Sanctuary

Into the Mirror Black

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Sanctuary's second -- and, regrettably, final -- album is an oft-overlooked masterpiece, blurring the lines between technical, Bay Area-style thrash, traditional heavy metal, and European power metal. Part of what separates Into the Mirror Black from the rest of the late-'80s/early-'90s pack is its relentless adherence to memorable songcraft; relatively restrained musicianship; Warrel Dane's aggressive-yet-melodic, helium-lung vocal chops; and a thoroughly dark, stark production boasting an intriguingly cavernous, hallowed and hollowed, gothy guitar sound that leaves plenty of room for the riffs and rhythm section to breathe (with bass guitar -- bass! -- prevalent in the mix, something that eludes even the best '80s thrash albums; just ask Jason Newsted). Dane's impressive and dramatic yowl is deservedly front-and-center -- his majestic, but never overbearing voice being the heart and soul of Mirror Black -- although equal credit should be given to underrated guitarists Sean Blosl and Lenny Rutledge, who provide the record's brainpower, balancing aggression, melody, and tasteful soloing without indulging in the overly technical mishmash mosh of their thrash-happy peers. Point is, the creative forces at work here mesh brilliantly, every song hitting the sweet spot between hook and riff: shadowy ballad "Epitaph," thundering rumbler "Taste Revenge," skyscraping anthem "Seasons of Destruction," profound soul-searchers "Communion" and "Long Since Dark" -- there isn't a bad song in the bunch. Depending on one's point of view, Dane's lyrical excursions are either profound and poetic or slightly pretentious and overcooked, but his delivery is so convincing and powerful, it's easy to get swept into his world, which mixes slivered, silvery moons; death; and mysticism with unflinching stares at social mores. Into the Mirror Black is a triumph, a significant improvement over the excesses of the Seattle band's screechy debut, Refuge Denied; it's too bad record-label woes would slam the band's sarcophagus shut, although Dane and bassist Jim Sheppard would extend Sanctuary's ambition and songwriting sensibilities into the superb Nevermore.

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