Sanctuary – The Year the Sun Died

Sanctuary - The Year the Sun Died

If I had to make a list of my favorite 20 heavy metal records of all time, there is a very good chance that Sanctuary‘s 1990 album Into the Mirror Black would grace this list. It is one of those rare albums where absolutely everything clicks – a dark, futuristic gem of American power metal that is just as inspiring and enthralling today as it was almost 25 years ago.

And when the band reunited in 2010 and announced that they were working on a new album, of course, I was excited.

While the optimist in me wanted this new album to be a modern day companion to Into the Mirror Black, and evolution of that sound and atmosphere, the realist in me knew that expecting such an outcome would be unreasonable.

And while The Year the Sun Died does not exactly pick up where Into the Mirror Black left off, it certainly has enough elements of the old Sanctuary sound to please old fans.

As most anyone reading this review knows, Sanctuary morphed into a band called Nevermore in the early 1990s. Led by Sanctuary alumni, singer Warrel Dane and bassist Jim Sheppard, the core lineup of Nevermore was cemented with the addition of drummer Van Williams, and guitar hero Jeff Loomis, who actually joined Sanctuary right before the band’s initial demise.

Sanctuary

With their first four releases, Nevermore created some of the most innovative and genre-bending metal music of the decade. Switching their focus from creating foreboding, sonic experiments to highlighting the seven string guitar wizardry of Loomis, Nevermore morphed into a groovier and more straightforward band during the 2000s, achieving unheralded success for a band so heavily steeped in the underground melodic metal scene and tradition of the prior two decades.

On first listen, it would seem that fans of later-day Nevermore would have more to like about the new Sanctuary album than people expecting a return to the band’s original sound. Recapturing a sound forged well over two decades ago is certainly no easy task. Reunions of 80s metal bands are a dime a dozen these days, but most are never able to catch lightning in a bottle for the second time when releasing new material.

Satan, with their 2013 release Life Sentence (having released their previous album in 1987), is a rare example of a band that was able to do so successfully.

But Sanctuary can’t be compared with such a band, whose members were – for the most part – on hiatus as long as the band was inactive. Sanctuary‘s core members continued as Nevermore and spent almost two decades actively forging a new sound that had come to define them, so reverting back to the Sanctuary mold without including a generous amount of Nevermore would be all but impossible to do.

If someone wanted to define The Year the Sun Died in one sentence, one could lazily say that it sounds like a mixture of Nevermore‘s self-titled debut (which most fans view as the “real” third Sanctuary album), and singer Dane‘s 2008 solo album Praises to the War Machine.

The album is certainly more straight-forward than Nevermore‘s music, with the signature riffing style of Sanctuary guitarist Lenny Rutledge still intact, albeit in an updated form.

Tracks like the opener Arise and Purify and Frozen hark back to the thrashy melodicism of classic Sanctuary cuts like Taste Revenge and One More Murder. The one obvious characteristic of old that is missing is the higher pitched screeching of a young Dane, who prefers to stay in the baritone range that eventually became his signature style with Nevermore. When he does throw in a Rob Halford-esque squeal on the new album, it’s usually doubled with a deeper vocal line to maintain continuity.

Despite not employing his higher range as much as Sanctuary purists might have wanted him to, Dane is in fine form and gives a great performance. While his lyrical themes on The Year the Sun Died might sound like fairly uninspired rehashes of songs from his deep repertoire, his voice and presence behind the microphone are still a force to be reckoned with in today’s world of melodic metal vocalists.

Sanctuary of 2014 shine brightest on songs like Question Existence Fading and Let the Serpent Follow Me, both dark, mid-paced, riff-heavy tracks with Dane showcasing his angrier side in the verses and pinning down robust, catchy choruses to seal the deal.

The slower tracks sprinkled into the album also work well for the most part, particularly the almost gothic Exitium (Anthem of the Living) and the title track, which might not be as epochal of a closer as Communion was on Into the Mirror Black, but still manages to end the album on a striking note.

As the story goes, Sanctuary disbanded because of record label pressures to shift the band’s style into the more grungy sound that was all the rage in their native Seattle in the early 90s. The Dying Age sounds like it could have been a demo track from 1992 that was an attempt to capture that alternative sound, and really stands out as a definite low-light of the album, almost sounding like a bonus track from fellow Seattle natives Queensryche‘s equally poor attempt at alternative rock, 1997′s Hear in the Now Frontier.

Is it the second coming of Into the Mirror Black? No.

Is it on par with Sanctuary and Nevermore‘s best work? No.

Could The Year the Sun Died have been a lot worse? Absolutely.

Tracklist:

01. Arise And Purify
02. Let The Serpent Follow Me
03. Exitium (Anthem Of The Living)
04. Question Existence Fading
05. I Am Low
06. Frozen
07. One Final Day (Sworn To Believe)
08. The World Is Wired
09. The Dying Age
10. Ad Vitam Aeternam
11. The Year The Sun Died

Line-up:

Warrel Dane - vocals
Lenny Rutledge - guitar
Brad Hull - guitars
Jim Sheppard - bass
Dave Budbill - drums

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