Sanctuary_The Year the Sun Died25 long years after their last recorded output (damn, that makes me feel old), four-fifths of the classic Sanctuary lineup reunite to write an album that sounds exactly like vintage…Nevermore. Yes, I suppose we could have seen that coming, being that lead man Warrel Dane and bassist Jim Shepard founded that particular power-prog act after leaving Sanctuary, but I’m sure I wasn’t the only one hoping The Year the Sun Died would be a glorious return to the traditional American power metal of Refuge Denied rather than a retread of their better known project. Naturally, that doesn’t mean the material here is a miss, and fans of Nevermore‘s sound and general style will surely find something to love, close as it is to their trademark sound. Lovers of those original Sanctuary platters, well they might not be as enthused and may even feel a tad cheated by this unsanctumonious reunion album.

Even though they opted for a Nevermore-esque approach to the material here, it would all work out if it was strong Nevermore material, which unfortunately, some of this stuff isn’t. A few songs are respectable but somewhat flat and feel like B-sides (“Arise and Purify,” and especially “The World is Wired”) and some are better, but aren’t what you’d call top-shelf Dane output (“Let the Serpent Follow”). For better or worse, these all follow the classic Nevermore template: big crunching riffs, thunderous drums and Dane’s increasingly limited, but always interesting, usually commanding vocals providing the ambiance and mood.

Unsurprising, the best songs are those that come closest to Sanctuary, like the dark, Edgar Allen Poe approved “Exitium (Anthem of the Living)” which has real emotional resonance in the vocals and is as close as things get to the classic Sanctuary sound; and album stand out, “Frozen,” which fuses a forlorn, gripping and very memorable chorus on a thrashy and bruising number with slight traces of the Into the Mirror Black era. The title track is an equally impressive number that plays like a mash up of Dane’s career mixed with epic doom and it drips sadness and lost hope. The chorus is bleak but beautiful and the fretwork is particularly inspired and mournful. Also worth noting is the much simpler and rocking “The Dying Age,” which is like something off Dane’s solo album mixed with psychedelic rock.

Sanctuary_2014

This is a talented bunch, and they can clearly play their collective asses off when they care to. That said, Dane obviously cant do the things he once did vocally and those high pitched wails of the late 80s / early 90s are beyond him. He never even comes close to attempting them, sticking firmly in his mid-range and low range shout/sing style he adopted as the Nevermore catalog unspooled. It works, but begins to feel one dimensional after a while, which was my issue with some of the later Nevermore albums too. Lenny Rutledge and Brad Hull’s guitar work is slick and dynamic, their riffing is sharp and heavy and the solos are noodle-rich, but emotional enough to have legitimate impact. They impress even on the weaker tunes and they’re adroit at creating atmosphere and mood. When paired with Dane’s always brooding vocals, they definitely keep things interesting if not always captivating.

The album itself is a bit long, as seemingly all albums are these days, and they could’ve should’ve chopped it down to eight solid tunes. The production is big and modern sounding. The guitars are loud and imposing and Dane sounds larger than life. In short, it sounds like the typical Nevermore album.

The Year the Sun Died isn’t the album I was hoping for after waiting for new Sanctuary material since my college days a quarter century ago (fuck, I’m old). Even though I’m somewhat disappointed by it, I can’t deny it’s more good than bad and has a few impressive moments scattered about. Considering no one expected to hear anything new from Sanctuary, how much can one really bitch when actually getting something, even if it’s unlike their old stuff? Not much it seems. Add a point if you’re a big ole Nevermore weenie.


Rating: 3.0/5.0
DR: 7  |  Format Reviewed: 192 kbps MP3
Label: Century Media Records
Websites: facebook.com/sanctuaryfans
Release Dates: EU: 2014.10.06  |  NA: 10.10.2014

Share →
  • RilesBell

    Big ole Nevermore weenie checking in! Looking forward to this one.

    • brutal_sushi

      As am I :)

  • FutureBeyondSatan

    Add a point for me!

  • Brad Hull, formerly of FORCED ENTRY and a heck of a nice guy!

  • Don’t worry, Steel Druhm: I’m old as fuck too ;) I remember getting Refuge Denied within a few months of its release.

    I too was/am looking forward to this album because frankly IMO there is little-to-fuck-all for quality output, of any heavy sub-gemre, this year. I think I can barely get five albums on my AotY list thus far.

    • We are old. We are Devo.

    • FutureBeyondSatan

      I still rock the Refuge Denied cassette in my Walkman…that’s old!
      Check out the YouTube video of Sanctuary in Detroit slaying “Battle Angels”. That had to have hurt.

