Back to the Future
When the neo-classical shredders of Nevermore finally disappeared behind the velvet curtain and went their separate ways in 2011, the act coincided almost too perfectly with the resurrection of Sanctuary, Warrel Dane’s oft-overlooked ’80s power metal outfit. Well, in a move mirroring the Star Wars chronology, Dane and the boys have saddled up once again and released a “prequel” album to their 1988 debut LP Refuge Denied. Only instead of recording an entirely new movie, errr, album, with updated computer imaging and racist caricatures, Sanctuary have refurbished an album’s worth of recordings that guitarist Lenny Rutledge claims to have literally been found in a barn, perhaps under a proverbial bushel basket. Essential hidden treasure of cheap cash-in? That’s up to the fans to decide.
Well, Inception sure sounds straight out of 1986. It’s a time traveler, after all. A stranger in a strange land, still rife with ’80s metal hallmarks that have calloused into clichés over the many years of Sanctuary’s absence. The gallop of “Battle Angel” is spearheaded by the thundering, leaden bass line that Steve Harris has practically perfected. Soaring, operatic vocals crown “I Am Insane.” And, of course, the now ubiquitous staple of the classical guitar intro dots the riff-filled landscape. But unlike the retro thrashers of today that cherry pick the best parts of’ ’80s metal, Inception presents a portrait of the era, warts and all. There’s still a lot of that atonal, falsetto sing-talking that Cirith Ungol started and that pretty much only King Diamond could pull off effectively, particularly on “Dream of the Incubus” — not to mention some pretty uninspired lyrical content (“Inside my brain / I am insane / cry out in pain”). In the record’s midst, it all starts to feel fatiguing, like one endless riff parade with some shrieks to barely punctuate it all. Aside from slightly weaker vocals, instrumental passages are practically indistinguishable from Ram It Down and Painkiller-era Judas Priest, which is funny, because those two records were recorded years after the Inception material had already been scrapped. So either we have a time paradox on our hands or all ’80s extreme metal sounds the same. And the latter can’t possibly be true.
The groovy, new-school death metal that characterized Sanctuary’s 2014 comeback record The Year the Sun Died seemed to constitute the band’s acknowledgment of the very real and rather low ceiling on their played-out blend of neo-classical power metal and thrash in the vein of Queensÿrche and Helloween. However, even the refreshing change in direction might have been out of necessity due to physical constraints on Dane’s vocals who is, in his own words, “a little bit older and can’t come up with a c-clamp for a scrotum and a helium tank.”
But really, how harshly can a record like Inception be judged? This isn’t new music. In fact, this album is the work of a fledgling group that was ultimately scrapped, and when thought of in that context the flaws start to make a bit more sense. Sanctuary aren’t out of touch, just fleetingly nostalgic.