Not a new album – quite the opposite! This is actually how it all started, this is how the band sounded before they were signed, before Dave Mustaine’s mentor-ship, before…to put it into a musical time context, these tracks were actually recorded before fellow Seattlers Queensryche and Metal Church had yet to unleash “Rage For Order” and “The Dark” respectively. Yes, before then! They are mostly remixed and remastered from 16 track demos with missing drum mics and originally hap-hazard engineering. And they sound amazing!

To put a simpler angle on this album, basically if Sanctuary’s mighty debut “Refuge Denied” had been released in 1986 rather than 1987, without Dave Mustaine’s production and less studio time, it would have been “Inception”. And mighty it still would have been! When I hear the dexterity and professionalism in the songwriting, I find it jaw-dropping that two of the songs you hear (‘Battle Angels’ and ‘Soldiers Of Steel’) began their recording in 1985. ‘Battle Angels’ as a song is as huge as it became, but it’s less urgent and less of a power-blur on here. It’s less of an impact opener as it became on “Refuge Denied”, yet ironically fits really well here as track 7! The second of these earliest recordings, ‘Soldiers Of Steel’, also totally belies it’s 1985 time-tag and isn’t massively different in arrangement to it’s later counterpart, it’s just a touch slower, more pounding, maybe incorporating a little Judas Priest or even Manowar…until of course Warrel Dane’s stunning vocals stamp Sanctuary all over it.

The rest of the songs on “Inception” were recorded later on during 1986. There’s two previously unreleased tracks (replaced on “Refuge Denied” by ‘Termination Force’ and ‘Sanctuary’), the first of which, ‘Dream Of The Incubus’ opens proceedings on “Inception”. ‘Dream Of The Incubus’ couldn’t audibly be anyone else and would have fitted perfectly on “Refuge Denied”. I think tiny parts of it got broken up and found their way into other songs once recording for “Refuge Denied” started, as there is a familiarity throughout, but without it sounding totally like another Sanctuary track. The second, ‘I Am Insane’ is a Heavy Metal stalwart rather than Speed Metal missile. It has an air of early Queensryche and Crimson Glory…but actually what those bands became rather than who they were at that time. Another sign of how Sanctuary were actually ahead of their time when these tracks were written.

We also have five more tracks that were present on “Refuge Denied”. ‘Die For My Sins’ is just as good if not better – this mix gives more variation to the vocals allowing a lower vocal to dominate at times which actually gives the higher register another angle, but it’s surprisingly faithful to it’s “Refuge Denied” version – it’s amazing to hear that one of my favourite Sanctuary songs was always fabulous, even as a demo! ‘Death Rider/Third War’ (later becoming just ‘Third War’) is also strikingly close to it’s “Refuge Denied” pinnacle, which is staggering when you think of the limited time and resources the band had to use on this original. ‘Ascension to Destiny’ is a little more raw and progressive than the beast it became – ironically it reminds me the most of Nevermore, yet also straddles what came before it with some added Iron Maiden style guitar licks on the bridge. Sanctuary’s iconic cover of Jefferson Airplane’s ‘White Rabbit’ has an airing here in it’s infancy, with more resemblance to the trippy J.A. original due to it’s lesser production and creepier vocal treatment. Rounding things out perfectly, as it does on “Refuge Denied” is the wonderful ‘Veil Of Disguise’, that yet again amazes me with how similar it sounds to the version professionally recorded. It absolutely shows that if a band has the talent, the vision and the songs they should still sound great no matter where and how they are recorded.

The musicianship on display here appears to have no naivety or amateurism. Sanctuary hit the ground running with great songs, fabulous musicianship and the stunning vocals of Warrel Dane riding on top. There really should have been no stopping them, but internal wranglings and changing musical trends ultimately foiled them. Thank the gods they finally returned to give us more to salivate over with recent offering “The Year The Sun Died”! It’s well documented that these master tapes were lying moldy and damp in guitarist Lenny Rutledge’s leaky loft and have been magically restored and resurrected by production wizard Chris “Zeuss” Harris – what a job he has done! A totally worthy addition to the Sanctuary story and I for one will be going and bagging myself a vinyl addition (it just seems right somehow), but do yourself a favour and get yourself a physical copy, as the insightful sleeve notes, photos and packaging are absolutely excellent. I’m bottling out on scoring it though, because I find it impossible to not be influenced by the versions I’ve loved for years on “Refuge Denied” and therefore it would be difficult to mark this prequel fairly.

(Andy Barker)