Metal Review – Sanctuary: Refuge Denied

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Metal Review – Sanctuary: Refuge Denied
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Sanctuary: Refuge Denied
Power Metal
Epic Records
November, 1987
Release length: 39:35
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Before there was Nevermore, there was Sanctuary, an early United States based Power Metal act that formed in 1985. After issuing their 1986 Demo, the band was signed to Epic Records for their debut recording, Refuge Denied. Among the members of this band, Jim Shepphard handled Bass duties, while Warrel Dane stood as the band’s vocalist, both of whom are known for forging Nevermore from the ashes of this band, leaving behind drummer Dave Budbill and guitarist Lenny Rutledge. With a debut offering that stormed into the Metal scene with authority, it becomes a rather interesting experience, though it doesn’t really stray from some predetermined patterns for the early Heavy and Power Metal styles of the time.

Refuge Denied features some strong Power Metal music that doesn’t really offer anything unique for it’s time, but it does a good job at simply being solid Power Metal with enough of a heavy edge that it makes listeners stand up and notice. The production on the release works well in capturing this intensity, having a slight amount of echo to the music to make the whole experience rather haunting at times, though clear enough that the bite of the drums become sharp against the distorted guitars and rather loud bass that gives them the extra kick they need to make the overall performance commanding. Vocally, however, is where things feel a little interesting, but can become a little irritating after a while. The range goes from traditional lower clean singing to a much higher falsetto performance, the latter being the main focus for the vocals throughout the recording, and given some of the more early-Heavy Metal inspired chords of songs like “Battle Angels” and “Die for My Sins”, a strong King Diamond influence shines through the recording.

But, though there are some obvious comparisons that can be made, Sanctuary shows some early Progressive signs that would later contribute to Nevermore, but for the time were a little more interesting. “Termination Force” has plenty of shifts in the music that accompanied the varying vocal styles nicely, giving it a slightly different edge then just a Power Metal track. The band seems to focus quite a bit on songs like this, such as with “Sanctuary” and the slower paced cover track “White Rabbit”. Sanctuary also has a pretty clear focus on creating some really catchy, heavy Power Metal songs that feed off the ideas and standards of early Heavy Metal/NWOBHM acts. “Die for My Sins” is proof of that with it’s driving guitars that bring in a strong melody to the music with a Heavy Metal authority that veterans of that style like Judas Priest would be proud of. It’s actually a huge let down that there aren’t more blood pumping anthems then this track on Refuge Denied, though the amount of variety to this recording is something that acts as a great benefit since songs like this exist mixed in with the aforementioned more Progressive styles, and generally slower songs with a somewhat epic atmosphere like “Sanctuary” that build upon themselves.

Musically, Refuge Denied isn’t the strongest release, but it has some solid Power Metal tracks with a good deal of variety to the music throughout. While the music itself doesn’t really do much but push the general concepts of Heavy Metal and Power Metal, though some slightly unique Progressive touches do appear throughout the recording, that isn’t the main problem with the release. One of the bigger drawbacks to this release, sadly, becomes the vocal performance. The music often has some real energy and drive behind it that makes this somewhat standard release stand out more, and the vocals have that seem enthusiasm to them, which only makes them become a little more irritating. The falsetto style used here does get to be a bit too much after a while, emcompassing each track, but that’s more because of the shakiness in the vocals that comes with it, as if they were transfered from a warped casette tape. Of course the clean vocals don’t have this problem since that shakiness is rarely associated with them, and the gang chants just have some real command to them, and also lack that shakiness. From start to finish, it just gets to be too much, and even for the most devoted fans of the falsetto style, it’s enough to leave the listener with a migraine, causing this to be an album better enjoyed in small doses.

But with powerful tracks like “Die for My Sins” and “The Third War”, it’s hard to ever put this release down. Songs like these have so much energy, power, and potential behind them compared to some of the other tracks here that they basically keep you in place so that the band can display their talent for weaving some slower and haunting music, though it doesn’t always turn out to be that great in the long run. “Sanctuary” has more of a march of death feel to it thanks primarily to it’s slower music and war-like drumming, and it works well when you depart the track and go into the cover of “White Rabbit”, as if the two are meant to work together. “Veil of Disguise” marks the end of the album, and again it has that somber death-like feeling that was associated with “Sanctuary”, though not much of a march towards your own demise. Instead, the song has a bit of a Folk vibe to it with the way the vocals are performed against the more ballad-based music, and overall it doesn’t really do much for the album, especially as a closing piece. This, like many other slower tracks, have an interestng overall atmosphere, but there’s nothing too great about it, coming off generic, even for it’s time, and can be a bit boring.

In the end, Refuge Denied is not the most inspiring or unique release, and outside some Progressive Metal moments that shine through, one would not really expect much but solid traditional Power Metal. There’s some good songs, and almost every track here is solid, but for as solid and varied the material is, not all songs are really that enchanting and leave you feeling like the band could have done better, as well as that you have heard better. When handled in small doses, the vocals don’t become that much of an issue, and there’s enough material here that will catch your interest that you will return for some future spins. If you haven’t heard Sanctuary, then Refuge Denied is worth checking out. The release is worth more attention then it was ever given, and as long as you enter this recording expecting traditional mid to late-eighties Power Metal, you’ll find some good material for a debut release of this traditional approach.

01. Battle Angels – 4:51
02. Termination Force – 3:41
03. Die for My Sins – 3:43
04. Soldiers of Steel – 5:32
05. Sanctuary – 3:59
06. White Rabbit (Jefferson Airplane cover) – 3:13
07. Ascension to Destiny – 4:59
08. The Third War – 3:54
09. Veil of Disguise – 5:55
Initial Pressing Score: 6/10

Sanctuary
Sanctuary

{hysical review copy of this release provided by personal funds.