    • JL

      That’s quite strange. For me 2014 has been the best year for metal in maybe the past 20 years. It’s almost easier to count the strong bands that did NOT release quality output this year than adding up all the excellent albums. Quality to differing degrees:

      Sanctuary
      Anubis gate
      Insomnium
      At the Gates
      Decapitated
      Xerath
      Cannibal Corpse
      Hammerfall
      Hadel Maw
      Sargeist
      Devin Townsend
      Exodus
      Yob
      Paul Bearer
      Teramaze
      Sabaton
      Dark Horizon
      Accept
      Mayhem
      Conquering Dystopia
      Enthroned
      Gamma Ray
      Katatonnia (EP)
      Arch Enemy
      Anathema
      Alchemist Hans Bloomberg
      Devin Townsend/Casualties of Cool
      Opeth
      Entombed
      Dragonforce
      November’s Doom
      Maat
      Freedom Call
      Darkspace
      Lantlos
      Carcass (EP)
      ………

      I could go on. Not all of the above are excellent. But they are all at least good and worth checking out. Not all have been released but they don’t need to have been for me to say they’ll be good, even great. Devin Townsend’s Z2 and DTB stuff is getting perfect scores in every review. New ATG single sounds fucking killer. Same with Exodus. Carcass EP is unreleased stuff from the SS recording sessions, so by default it will slay. Only thing missing this year for me would be an official announcement for a 2014 release date of Nokturnal Mortum’s new album, Omnium Gatherum to put something out (even an EP though I realize it’s too soon) and maybe Savage Circus finally releasing something.

      For me, it’s been a great year in pretty much all genres. The only notable letdown has been Agalloch. Horrible effort this time ’round. Insomnium’s new one is a beast but not quite as good as One for Sorrow and not close to Across the Dark.

      • There’s about five albums on that list that I really enjoyed. (Haven’t heard the Sanctuary album yet.)

        Admittedly there’s some I haven’t even heard as well.

  • cirkus-lizard

    As it has been near 25 years since Into the Mirror Black, it would probably be silly of me to expect something totally free of modern influences. But from the sound of the review and the one track here, I’m not quite sure why (other than financially) they chose to resurrect the Sanctuary name. I will still pick up as I do enjoy Nevermore…but the Nevermore releases will never touch the first two Sanctuary albums.

    • Ulvsnacht

      If Warrel Dane can’t hit the high notes like in Refuge Denied, this is a cash grab.

  • Carlos Marrickvillian

    Review reads as a little like you wanted to be harsher in your scoring. More orb focused album art and lyric revealing video…they seem to have played it pretty safe here. Perhaps Im too cynical, but it seems like using the Sanctuary moniker could be more to do with a marketing angle than an attempt to recapture that sound.

    • chris

      Great sounding so far. Its obviously going to sound a bit like nevermore.
      No loomis hyper technical stuff and that death metal vibe they had on godless endeavor is evident.
      It is different. Enjoy the record. Even a bit of metal church. Of course.

  • JL

    Ok so Nevermore is my favorite band of all time, by a million fucking miles, so I’ll comment on this even though I haven’t heard the full record, but just the two songs available for streaming. I don’t see how this sounds like Nevermore at all. In so far as the songs have structure and verses and choruses and drumming and singing, then yes it sounds like Nevermore. But that doesn’t say much. Here’s the thing the reviewer doesn’t seem to get. The guitar playing on here doesn’t sound anything like Jeff Loomis’s playing. That’s not to say it’s bad playing, far from it, but it’s not Nevermore. Players talented enough as Loomis have their own signature sound which gives their bands a very specific identity. His playing distinguishes Nevermore from other bands. This record (what I’ve heard) sounds like a heavier, more mature version of WD’s solo stuff.

    The two songs I’ve heard are really good. I’m excited for the album.

    • Loomis has his own sound, but this sounds like 2 other guys following his blueprint. It sounds much more like Nevermore than it does Sanctuary, that’s for sure.

      • JL

        It sounds much closer to WD’s solo album PTTWM than it does to Nevermore. As a long time Nevermore fan I can confidently say it sounds almost nothing like Nevermore. But maybe we can just agree to disagree :-). I see what you’re saying anyway – you wanted it to sound more like vintage Sanctuary and in your view it doesn’t. Fair enough. I was never a big Sanctuary fan. I think Nevermore’s material destroys Sanctuary, primarily thanks to Loomis, but Dane also.

        • Saying this sounds nothing like Nevermore is crazy. And I always liked Sanctuary better than anything Nevermore churned out.

        • Jean-Luc Ricard

          Almost *nothing* like Nevermore? Are you high?

  • Excentric_1307

    Oh look! A metal album with a round ball on the cover!

    • André Snyde Lopes

      Yep.

  • euthanatos

    Well, now I’m fucking depressed. Thanks, Druhm.

  • Josef K.

    From what I’ve heard, the new Sanctuary album sounds sort of like a mix between Into the Mirror Black and Nevermore’s Dreaming Neon Black (as Warrel Dane has described it – “Mirror Black meets Neon Black”).

    If you listen to the early Nevermore demos and the first Nevermore album, the music follows in the footsteps of Sanctuary. Especially songs like The Dreaming Mind and Utopia sound like Sanctuary songs. Probably why they weren’t included on the Nevermore debut.

    Warrel Dane said in an interview on Headbanger’s ball in 1995 that the Nevermore album was how he envisioned the third Sanctuary album.

    You also have to remember that it’s now 20 years since that first Nevermore album. So the current Sanctuary sound is pretty much a natural progression for them.

  • IlluminatiRules

    Screw this guy, the album is great.

  • dlc3172

    “That said, Dane obviously cant do the things he once did vocally and those high pitched wails of the late 80s / early 90s are beyond him. He never even comes close to attempting them, sticking firmly in his mid-range and low range”

    How about the first song, even? I hear plenty of the old falsettos. There are two vocal tracks coupled together, and one of them is the high range.