For this week it’s time to look at a profound debut album in metal, the start of a Seattle metal institution and a curious guest shot in the producer’s chair.
Sanctuary – Refuge Denied
Released in 1988 via Epic Records
My Favorite Tracks – Battle Angels, Soldiers Of Steel, Die For My Sins
Sanctuary had formed in 1985 and recorded a demo in 1986. The demo generated some buzz and guitarist Lenny Rutledge made a power play to help his band get some notice – he approached Megadeth mastermind Dave Mustaine after a show. Mustaine was very receptive to Sanctuary and offered to help produce a full-length album.
Sanctuary was comprised of Lenny Rutledge and Sean Blosl on guitar, Warrel Dane on vocals, Jim Sheppard on bass and Dave Budbill drumming. This line up would hold through the first album and tour.
The music here falls somewhere between thrash and US power metal. It’s a bit of both but not entirely in one realm or the other. It’s not unusual for Seattle bands to defy categorization.
The cover art is worth of discussion, this being one of many pieces from Ed Repka, one of heavy metal’s most renowned artists. There’s a priest or something with a gun doing some crazy shit, the clergy were prime targets of late ’80’s metal bands. Repka’s art is pretty instantly recognizable to a person who has possessed a lot of metal albums over the years.
One small note – there is no specific release date for Refuge Denied. There are copies out there in some territories that released in 1987, in the US it was 1988. I would guess it was an “end of year/start of year” thing but it’s not something I really want to put in the research to find out.
There are 9 songs in a 39 minute runtime, a decently sized album but fully packed with the goods.
The proceedings open with a masterpiece of a song. It gets going right off the bat and settles into a mid-paced affair before Warrel Dane kicks off the singing. Dane keeps things in a human range in the first verse before ascending to vocal godhood through the chorus. Dane’s soaring vocals along with the riffs and rhythm sections shape an absolute gem of 1980’s metal.
The song is pretty well about what the title suggests – a group of angels coming down to have some holy retribution on sinner’s asses. It’s not quite a story from the Bible but it will do.
Next we get a song with a fair bit of dynamics and arrangement, showcasing that Sanctuary are not a one-trick pony. The song begins in slow fashion but slams into a faster and louder sort of chorus section. There’s a bit of a good old fashioned thrash gang chorus here, and Dane is all over the map with his singing. This is another stomper and Sanctuary are really bringing the goods here.
Die For My Sins
This is a fairly standard melodic metal song, might have a small degree of similarity with the early work of fellow Seattle residents Queensryche. Warrel Dane is still wild on this one, though maybe held back a hair compared to the two prior tracks. A very nice thrash section with the solo in the middle of this one too.
Soldiers Of Steel
Another mid-paced effort with some vocal parts in the verses that show Warrel Dane’s more normal range and the one he’d use for the bulk of his career. He still goes off on the quasi-chorus portions. This one is along the lines of the old US power metal sound.
We get a self-named song but sadly it was not on a self-named album as well, so no trifecta here. This one also starts off slow but quickly goes into thrash territory. It’s an exploration of some kind of warrior from the future who is leaving the timeline, or something like that. They aren’t going out quietly, that much is for sure.
Yes, this is a cover of the Jefferson Airplane classic. It is suitably metal-ized for the album and isn’t an attempt to just perform the song as it was. This is enjoyable though it might fall a bit short of a home run. It would mark the start of many times Warrel Dane would take songs from outside of metal and totally mess with them. This also features a solo and backing vocals from Dave Mustaine.
Ascension To Destiny
Apparently the time-traveling warrior from two songs ago didn’t get too far, or maybe this is a different warrior but they are back and ready to whip some ass. The cadence of the chorus had a danger of coming off the same as Battle Angels, but Dane deftly side-stepped the issue by switching up the vocal rhythm here.
The Third War
This one goes pretty hard and heavy and unveils a prediction about the third World War. They peg 1999, which didn’t quite hit the mark but they probably weren’t terribly far off the way things are going in 2023. Another heavy one as we get to the end of the album.
Veil Of Disguise
The closing track starts off in the ballad realm for its first few minutes before picking up steam and rolling out on a heavy note. It is more of the same melodic mastery from Dane and the guitarists and leaves the record without a dud across its nine tracks.
Refuge Denied was Sanctuary’s introduction to the world. Upon release it did not catch fire, in fact only selling around 7,000 copies in its first year or so. The band would slowly catch on over the years and as of 2011 this album has moved over 200,000 copies.
The most noted feature of Sanctuary on their debut was of course Warrel Dane and his insane vocals. His wail was something not easily replicated or matched, there aren’t many singers walking who could handle getting the highs he could reach while also maintaining a true vocal body along with it. And this would impact even Dane – he apparently suffered a vocal injury sometime in 1988 and his days of wailing like on here were over. He would go on to have a successful career as a singer but it wouldn’t be with the kind of shrieks and wails found on this record.
The battle for any kind of commercial success would be a losing one for Sanctuary in their first go round. Their second album Into The Mirror Black would see higher sales and some video airplay, but the band was still on the outside looking in to the music business. Guitarist Sean Blosl would leave first and be replaced with Jeff Loomis. After the band had serious discussions about their place in the music scene after the arrival of grunge in 1991, Sanctuary would split up.
Lenny Rutledge and Dave Budbill would head off on other endeavors, while Dane, Sheppard and Loomis would form Nevermore and carry on for the next 15-plus years. Sanctuary themselves would reform in 2010 after Nevermore broke up, and Sanctuary would continue to run even after Warrel Dane’s death in 2017.
While Sanctuary’s time is broken up into two periods separated by a 20 year gap, their early work would come to be appreciated by a wider audience as traditional metal caught on again in the 2000’s and also as Nevermore fans explored the members’ pre-dated work. Refuge Denied did not get its due back in the day, but today it is hailed as a classic of US heavy metal.
3 thoughts on “Sanctuary – Refuge Denied (Album of the Week)”
While it was a bit tongue in cheek, I thought Sanctuary metalized “White Rabbit” really well. This is a very underrated album.
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Yeah it is a good cover and overall I think it’s enjoyable. Every now and again I hear it and wonder just how “necessary” it is but I usually can get into it.
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Into The Mirror Black is the album for me. But I do appreciate Dane’s Halford/Tate falsettos here.