Black Sanctuary

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By the time Japan's long-suffering Genocide finally got the chance to release their debut album, 1988's Black Sanctuary, nearly two years after its recording and almost a decade since the group's beginnings (that's right: 1979!), their sound had undergone so many alterations that a certain stylistic schizophrenia had set in. The formative classic metal influence provided by Judas Priest (whose 1976 song from the Sad Wings of Destiny LP inspired the band's name) and several New Wave of British Heavy Metal bands had quickly mutated into something altogether stranger thanks to a later impact of Danish goth metal pioneers Mercyful Fate, before the group succumbed to a few of the more commercial hallmarks of ‘80s metal, thus bringing about the sometimes odd but quite unique musical combinations on Black Sanctuary. Nevertheless, screaming loudest of all were still those Mercyful Fate-like qualities thanks to vocalist Toshihiro Takeuchi's spine-tingling, vibrato-laden falsettos à la King Diamond, plus the power riffing and searing leads traded by guitarists Kazuo Amaya and Kouichi Kawakami, which lent definitive standouts like "A Bullet in the Wrong Heart," "Midnight (Come She Will)," and "Living Legend" similarly obscure and idiosyncratic touches, relatively speaking, as the group's Danish forefathers. Also threading their way across it all were numerous Japanese metal tendencies: from the understandable cross-pollinating with Loudness and other contemporary J-metal bands, to the unexpected balladry espoused by "Landscape of Life" (highlighted by some tasteful instrumentation midway through) and the entirely acoustic "Silent Falling" (which sure ain't metal, but what the hell), to the paralyzing shriek launching opening track "Doomsday," which savvy listeners will recognize as a tribute to Japan's mightiest proto-metal outfit, Flower Travellin' Band. As can be imagined, these quirky sonic hybrids were never going to bring about chart-topping success for Black Sanctuary, but they might have gained the band a larger cult foothold were it not for the imminent worldwide collapse of the entire heavy metal consumer base, with the advent of grunge. In tandem with the already mentally exhausted (a decade's worth of struggling will do that) and recently depleted band (several members had left during the album's lengthy gestation before release), Black Sanctuary conspired to nail the Genocide coffin shut without further ado, rare future reunion concerts notwithstanding. [Shadow Kingdom's 2009 reissue of Black Sanctuary came enhanced with new artwork, mystifyingly nonsensical liner notes, a seductively doomy bonus cut named "Gibakurei," and an extra disc of album demos, as raw as sushi, that may well sound even better than their "finished" album versions to die-hard metalheads.]

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