Sunday, February 9, 2014

Sanctuary - Into the Mirror Black (1989)

There's no doubt about it: the eighties was a phenomenal time for metal. Many of today's so-called classic bands reached their peak in the decade and, as the nineties rolled around, more destructive and experimental music began to surface, namely death metal, black metal, and--most relevant to this review--various forms of power metal. Thanks to Helloween and the USPM movement's push for melodic and aggressive music a short time before, a number of excellent releases popped up in the last few years; one of those was Sanctuary's Into the Mirror Black, an oddball culmination of heavy and power metal largely forgotten today, if only because sister band Nevermore overshadowed each and every move Sanctuary previously made.

...and so comparison to Nevermore is inevitable.

With Warrel Dane standing at the helm of both bands, similarities are obvious enough, but one difference immediately stands out--the vocals are actually on key. The majority of Nevermore's catalog circumvents the accepted musician's rule book and sits firmly off key, clashing with each note Dane spits through the microphone. Sanctuary, on the other hand, revels in melody and, while still rather unconventional, doesn't run the risk of being an ear sore. More accessible is better way of putting it.

Like King Diamond's early years in Mercyful Fate, Dane wasn't fully developed as a vocalist when he fronted Sanctuary. Relative to his tenture in Nevermore, he favored short, piercing bursts of falsetto, something he rarely, if ever, used later in his career. But because the music called for it, the technique never felt out of place--Dane gave Sanctuary an identity, and Into the Mirror Black wouldn't feel half as momentous without him.

A young Warrel Dane is pictured in the middle.
But while Dane is big part of why Into the Mirror Black is as fondly remembered as it is today, the real meat of the record, the musicianship, is far from lackluster. The scooped mids compliment the heavily palm-muted guitar riffs well, and the rhythm section, although not terribly creative, does the job adequately. When the instruments come together as a complete package, however, the music truly shines, both compositionally and with how smoothly the transitions flow. Mind you, not every track is grade-A material, but the majority of the album is above average.

On the other side, lyrically, Into the Mirror Black takes an unexpected turn. Being very socially aware, almost to the point of drawing inspiration from thrash metal, a few of the songs jab slyly at politicians, war, and distrust of higher authority. "Future Tense," in particular, speaks of this and the uncertainty of approaching nineties, from a societal standpoint and almost as symbolic look at music's progression past the "golden age." Metal would never again experience such a mainstream renaissance as it did in the eighties.

Having said that, Sanctuary still made an effort to step away from the mainstream and filled their music with offbeat melodies, like Hollow, a band reviewed on The Metal Advisor last year. This is really what makes Into the Mirror Black as special as it is, even though the track listing has inconsistencies here and there. Ultimately, Sanctuary's biggest downfall was that Into the Mirror Black spelled the end for the band, putting an abrupt halt to a full-fledged discography. And although they've recently reunited, only time will tell if another record--if even on Into the Mirror Black's level--will prove to be possible.

Recommended for nostalgia, damn good music, and as a glimpse at what Dane sounded like in his younger days.

-TMA

4 comments:

  1. Great review. This was one of the first albums I bought on CD back in the day. Holds up really well. I've always preferred Warrel Dane's vocals in Sanctuary over Nevermore. Didn't realize they had a new album in the works.

    On a mostly unrelated note, did you know Flotsam & Jetsam is re-recording No Place For Disgrace for release next month? I just heard about it this morning and had to go back and listened to the original. I think the album is nearly flawless as-is. I've always liked that thin, crunchy 80's production. To me, that's just the way thrash is supposed to sound. But I wonder if it's a barrier for a generation of metalheads that didn't grow up with it?

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    1. Thanks! Aside from the dated production, I think Into the Mirror Black holds up very well, too. It's such a shame that Nevermore overshadows Sanctuary because, song for song, I think they're a better band. We'll have to wait and see if they serve up another worthwhile release.

      As for F&J: No, I hadn't heard that, but it seems like a gamble, if you ask me. Remember when Sodom re-recorded songs from In the Sign of Evil back in 2007? I expect that this will be very much the same--that is, it'll pale in comparison to the original.

      I'll eat my hat if it's actually good. Thanks for letting me know.

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    2. Re: the sound barrier--interesting point you bring up. A friend of mine will not listen to metal before 2000 because he claims it isn't heavy enough. Crazy.

      Today, many of these polished productions create a false sense of heaviness and sound pretty sterile. Give me an "old school" production any day because they're more powerful and have more character. Carcass' Heartwork? Crushing as hell. Torch's Electrikiss? Heavy as fuck. Anthrax's Among the Living? Now that's a piece of work. LOVE the guitar tone.

      So, yes, there's definitely a barrier for some people.

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  2. I am stealing the word "Helloween" for next year.

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