Review: Sanctuary ”The Year The Sun Died” [Avalon Records]

Review: Sanctuary ”The Year The Sun Died” [Avalon Records]

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The late Apex of Warrel Dane‘s career!

I can already see the flaming arrows pointing at me from a distance but that doesn’t deter me from showering this mighty record with high praise. Yes indeed, I prefer this over everything in the Nevermore canon and The Year the Sun Died also delivers more successful punches than the rest of Sanctuary‘s discography. Admittedly, I’ve never been much of a Nevermore fan except for a few selected songs but Sanctuary‘s Into the Mirror Black did click with me years ago…and then this, their 2014 reunion release, turned out to be their crowning achievement, surprisingly.

”Phew”. Now that I’ve gotten this out of my system, I might as well explain what’s so good about The Year the Sun Died:

  1. Warrel Dane. His performance here is passionate, sinister and full of foreboding.

By 2014 he had already lost quite some of his high-pitch-craziness and this lack of early – sometimes overdone – vocal acrobatics does certainly help in enhancing the dark mood of this CD, as his multilayered lower-register performance is just a lot more exhilarating. His forays into falsetto-land are few and far between but every time he does ’em here, they actually fit like a glove onto the instrumentals (“Arise and Purify” especially). Close to a decade ago, the speculations about the health of the late Warrel Dane seemed rather bleak, the man having spent his final years in rather dark places…so unsurprisingly, the lyrics herein are a fascinating blend of anger, anguish, well even few glimpses of hope, perhaps reflecting the ongoing battle with his inner demons (“I Am Low”):

“I am high today, but I still feel the shame. If I fly tomorrow, would anyone remember my worthless name?”

”Goosebumps”, really.

  1. The soloing. The riffs.

Brad Hull and Lenny Rutledge are absolutely slaying it. I know everybody’s raving about Jeff Loomis’ lead guitar skills all the time and while the man is certainly a highly competent artist (who’s rotting away nearly unused in Arch Enemy now, but hey – it pays the rent) he is simply not grabbing me nearly as much as these two guys do here in terms of memorability and on a sheer emotional level. Their ability to blend technical fretboard-blitzes with simple melodies to perfectly hum along to is astounding. No signs of all flash and no substance present.

The riffs are definitely not quite as technical as Nevermore‘s, but all the more skull-battering and the groove-factor within them is excitingly prominent without crossing over into 90s-meathead territory. Modern heavy metal with a fair bit of darkness-dripping doom influence entrenched in a gloomy gothic atmosphere that totally satisfies the plastic bag-self-suffocating joy boy in me.

  1. The production.

Holy hell, this album sounds ”fat”. It has a very spacious feel to it, there’s many layers deliciously woven into this rich, dynamic soundscape, no matter whether it’s the somber clean guitar offerings in the balladesque areas of the record or the venomous sting of the more belligerent solo constructions in “Frozen”, there’s always a sturdy balance between every element, albeit with a pronounced, thundering low-end standing out slightly.

So yeah, it certainly does sound more like Nevermore than it does Refuge Denied but I couldn’t care less. I do perfectly understand why Sanctuary fans would hold this fact against The Year the Sun Died but I couldn’t care less. The splendid, infectious songwriting ways presented within these fifty minutes spew forth a fantastic album that manages to be a regular guest in my car stereo, my workstation monitor speakers and in the shower, as I keep spreading the word of the late Mr. Dane to my neighbors, jaywalkers and other unsuspecting victims. The Year the Sun Died is the culmination of Warrel Dane‘s career, a late climax that nobody expected and few people quite acknowledge in a way that seems appropriate for a masterpiece like it. Eh, I couldn’t care less, I have my own pedestal to put it onto.

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