Sanctuary reborn.

The group toured Europe to much success. Stateside runs, however, would have to wait. And they did. To fill the gap between full-lengths, Sanctuary released Inception, a re-issue of lost recordings from 1986. Dane was also writing material for the followup to 2008 solo full-length, Praises to the War Machine. While recording in Brazil, Dane passed away, shocking not just his fellow bandmates in Sanctuary but metaldom in its entirety. A true original — both in voice and in prose — was lost suddenly and unexpectedly.

The remaining members of Sanctuary vowed to continue on in Dane’s honor. They shifted the lineup — Sheppard had previously been replaced by George Hernandez — with Witherfall vocalist Joseph Michael and guitarist Joey Concepcion (Armageddon, The Absence) joining the fold. Now a five-piece Sanctuary are looking forward, readying new material for the followup to The Year the Sun Died and planning the 30th Anniversary.

Guitarist Lenny Rutledge updates the world on Sanctuary’s status going into 2019 and beyond!

A lot has happened since The Year the Sun Died was released in 2014. Most notably the passing of vocalist Warrel Dane, but also the bass position change from Jim Sheppard to George Hernandez. What are your thoughts of the last four years?
Lenny Rutledge: Well, let me start with The Year the Sun Died. It was our first release in over 20 years. Who does that? I don’t believe anyone thought it was going to happen, including us. It took us a few years of writing to get it right, but I think we pulled it off. I remember the shock of the record company when we turned in the final mixes. They were genuinely surprised that we not only finished it but that it was quality material. Soon after the release we toured with Overkill in Europe. Jim Sheppard was dealing with some personal and health issues so he decided to step down in mid-2015. George Hernandez had filled in for Jim in the past and just seemed like a perfect fit. Fast forward to 2017. On December 13th, 2017 Warrel passed away while recording a solo record in Brazil. At the time, we had a tour booked with Iced Earth that upcoming February. We decided to continue on with the tour as a tribute to Warrel. The tour was bittersweet. It was a sad time for us, but the fans were amazing and very supportive. It’s been a difficult year after Warrel’s passing. We all still think about him every day.

Will Sanctuary continue on?
Lenny Rutledge: Yes, after the tour and the response from the fans we decided to explore the possibility. So, we are currently writing new material with Joseph.

Do you view Sanctuary in its current position as an homage to Dane or are you looking to open a new chapter that honors the past but looks toward the future?
Lenny Rutledge: Definitely honors the past but also looks toward the future. It’s still in the early stages, but I think fans can expect to hear a bit of the return to old-school Sanctuary as well. If you see the live show now you will notice that we play a lot of older stuff that we didn’t always play towards the end with Warrel. Understandingly, he was having a difficult time with some of the older songs.

For now, Joseph Michael from Witherfall is filling Dane’s spot. How did Michael come into the picture?
Lenny Rutledge: After Warrel passed away I wasn’t sure what was going to happen. Did we even want to continue under those circumstances? The Iced Earth tour was scheduled and we wanted to explore if it was still possible. It was important that, if we decided to continue with the tour, we did it with respect and honor for Warrel. We had to be sure that we were doing this with dignity. A few weeks after Warrel’s passing I couldn’t really find anyone that I felt could pull this off. I decided to call John Schaffer and give him an update. At that point, I thought we would need to drop off the tour. John and all the Iced Earth guys have been very supportive from day one. John suggested that I contact Joseph Michael. He mentioned that Jake Dryer was in a band with Joseph called Witherfall and he might be able to pull off a similar vocal style to Warrel. I had never heard of Witherfall at that point. After listening to their debut release I realized that Joseph definitely had potential. Joseph demoed a few of the songs and after a meeting we decided to move forward with the tour. Joseph did a great job on the tour and the fans responded positively. I remember seeing skeptical members of the audience in shock when he nailed classics like “Battle Angels” and “Die for my Sins.” Joey Conception has also been a great addition to the Sanctuary family as well. I believe he will also play on the upcoming recordings. I’m really looking forward to that. His playing really takes the guitar work up a notch.

Will Michael be the vocalist for the follow-up to The Year the Sun Died?
Lenny Rutledge: As of now, we are writing new material with Joseph.

I heard you’re writing new music. What are fans in for? A follow-up to The Year the Sun Died or will you revisit some of the themes explored on Into the Mirror Black?
Lenny Rutledge: It’s still early but I think fans can expect music similar to The Year the Sun Died with some of old school vibe. As far as vocals, We shall see but there are a lot of possibilities. Again, I think some old-school vocals may be on the agenda as well.

Will Sanctuary tour with the current lineup? Any plans to get back out on the road in 2019?
Lenny Rutledge: We are definitely looking to take the band out in 2019. It would be great to do a headline tour or get on a package with some other great bands. We are open to all possibilities. We really want to do a tour where we play all of Refuge Denied front to back. After that last tour, I can tell you that this band can deliver. We are looking forward to sharing the live show with fans in Europe and the U.S. again.

The Inception release was a surprise. Are there any other Sanctuary gems hiding in the shadows awaiting a proper release?
Lenny Rutledge: Yes, I have demos, videos and live material from the Mirror Black timeframe. If I can get everyone on board there will be some news in the not too distant future.

Are you still working with Century Media?
Lenny Rutledge: Yes.

You’ve given fans a lot of insight into Sanctuary. What does 2019 look like for the band? Lay low, keep it simple, and record? Or, a fireworks display with loud and heavy music?
Lenny Rutledge: We will be working on new material and hopefully get out on the road for 2019 and 2020. Hopefully we will release a new record in either late 2019 or early 2020. In 2020, we would also like to do a Mirror Black 30th reunion tour. Holy shit! 30 years!

** Sanctuary’s The Year the Sun Died and The Inception are out now on Century Media Records. Click HERE to order CD or LP versions, including a limited edition mediabook.