In a time when the already much-maligned Heavy Metal genre is being almost continuously re-defined (let's face it; the artists and groups of our rapidly-fading youths aren't exactly getting any younger), many formerly-prominent acts that had, for various reasons, slipped from the limelight, are finding themselves at the center of intense, re-newed interest. Unfortunately, despite even the most sincere of intentions, many of such resurgences are often marred by dysfunctional line-ups, substandard releases and poorly-executed touring. Fortunately, this is most definitely not the case with Seattle, Washington-born masters Sanctuary. Recently, guitarist Lenny Rutledge and vocalist Joseph Michael, always men of many words and interesting stories, were kind enough to speak with us in regards to, among other things, the release of Into The Mirror Black (30th Anniversary Edition).
Todd: What led to Into The Mirror Black finally being re-issued? Considering the impact it's release has had on the Thrash Metal sub-genre, it's a bit surprising that it hadn't been given the deluxe edition re-release 'treatment'.
Lenny: “We'd been talking about this for a long time and were hoping we could do it. It's taken a bit of time to get there, ya know? First of all, we didn't know if we would have access to the live tracks, but our old manager shipped all the old master tapes to me. I didn't even realize that he still had them. ...We ended up restoring them and we decided 'Well, this would make a great release someday'. When we started talking to Century Media (Records) about a possible re-release of Into The Mirror Black, we decided to include them all together since Sony owns Century Media now. But it was a year-long process to get the whole thing together and get Century Media and Sony together on this because even though Sony owns Century Media, it's not all that easy. They're still considered separate entities, so there was a lot of negotiating involved with trying to work the whole thing out. And now it's finally here and we're really excited about it, ya know? We wanted to release it with the re-Master that (Producer Christopher) 'Zeus' (Harris) had done and we also Re-Mixed the live content. We also added three demos that (Producer) Howard Benson (Black Stone Cherry, Hoobastank, Saliva) did with us. Basically, when we started the session for Into The Mirror Black, those demos were the start of it. That's kind of what saved our record deal, so to speak, because this was a time where Grunge was starting to come in, so record companies were changing the way they were working and the kinds of bands they still wanted to work.”
Todd: Taking all of that into consideration, how much of an impact did Howard ultimately have on the sessions?
Lenny: “Howard came in not knowing what to expect and it was the same with us. Howard had more of a Pop background, which was kind of an odd thing for us, but like I said, I think we were at a point where the record company wasn't sure what to do with us. They weren't sure if they were still interested because the climate was starting to change. Working with Howard was a thing where our A&R guy Bob said 'You know what? We have no idea what to do with this band. We have no idea what to do and how to work with them, so we're gonna grab Howard Benson and see what Howard Benson can do for these guys'. It was an unlikely pairing, but I think in the long run, Howard made us a better band. He made us think a bit differently, ya know? There was definitely a little bit of clashing at times, but it all worked out for us at the end, ya know? ...I think it turned out really well.”
Todd: In hindsight, how do you feel the production values on Into The Mirror Black compare to Refuge Denied?
Lenny: “I think the first record was quite a bit more raw, ya know? I think you can almost hear that (Megadeth frontman) Dave Mustaine tone. It had a bit of a nod toward the classic Megadeth sound, I think. You can almost hear his hands on it all, ya know? ...With Into The Mirror Black, the record as a whole took a bit of a different direction and part of that was because we wanted to show everyone that we weren't just a Thrash band and that we had many layers to our sound. That was our take on where we were going, the transformation, of every new record. That's the one thing we always tried to do. To sound different on each record so they're not all the same.”
Todd: For the uninitiated, what exactly is involved in the process of restoring analog master tapes? How much can truly be salvaged? I would imagine it could still slowly degrade even if everything has been properly stored.
Lenny: “They take the tapes and bake them in kinda like a...it looks sorta like one of those things you put beef jerky in. ...The Mylar starts to break up after, you know, so many years, and it starts to fall off. Literally, as you put it on the tape machine and start to spin the reels, you'll see chunks of it start to fly off. The baking process preserves that and makes it all form back into the actual tape and the backing of the tape, ya know? It's pretty necessary and it's a pretty common thing. A lot of bands did that, ya know? Everybody recorded on two-inch tapes back then. Nowadays, you don't find that very often. Nowadays, everything's done on digital, but, yeah, that was the first process. And then, Zeus had to go through so we could actually Re-Mix it because when that was released as a promo back in the day as Dark Reflections, it was just a record company thing where they put it out to promote Into The Mirror Black when it came out. I don't think they actually Re-Mixed it. I think they put all the faders up to a certain level, hit play and walked away, ya know? So we went in and actually did a mix the way it was always supposed to be. But the one thing we didn't do is go in and re-cut any of the guitar or vocal tracks or vocal tracks. We didn't touch any of that stuff. We left it as you would have heard it that night. There's a couple of mistakes or glitches that are still on there, ya know? A lot of bands actually come through and Re-Mix live stuff because it's hard to capture a night perfectly, but what you hear is what we did that night.”
