Sanktuary - Something fierce 3.5/5
1. Deadly prey
2. Heat lightning
3. Hail the villain
4. Thrill of the kill
5. Screeching for vengeance
6. Fire in the sky
7. Beyond the wall
8. Midnight mass
Canada’s Spread the Metal Records is responsible for one of my favorite CDs of 2013, namely the Edge of Attack debut. The label’s latest release is another Canadian newcomer, this one from Yukon natives Sanktuary. Veterans of 3 EPs since 2009, Sanktuary have evidently toured the Great White North relentlessly to hone their craft and now are ready to make their mark with ‘Something fierce’, a tightly wound, compact feast of classic and thrash metal. I’m not sure whether to refer to the band as a trio or a quartet, since the CD credits and depicts only 3 musicians but the accompanying promotional materials identify 4 members (including 2nd guitarist Glen Emond, who is credited with additional vocals and one solo in the CD liner notes). So we’ll just call ‘em Sanktuary and be done with it.
Sanktuary are at their best and most entertaining when they channel their NWOBHM influences with unabashed ardor on “Heat lightning”, “Hail the villain”, and “Midnite mass”, all of which brilliantly capture the refreshing naivete of early Diamond Head or Blitzkrieg with an extra helping of speed and energy. It’s all there, folks, in the captivating, simple, melodic riffs; the galloping rhythm section; the shouted backing vocals; and the endearing, emotive lead vocals of Alan Binger (who has that characteristic melodic NWOBHM style down pat). Think of a faster, heavier Cauldron, and you’ll get the basic idea. In an interesting, and frankly sometimes frustrating, twist, the other 3 full songs on ‘Something fierce’ downplay the NWOBHM sound and amp up the thrash elements like Milwaukee Brewers MVP-turned-pariah Ryan Braun in one of his synthetic testosterone-fueled benders. Don’t get me wrong: The razor-sharp thrash on display in songs like the 2-minute “Thrill of the kill” and “Fire in the sky” is well-executed and convincing for fans of re-thrash movement like Evile and Havok. It’s just that these songs don’t sound particularly like the same band that recorded “Hail the villain”, for example. Even Binger’s vocals are at times virtually unrecognizable, as he shifts from Tokyo Blade-style melodic crooning on the NWOBHM tracks to an evil-sounding bark on “Thrill of the kill”.
Now, this musical dichotomy isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Sanktuary excel at both of their chosen styles. Besides, the history of heavy metal shows that the NWOBHM sound can be melded to thrash metal in a devastatingly effective manner (‘Kill ‘em all’, anyone?). It’s just that Sanktuary haven’t really refined their style to incorporate these different influences in the same songs. Instead, they seem to approach their songwriting like, “Okay, here’s an epic melodic NWOBHM song” or “Now it’s time for an evil thrash ripper.” So the listening experience feels a tad bumpy, a touch disjointed. Maybe these rough edges would have been less jarring had the running time of ‘Something fierce’ been longer than a mere 29 minutes and had it included more than 6 proper songs (the other 2 being an intro called “Deadly prey” and an acoustic interlude entitled “Beyond the wall”). As it stands, Sanktuary have given us equal helpings of both facets of their sound, without much to bind it together into a cohesive whole.
If that last bit sounds critical, it isn’t really intended that way. ‘Something fierce’ is a hell of a lot of good, clean, headbanging fun. “Heat lightning” is one of my favorite songs of 2013, no doubt. Sanktuary are a good thrash band, but they’re a flat-out amazing NWOBHM-meets-speed-metal band. I’d love to see them explore, develop and emphasize the latter dimension of the band on future releases, because that’s where Sanktuary can stick out and offer something unique and special to the world of heavy metal. So, while I have high hopes for the Yukon-turned-Nova-Scotia act’s future releases, I have no hesitation in recommending ‘Something fierce’ to fans of the aforementioned styles.
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