Todd: During the recording sessions for Into The Mirror Black, did anyone realize how great this material was?
Lenny: “I don't think we had a clue, ya know? Of course we're the ones who wrote the songs and everything, and I think we were pretty confident that they were good songs, but you still don't really know. ...When we did The Year The Sun Died, I can't tell you how many times I was sure we would never finish that record. And when we did, I wasn't actually sure if I would like it all the way through to the very end. When it was done, I was like 'Well, holy shit. This might be my favorite record', ya know? So you always kinda have those weird feelings. You never really know. It's like you know when you're hitting on something. But then again, there are also times where we think we're hittin' on gold and the other people just don't, you know? It depends on the point of view.”
Todd: From a purely emotional point of view, how difficult was it to go back and 're-visit' some of this material?
Lenny: “It definitely brings it back to that whole time frame, ya know? There was some real emotion there, for sure. ...When we were doing it, not only were we listening to this music, but we were also all reminded that sometimes music becomes the soundtrack of your life, especially at that time. It brings you back to memories of when you were recording it, when we were playing live and how things were, ya know? Not only that, but when we were putting together the booklet for it, we were amassing all of these different photos, so it was definitely an emotional thing too because, of course, I'd seen a lot of photos there with my buddy Warrel, and he's gone now. It's almost a tearjerker sometimes when you're putting that stuff together, ya know? It's like opening up an old photo album and looking at all the photos of someone that has passed and somebody that you really miss. When I see that, it is a bit emotional sometimes, but we're hoping that it gives everybody a glimpse of what was going during that time. ...You can see all of that in the booklet. It's a really cool thing. It's a literal photo album.”
Todd: When Warrel passed away, were there any doubts regarding the group's ability to continue on without him? While Joseph is obviously an incredible vocalist and frontman, he's had some incredibly large shoes to fill.
Lenny: “Of course. ...We had to think about it, ya know? At the time, we were really just in shock and grieving. But at the same time, we're musicians, we love these songs and we wanted to see if there was something that we could do to still preserve the legacy and do it justice, ya know? That was the main thing that we were worried about. I've always been really conscious about whether Warrel would be okay with what we're doing, ya know? I'm always asking myself that and it kind of guides me on what we do live and what we are working on as far as new material, too. I think it's important that if we're going to continue on with the Sanctuary name, we have to have those parameters in there because if we don't, then we might lose sight of what the legacy is and what people wanna hear. There are some huge expectations, ya know? ...So it was tough, but at the same time, I think we're doing it all justice. I think he would be good with it. I know if it was me and it was the other way around, I would want him to all continue on. And I would also hope he's doing it with the same amount of respect with trying to keep the legacy alive and do it the way we've been doing it. Just keep it the same way and everything.”
Todd: From an outsiders perspective, how difficult was it for you to even begin taking on a larger-than-life role?
Joseph: “There was a lot of material to learn relatively quickly. Warrel passed away in September and the tour was supposed to start in March, so we were actually supposed to leave earlier. By the time Lenny decided that they were actually going to continue and try to pull off the tour with me onboard, I only had five or six weeks to actually get all the songs down and get all of the lyrics and music memorized. It was a stretch and it was rough.”
Todd: Once the group opted to move forward, did you go through any of the typical cattle-call audition process?
Lenny: “No, we didn't. I was talking to (Iced Earth guitarist/founder) Jon Schaffer to let him know that I wasn't sure if we could do the tour because Warrel had passed. When Warrel passed, we decided just to let everything sit for a while and see if it was something we would still be interested in doing, ya know? We didn't go out and actively look for someone. The opportunity came up with Joseph because Jon had said 'Hey, I know this guy that can sing that type of style really well'. Before he told me that, I was actually calling him to let him know that I thought we were probably going to call it a day because we didn't think there was anybody out there that could do it properly, ya know? And we didn't really wanna do that whole cattle call thing, ya know? So when he introduced me to Joseph, I listened to the music quite a bit. Right away I found myself thinking 'Well, this guy has a really good chance of being able to pull this off.' Joseph and I got to talking about it all and we had him demo some stuff. ...It felt like he'd make a really a good choice for us, so we decided to go ahead and try it out.”
Todd: How difficult was it to work with someone new after working that long with Warrel? I just can't imagine.
Lenny: “That's the thing, ya know? At first, when I'd get up there, I'd expect to look to your right or left and see Warrel there, so it was definitely weird at first, ya know? There are times where I feel like he is still there with us. ...It's a little bit different of a process, but that's the one thing that really helped is as we were playing some of these older songs, ya know? Warrel set the bar really high and I think it was even difficult for him to sing some of those older songs at the end. His health was failing a little, but he was a real trooper. He always went out there and he did the best job he could do, ya know? And that was awesome. But after he passed away and Joseph joined the band, the looks on people's faces when Joseph hit some of the notes on songs we haven't played for a long time... It was a shock for some people in the audience when Joseph would hit some of those notes and I think it really helped us to see people really respond to him, ya know? That made it a little bit easier for us. ...If people had been unhappy with what we were doing, that, of course, would have been hard to watch.”
Todd: When writing for Transmutation, were you conscious of the group's pre-The Year The Sun Died legacies?
Lenny: “I think it's a little bit of both, ya know? ...It's definitely a new chapter because, obviously, there are some differences. But we're also reaching back a little bit into our legacy. ...I think we're going to have some similarities to the music from The Year The Sun Died, but Joseph has a significant range, so if we wanna throw in a little bit of that legacy vocal style, we definitely can do it all, ya know? I really think it's going to be there. And, of course, Joseph writes differently than Warrel did, so there's going be some of those differences as well.”
Joseph: “For me personally, the first thing that comes to mind is that everything on the record is different. It's a different vibe and is a truly different animal. This one has a lot of The Year The Sun Died rhythms and vibe to it. It's heavy, but it's not the same classic six-string production type stuff anymore, ya know? It's a lot darker. It could be considered a cross between The Year The Sun Died and Into The Mirror Black, ya know? That's kinda how I'm seeing it. ...And it's not like I'm scoring a movie. I'm just trying to write good songs. It's nothing near as intentional as people think. One of the challenges for this whole thing is to, of course, establish a writing theme between myself and Lenny, but also to choose songs that fit into the Sanctuary mold. A lot of the stuff might work best in an outside project. ...It's good, but it's not quite right for what we want on a new Sanctuary record.”
Todd: In retrospect, would the group have continued on if Warrel hadn't passed away? The material on The Year The Sun Died (2014) and Inception (2017) does suggest the group was amid the throes of a creative renaissance.
Lenny: “No. And we've touched base on this a little in the past, but the band didn't get along real well the first time around, ya know? There was a lot of tension, a lot of partying and a lot of drinking. There were some big egos in the band and I was one of them, you know? I think there was a lot of clashing. ...It seemed like there was always an internal power struggle. There was way too much partying going on and we were the type of guys that would get fucked up and just argue. But we also had a lot of good times. We really did. I don't want to make it sound like we didn't. Truthfully, I think part of the reason we sounded the way we did was because of all the tension, so I don't think that was going to last forever. It just wasn't. But in our defense, Nevermore ended up being the same way, too. It's one of those things where when certain groups of people get together, they're a little bit explosive. They're still very creative, but sometimes things just go completely off the rails, ya know? And that happens with a lot of bands, really. But I don't know if I'd really go back and change anything. I can tell you that later on when we all got back together in 2010, we were all a little more grown-up and more tolerant. There was still tension sometimes, but we knew how to handle it a little bit more. We weren't as crazy and there weren't as many egos and all that. I think all of our tensions and arguments the second time around were much different than they were in the past, ya know? They weren't quite as brutal. I think the band would've continued going on for a bit longer the second time around, but the first time around, in my opinion, that band was going to break up no matter what. We obviously didn't make it to a third record, so I just don't see that ever happening. We did have a title for it. It was Psychedelic Prayers and we were working it, but it did not happen.”
Into The Mirror Black (30th Anniversary Edition) (2020)
The Year The Sun Died (2014)
Into The Mirror Live/Black Reflections (EP) (1990)
Into The Mirror Black (1990)
Refuge Denied (1988)
Sanctuary (Demo) (1986)
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